- The Nets acquired a former no. 2 overall pick from an exciting draft in D’Angelo Russell
- Russell pairs well with Jeremy Lin and eliminates the Nets’ need to look for another point guard in the free agent market
- Brook Lopez’s expiring deal was traded for an asset, rather than losing him for nothing
- The Nets maintain the same amount of cap room as they did heading into the trade, and could still acquire more assets in exchange for guaranteed contracts
- Russell’s skill set fits the Nets’ “react and attack” offense and Timofey Mozgov could still be an ok role player going forward
- The Nets gave up the 27th pick in a draft full of high upside bigs – an area where the team is still lacking in
- Russell’s lack of defense and perceived attitude issues (I know, LA media and all) may not bode well moving to New York City’s media circus
- Timofey Mozgov is on the books for around $16 million a year for the next three seasons
- The Nets lost their leading scorer, who was seemingly still improving
- Brooklyn may not see an increase in wins next season, depending on how the rest of the offseason goes
Shock, Awe, and Gratitude
It’s been over 24 hours since news of the Brooklyn Nets-Los Angeles Lakers trade broke. Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft are headed west, while Timofey Mozgov and D’Angelo Russell will make Barclays Center their home court this fall. For both Lakers and Nets fans, the trade seemingly came out of nowhere, possibly spurred by Paul George's preference of playing for the Lakers in the future. For the Nets, the trading of Lopez, the last link to their days in New Jersey, signifies the end of an era. The trade itself poses a necessary, but high upside risk for the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets essentially helped the Lakers clear cap space for their inevitable run at max free agents, with Timofey Mozgov’s big contract swapped for Brook Lopez’s deal, an expiring in 2017-2018. But the cost for Magic Johnson was one of the Lakers’ brightest young players. Lopez, by far was the Nets’ best player in 2016-2017 (and probably the Nets’ best player for several years in his 9-year stint with the team), but he doesn’t figure into the Nets’ plans in their long, tumultuous rebuild.
Losing Brook Lopez stings for the Nets, but he was traded while his value was still relatively high. As an expiring contract, Lopez’s value is probably highest in the offseason. The veteran center is coming off of a season where he showed an astounding renaissance from the perimeter, while also playing his third consecutive healthy season. The sting of trading the Nets’ all-time leading scorer is still there, but it’s an end to a “Brook Lopez trade rumors” saga that has seemingly been going on every year since 2010.
On the Lakers, Lopez could be part of a team that quickly rebuilds and sees both young players develop, and free agents like Paul George buy in. Plus, Lopez gets to move back to his home state of California and is much closer to Disneyland!
Enter Russell (and Mozgov)
D’Angelo Russell joins a promising Nets core. While Russell wasn’t the most terribly efficient player in his two years with the Lakers, he showed lots of potential. Russell is neither the quickest nor most explosive, but his scoring ability and general awareness on the offensive end are advanced for his age. While Russell’s overall efficiency stayed relatively the same going from rookie to sophomore year, his release became much more smooth. Additionally, Russell thrived in the second half of 2016-2017, playing a bit of shooting guard, which may be his natural position going forward.
With the Nets, Russell is likely to start at the shooting guard slot alongside Jeremy Lin, forming an exciting backcourt with the potential to thrive off each other. He would be a perfect candidate for Coach Kenny Atkinson to develop, who has shown proficiency in developing the games of several guards, including Lin. Defensively, Russell still may need a lot of work on that end, but the potential is there. His defensive rating of 113 was miserable, playing for a team that rarely played defense. His length (6’10” wingspan) bodes well for the defensive end, but his lack of solid athleticism could be a career-long hindrance.
Of course, Russell is still 21 years old, younger than several draft prospects the Nets have worked out. While trading a young point guard with reported attitude issues (people still aren’t over a 20-year old sending an ill-advised Snapchat) may seem like the Lakers “giving up” on a player, there is a strong list of former first round point guards that did pretty well for themselves…
The other, salary-eating part of the deal is Timofey Mozgov. The Lakers gave up on the former NBA Champion, mostly due to his bloated salary. As of right now (before the draft), Mozgov slates as the Nets’ starting center. While he won’t provide the same production as Brook Lopez (or even Robin Lopez for that matter), Mozgov was still decent in limited doses. He’s a big body that can protect the rim and grab offensive boards, two areas where the Nets really lagged last year. The 3 years and $48 million left on his contract may be unappealing, but Kenny Atkinson will have to make due with a player that was attached to the Russell acquisition.
The Blueprint for Progress
By trading Lopez for Mozgov and Russell, the Nets still maintain relatively the same amount of cap space heading into the free agency period. They could still throw offer sheets to several of the big name restricted free agents, even though Mozgov will be on the books until 2020. With the team lacking a young center, the Nets could shift their focus from wing free agents like Otto Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to bigs like Kelly Olynyk and Nerlens Noel.
While the loss of the 27th pick may not be optimal, especially for a team so depleted in upside, Russell’s overall potential could outweigh a first round selection. Remember, the Nets need everything. They'll likely look to add a big man with the 22nd pick. Additionally, the Nets could still be in the market for acquiring additional draft picks. They have a plethora of non-guaranteed deals to send out, and a few expiring deals in Lin, Trevor Booker, and Justin Hamilton as well. Seemingly, Sean Marks may just be getting started.
I know. Brook Lopez is a Nets legend. His goofiness, steadiness, and loyalty were staples of the Nets in the post-Kidd era. But for Lopez, the Nets received an injection of youth for an expiring contract.
With no assets or incentive to lose, the Russell deal is essentially what the Nets should be doing. They absorbed a bad contract along with a young asset. Russell may not become an All-Star, but his upside is intriguing enough to at least take a shot at him. With the deal, Russell becomes the youngest player on the Nets roster – for now. Mozgov’s contract may be ugly, but he could still be a rotation player for the remaining three years of his deal. It's the risk and reward of salary dumps.
Sean Marks is slowly building up a trove of assets and upside players for the Nets. There are still plenty of obstacles in the way of the Nets’ eventual success, but the trade with the Lakers makes the Nets’ future seem a little bit brighter.