By Steve Lichtenstein
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The reaction from the media—both mainstream and social–to Wednesday’s news that the Nets will be acquiring point guard Jarrett Jack was something just a little short of ecstasy.
Yes, Brooklyn general manager Billy King needed a replacement when Shaun Livingston got paid by Golden State in free agency. Jack will fill in nicely backing up Deron Williams and can also play alongside him for stretches the way Livingston did last season, freeing up the brittle one from distribution duties.
And it’s not the price of Marcus Thornton that is concerning. As it turned out, King disposed of the carcasses of Reggie Evans and Jason Terry to swipe Thornton from Sacramento near last season’s trade deadline and now has Jack and 20-year-old Sergey Karasev. That’s quite an upgrade.
However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This deal works as long as King can get free agent Paul Pierce’s signature on the dotted line in the next few days. Otherwise, the Nets just added another bad contract.
Jack will be 31 years old when the season opens, playing for his seventh team in the last eight seasons. While he was terrific in Golden State’s system in 2012-13, he is coming off a down year in Cleveland, where he sometimes looked, um, cavalier. Jack’s percentages and stats per 36 minutes in Cleveland were well below his career averages.
On top of the risk of decline, the Nets are taking on two guaranteed years of Jack’s contract at $6.3 million per year (2016-17 is partially guaranteed for $500,000, per basketball-reference.com). The last two Nets backup point guards — Livingston and C.J. Watson — were signed for the league minimums and proved serviceable.
Thornton was also overpaid — earning $8.575 million — but his contract is more attractive to other teams because it will expire after this season.
As this season marches on towards the trade deadline, that expiring contract would have been looked at as an asset that could have been used to fill a bigger need.
And if Pierce opts to take his services elsewhere, the Nets will have a glaring hole at forward.
Newly introduced coach Lionel Hollins will likely move the Nets away from the small-ball approach employed by Jason Kidd in the latter half of last season. Not because that’s what he said in his press conference on Monday or because that’s how he did things in Memphis, but that’s the only way a team like the Nets can survive on the defensive end with center Brook Lopez returning to the court after injuries prematurely ended his 2013-14 campaign.
You could do a lot worse than a starting five of Williams, Lopez, Pierce, Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett with a bench consisting of Jack, Andrei Kirilenko, Mason Plumlee, Mirza Teletovic plus unproven youngsters Karasev, Bojan Bogdanovich and any of the Nets’ three second-round draft picks who make it out of camp.
Now if you take away Pierce (and maybe Garnett, if his return for a 20th season depends on his buddy’s destination choice)…
The Nets would then have a major scoring deficit at forward, similar to two seasons ago when Evans and Gerald Wallace would routinely post about eight points per game.
King may be thinking that Bogdanovich is ready for prime time, but let’s not forget that Teletovic came over from Europe two seasons ago with similar fanfare and has failed to produce consistently enough to warrant guaranteed playing time.
It’s a long way from Istanbul to Brooklyn.
And it’s a big leap to move within the NBA from playoff team to serious title contention, which is what this whole Brooklyn project was supposed to be about.
That’s why I’ll wait a little longer before throwing my hat in one direction on the Thornton-for-Jack-and-Karasev trade.
If the Nets can retain Pierce for the next season or two and Karasev improves from garbage-time role player to contributor, then this should be a huge win for King. I don’t dispute that Jack should at least provide insurance in case D-Will’s ankle woes resurface after offseason surgery.
However, the Nets, who are buried by the salary cap and are headed for luxury tax repeater penalties, have little room for error. King already gambled the Nets future away for maybe just a year of Garnett and Pierce should they both bolt. The Jack acquisition would only further limit King’s ability to make improvements.
This move is typical King. Leave it to him to find someone old and expensive to fill a need.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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