The Brooklyn Nets entered the 2016 offseason with a number of expiring contracts and without much money committed to long-term contracts outside of Brook Lopez.
The team was destined to look very different than last year's squad regardless of re-signings, and new GM Sean Marks allowed all of the players on expiring contracts to depart in free agency. After an offseason consisting of mostly under-the-radar signings and trading away one of the team's most established players in Thaddeus Young, the 2016-2017 Brooklyn Nets will look very different from the 2015-2016 edition. Marks' philosophy so far appears to be geared towards taking flyers on high-upside players and grabbing mid-level players to hold the fort until Brooklyn regains control of their own draft picks in 2019; the Nets will probably struggle to win games for much of the season, but they have increased their stockpile of young assets who will help them push towards the playoffs in future years.
Short Term Outlook: C
The Nets will start the season with only one of the players who was in their starting lineup on Opening Day last year (Brook Lopez). Their biggest signing of the offseason, Jeremy Lin, was also their best — getting a starting-caliber point guard for $12 million a year in last year's crazy free agency market was a coup, especially given the dearth of talent at the point guard position. Lin fills Brooklyn's biggest need from last year as the Nets struggled mightily at the lead guard position after the departure of Deron Williams. Lin will be a great pick-and-roll partner with Brook Lopez, and the Nets' offense will most likely center around Lopez's all-around offensive game and Lin's ability to drive to the rim and collapse opposing defenses around him. Trevor Booker is a solid signing to replace Thaddeus Young's production at power forward. Booker is not much of an offensive game-changer, but he is a great athlete, a solid defender and a good rebounder who can cover for some of Brook Lopez's weaknesses.
However, Brooklyn did almost nothing to improve their 3-point shooting, a major weakness from last year and one that will hurt them in the 2016-2017 season as well. The Nets were 26th in 3-pointers made last season, but they only signed two potential threats from behind the arc in Randy Foye and Luis Scola. Foye's 3-point percentage cratered to 30.0 percent last year, and since he recently turned 33, he may not be able to bounce back from that decline. While Scola shot 40.4 percent on 3's last year, that was the only year of his career in which he attempted more than 0.2 3's per game. The sample size on his shot is not large enough to conclude that he will be a sniper from long range next season and he's already 36 years old.
Caris LeVert, the #20 overall pick who the Nets received in the Thaddeus Young trade, was a solid shooter throughout his college career who shot a blistering 45.0 percent on 3-pointers last year at Michigan. However, he is still recovering from foot surgery and will not be ready to play by Opening Day. Both Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez would benefit tremendously from having quality shooters to spot up around their pick-and-rolls, but they will have to rely on Bojan Bogdanovic and Sean Kilpatrick to provide the outside shooting that they desperately needed to acquire in free agency.
Long Term Outlook: B
The Nets kept their long-term books relatively clean this off-season as Jeremy Lin was the only newcomer to sign a deal for longer than two years. The Thaddeus Young trade undoubtedly hurts the team in the short-term given his steady production, but the trade boosts the team's long-term ceiling.
Caris LeVert was once a lottery prospect who fell due to injury concerns, but his most recent surgery was performed by the Nets foot and ankle specialist Dr. Martin O'Malley, who said he was "confident" that LeVert would not need surgery again. If LeVert can overcome his foot injuries, he will be a devastating force for Brooklyn — a 6'7" combo guard who excels from behind the arc and is a passing savant. Brooklyn managed to work their way back into the draft and secured a player who will be a huge asset if O'Malley is correct about his health issues being behind him.
The Nets also acquired two additional notable high-upside talents in Isaiah Whitehead and Anthony Bennett. Whitehead has prototypical shooting guard size at 6'5" and 210 pounds and his 6'9" wingspan will help him to defend well at both positions. His biggest weakness is his quick trigger on offense, but he can be a valuable rotation piece if coach Kenny Atkinson can convince him to not be a gunner on that end of the floor. Bennett has already flamed out of three different NBA teams, but the Nets risked essentially nothing by signing him to a minimum deal and their team option for a second year means that they can keep him around if he shows any of the potential that led to him being the #1 overall pick in 2013.
Although the Nets did not drastically improve the team after a disappointing 2015-2016 season, Sean Marks did well to not commit to any obvious overpays in the financial free-for-all that was 2016's free agency period.
Brooklyn hired a coach in Kenny Atkinson who is noted for his ability to develop players and Atkinson played a key role in convincing Jeremy Lin to join the Nets. Marks also managed to acquire some young talent with high potential upside and the development of LeVert, Whitehead and possibly Bennett (in addition to second-year players Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough) will be the most important factors in how this offseason will shape the future of the Nets. Sean Marks made a number of small moves rather than making any big ones, but he set the table well for Brooklyn to grow as a team over the course of the next few years without being hindered by the kinds of bad contracts that haunted them in the past.