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Brooklyn Nets: How to rebuild a team with nothing

Trevor Drake
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Brooklyn Nets created one of the more interesting storylines in the 2019 NBA season. A team that was predicted to stay at the bottom of the standings for years, they surpassed expectations and made it back to the playoffs within four years.

The details: Back in 2013 when the Brooklyn Nets made the blockbuster trade for aging veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, they were expected to be one of the best teams in the East for years to come. They couldn’t get past the 2nd round and eventually went into another rebuild. The future did not look too great.

The start of the rebuild: During the 2016-2017 season, the Nets were one of the worst teams in the NBA due to a combination of many factors.

  • Terrible offense: The Nets finished the season 28th in offensive rating and 29th in defensive rating. Their best offensive players were Brook Lopez, who averaged 20.5 points per game, and Jeremy Lin, who averaged 14.5 points a game.
  • Bad contracts: Lopez and Lin made a combined $32.5 million on a bad team. Andrew Nicholson averaged 3 points per game while making $6 million, and he only played in 10 games.
  • No lottery picks: Most importantly, the Nets didn’t have a lottery pick. Their 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018 picks all went to the Boston Celtics. They didn’t have young players or established stars to build around.

The turnaround: When general manager Sean Marks took over, he hired Kenny Atkinson as head coach. Atkinson has done such a good job that he received an extension to stick around in Brooklyn. Then, Marks started to build the team through trades.

  • Traded for first round picks: He sent Bogdanovic to the Wizards and got a 1st round pick in return, which turned into starting center Jarrett Allen.
  • Traded for a young star: The Nets traded Kyle Kuzma and Brook Lopez to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov. The 23-year-old Russell earned his first All-Star appearance this past season. He is still a young player who is just entering his prime.
  • Added some role players: The Raptors sent DeMarre Carroll as well as first- and second-round picks for Justin Hamilton. Those picks turned into two international players — Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa. Kurucs is a main rotation player for the Nets, while Musa is a young 19 year old with a bright future.

Build around a star: When D’Angelo Russell was drafted second overall by the Lakers, he had potential to be an All-Star but did not work out in Los Angeles. Marks decided to gamble and trade for him with the sole purpose of him being the franchise player. Marks would then build around Russell.

  • Got rid of Mozgov: Marks sent Mozgov, who was being paid $16 million a year to sit on the bench, to Orlando the next summer for Dwight Howard and $5 million in cash. Howard was waived the next day.
  • Extended key players: Spencer Dinwiddie was signed to an extension. This past season, he averaged a career high 16.8 points as a backup point guard. Joe Harris also signed an extension and won the 2019 3-point contest.
  • Acquired veterans: The Nets acquired Jared Dudley and a second-round pick for Darrell Arthur. Dudley ended up being a great veteran presence. Marks also signed Ed Davis, a solid big man who has been in the NBA since 2010.

The bottom line: Brooklyn’s future is looking good. To make matters better, the Nets have around $49 million in spending money — third-most in the NBA. That is enough for two max slots. After a great 2018-2019 season, Brooklyn has arguably made itself a free agent destination for top free agents.