The Eastern conference is wide open and the Brooklyn Nets should be able to jump in the mix just as a potential playoff contender. With their young core led by D’Angelo Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jarrett Allen, and Spencer Dinwiddie along with savvy veteran experience from Kenneth Faried, Demarre Carroll, and Allen Crabbe, the Nets are more than capable of making noise.
But the main dilemma for the Nets this season is what direction is the franchise moving towards? And with that, the main priority for the Nets is to find a way to utilize Russell. It appears that general manager Sean Marks did not elect to give Russell a qualifying offer of $9.1 million for the 2019-20 NBA season. This means Russell will be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2019.
Reasons to Sign Russell
Youth and Potential
Russell was one of the more promising players in the 2015 draft class and has shown flashes of brilliance. At just 22 years of age, he averaged just over 15 points per game and five assists last season. Russell’s knack to score and facilitate in pick-and-roll situations makes him a dangerous offensive threat, especially in the pace-and-space league. The former Buckeye has started to come into his own with a number of productive games during this pre-season.
Russell’s game has hardly been the problem in his early career. On the contrary, it has been his maturity with issues on the Los Angeles Lakers as well as his motor. However, he has shown a surprising amount of unselfishness in the media lately describing his expectations for the Nets this season:
“We all have that chip on our shoulder and are better prepared this year,” Russell said. “We have a better feel for each other. Everybody has that competitive edge. I think we were a little too nice to each other last year. Guys were shying away from being competitive… But we came in, worked hard this summer. That chip has gotten bigger. I can just see it in practice. Everybody has somebody they’re going at.”
Russell’s appreciation didn’t stop there, as he also showed his growth as a leader and close on-court relationship with head coach Kenny Atkinson:
“I told him I want that,” Russell said, “If you want to sub me out because of a turnover, however you decide to do it, I trust it. Trust me, there’s no way you’re mad more than I am about the turnover. But like I said, I think I’ve taken that step.”
A new and mature Russell is set to have a breakout season and potentially blossom into a solid All-Star candidate. If he is able to stay on the court for more than 60 games and drastically improve his scoring and assist totals, he can very well finish this season as the Most Improved Player.
Weak Eastern Conference
With LeBron James out of the picture in the conference, the East has never been weaker and more wide open for playoff contention. Although the Nets have not made the post-season since they had Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson on their roster, this younger core has the potential to land a playoff spot in the bottom half of the bracket. To put things into perspective, Brooklyn is at best the fourth best team in their division with the clear superior teams of Toronto, Boston, and Philadelphia being in the Atlantic.
However, the Nets could be in contention with teams like Detroit, New York, Miami, Washington, and Charlotte, all in which are capable of grabbing the fifth seed in the East. With Russell leading the charge in the Borough of Trees, the Nets can very well bring playoff basketball back to Brooklyn and bring the city an event more exciting than the Jordan Classic or the NBA All-Star game.
Reasons to Not Sign Russell
Deep Free Agency Class
The 2018 free agency drama showed that almost anything is possible. In a year where nearly everyone believed that Paul George would sign with the Lakers, he decided to stay in Oklahoma City.
Expect no less next summer.
With Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and Kemba Walker potentially available, Brooklyn is a more than attractive destination for NBA players who want to enjoy the festivities and hospitality New York offers. The Nets will have enough salary cap space to land a max contract player. Butler has already expressed his desire to play in Brooklyn as he requested a trade with Brooklyn on his narrow list.
With ties seemingly severed between Tom Thibodeau and Pat Riley in hopes to land Butler in Miami, Butler going to Brooklyn may be more than a pipe dream. A young player like Russell may want to get his money. Or, maybe Russell could be traded in a deal for Butler.
End of the Danny Ange Era
Celtics general manager Danny Ange absolutely fleeced the Brooklyn Nets back in 2014. Those picks they gave up turned into rising stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. That has to sting for not only the franchise, but fans too.
Getting back to brass here, the Nets could finally end their four year hiatus of not having a lottery pick. That is unless the Nets make the playoffs. If the Nets make the playoffs and are led by Russell, it might be in Marks’ best interest to re-sign Russell for the long term. However, if Russell is injury prone, does not live to the expectations set this season, or cannot lead the Nets to a playoff birth, Marks may have to pull the plug and let Russell walk.
Letting Russell walk is not the end of the world for Brooklyn. If the Nets miss the playoffs this season, they will receive their first round lottery pick and cap space by subtracting him from the roster. Not only will they receive a building block in the draft, the Nets will also have an estimated $55 million in cap space if they do not extend or renew any players from their current roster.
A long season is ahead of the Nets as they tip-off their season in Detroit. A long season that will bring nothing but excitement and anticipation of the franchise’s most important off-season in recent history.