Lichtenstein: Trading Jeremy Lin Signals Nets Are All In – On 2019 

Jeremy Lin
Photo credit USA TODAY Images

Sometimes, a punt is the best option. Live to see another day on the next set of downs.

For Nets general manager Sean Marks, that next set is the summer of 2019. And after a flurry of moves Thursday night, he is hoping he will have better field position.

Brooklyn took on approximately $21.2 million in expiring contracts in the form of washed-up forwards Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur in a trade with the Nuggets. For utilizing their salary-cap storage space, the Nets will receive Denver’s 2019 first-round pick (top-12 protected) and a 2020 second-rounder. To complete the deal, Marks sent Isaiah Whitehead, the Brooklyn native who spent most of last season in the G League, to Denver, where the third-year guard from Seton Hall will reportedly be waived.

In order to fit Arthur and Faried in under their cap, the Nets first had to gift point guard Jeremy Lin and a 2026 second-round pick to the Hawks. Atlanta will also have the right to swap second-round slots in 2023 while Brooklyn received the draft rights to Isaia Cordinier, a Euro-stash.

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The moves set up the Nets for a 2019 offseason in which they will have two first-round picks -- including, for the first time since 2013, their own -- and as much as $70 million in salary-cap space, depending on its cap hold decisions for their seven pending free agents.

Before we heap too much praise on Marks, let’s acknowledge that this was nothing like the DeMarre Carroll dump of a year ago. Marks was then able to procure a first- and second-rounder from Toronto by taking on the overpriced contract of a wing player who had plenty of value in the modern NBA and was a perfect fit in Brooklyn on and off the court. Faried and Arthur, assuming either/both are not bought out, are not in Carroll’s class. In addition, Marks clearly sold low on Lin, who, despite two injury-plagued seasons in Brooklyn, was the best player involved in these deals. 

Denver’s 2019 draft slot most likely won’t fall all the way to No. 29, which is where the Raptors’ pick attached to Carroll landed. However, the Nuggets could very well play like a top-10 team this season, which would mean the pick conveyed to Brooklyn would be in the low 20s. So, to maximize the return on these trades, the Nets need the Nuggets to be good, but not too good.

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Thursday’s deals were not unexpected. Marks’ go-to move has been to use his cap space to acquire assets, a necessity in the aftermath of the disastrous 2013 Boston blockbuster that wiped out Brooklyn’s draft inventory. Marks also alleviated a potential glut at the point guard position (assuming they could have all stayed healthy, which was far from a given) by moving Lin, though I would have preferred he sold high on Spencer Dinwiddie, who will also be a free agent next summer.

The risk, as I’ve noted previously, is that Marks has done little to improve the on-court product this offseason. If that leads to another desultory season, it could dissuade the top free agents from choosing Brooklyn next summer, just like it has every summer the Nets have had the space to be a major player in the market during Marks’ tenure. Remember, many teams have gotten wise to the system since the TV windfall of 2016. Maybe half the clubs will have the space to offer a max contract next summer. After money, a chance to win tops most players’ priority lists.

Which means that all these machinations could be for naught.  Sometimes even the best-intentioned punts can be shanked.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.