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For the first time in what seems like forever, the Brooklyn Nets finally have a resemblance of a future.
Since the disastrous decision in 2013 to acquire washed up versions of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics, surrendering four unprotected first round picks in the process, the Nets have found themselves in a long, painful rebuild.
After barely squeaking in the playoffs in 2015, the Nets have spent the past three seasons at the bottom of the standings, without reaping the rewards of a high draft pick. While this year has featured a similar feeling of frequent losing, the Nets have slowly, but surely started to turn a corner. This challenging rebuild has been years in the making and only now are they finally starting to see some results.
On January 10th, 2016, after starting the season 10-27, the Nets made the long overdue move of firing General Manager Billy King, the man who orchestrated arguably the worst trade in NBA history. In came Spurs Assistant General Manager Sean Marks, who was tasked with leading the major rebuild without any significant assets.
Marks was left with no choice but to work with what he had and get creative. He did an excellent job finding value in his roster and netting multiple first round picks.
In each of the past three seasons, Marks has acquired a first rounder without having to further jeapordize the franchises' future. He was able to trade away veterans like Mason Plumlee, Thad Young, and Bojan Bogdanovic for three late first round picks. This helped the Nets establish the beginnings of a young core, drafting Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (2015), Caris LeVert (2016) and Jarrett Allen (2017).
Of course, Marks' biggest move was trading for Lakers' star point guard D'Angelo Russell. Los Angeles, who was desperate to get off of Timofey Mozgov's awful deal, shipped both players to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez and a 2017 first round pick. While Hollis-Jefferson, LeVert, and Allen are all solid players, Russell has the highest ceiling and could easily be an all-star in the next few years.
The “salary dump” continued to be a tool for Marks to add talent. In a July 2017 trade with the Toronto Raptors, the Nets took on the salary of DeMarre Carroll and obtained a 2018 first and second round pick in the process. This ensures the Nets will have a first rounder in the final draft without control of their own pick.
With 11 games left this season, the Nets are 23-48. Their record may not be drastically better, but their season has been hampered with injuries, most notably to starting guard Jeremy Lin, whose season ended one game in after rupturing his patella tendon. Russell and LeVert have also missed significant time with injuries as well. Judging the Nets' improvement by their record isn't the best way to measure the franchise's progress this season.
The fact of the matters is this Nets group has taken major strides towards establishing a solid future. Russell, 22, is averaging 22.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per 36 minutes, all of which are career highs. Allen, 19, is second among all rookies in total blocks and sixth in rebounds per 48 minutes. Since the all-star break, LeVert, 23, is averaging 14.5 points per game and shooting 45 percent from three-point range, on 3.5 attempts per game. These young Nets will only continue to get better with age and experience.
Every year, ESPN Insider posts its NBA Future Power Rankings, which ranks teams based on a three-year projection. Key factors include players, management, money, market, and draft picks. After being dead last for multiple seasons, the Nets clawed their way up to 27th last year. This season, they are all the way up to 19, most notably having leapfrogged their crosstown rival New York Knicks. As the years go by and the Nets continue to make smart moves while developing their new young core, Brooklyn should only continue to climb the rankings.
The Nets still have a long way to go before they can contend for the playoff spot. Next year will pose a new challenge. Now with their own draft pick, will the team be able to get a top pick without having to lose any positive momentum from this season? No matter what direction the Nets head next year, Marks and his team have proven they are more than capable of making the right choices and making something out of nothing.