By Steve Lichtenstein
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The Nets are not one player away from contention, no matter how much the Eastern Conference has been decimated by All-Star flight this offseason.
And even if they were, that one player would not be Otto Porter, Jr.
The Nets reached an agreement on Tuesday night with the Wizards’ restricted free agent wing, whereby Porter ccepted Brooklyn’s four-year, $106.5 million max contract offer sheet, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical.
Assuming the Nets submit the offer sheet to Washington by noon Thursday, the Wizards will have until Saturday to decide whether they will match to avoid losing an asset for nothing. Chris Mannix of The Vertical tweeted on Tuesday that his sources said the Wizards will indeed match, as they have intimated since the end of this past season when it appeared Porter would be one of Brooklyn’s top free agent targets.
So there’s hope that Nets general manager Sean Marks will be bailed out again from making an expensive mistake. Marks’ record to date in the restricted free agent market is 0-3, losing out on Tyler Johnson (Miami) and Allen Crabbe (Portland) last July, and Donatas Motiejunas (Houston) in December.
Those contract offers were also well above market value. Crabbe’s deal in particular has been crippling to the Blazers, who are on the hook to pay a reserve $56 million more over the next three seasons.
The 24-year-old Porter is a better prospect than Crabbe, but no matter how you look at it, he is not a max player.
I get that Porter is an elite catch-and-shoot player, placing fourth in the league in 3-point field goal percentage (43.4 percent) last season. But let’s drop down a bit. He took one dribble or more on just 16 of his 339 attempts, according to NBA.com. He converted 31 percent of those. Of his 414 total field goals, 320 were assisted, with only five 3-pointers unassisted.
In other words, Porter’s success in Washington has had a lot to do with point guard John Wall’s superb ability to break down defenses and execute precise passes to the wide-open spots where Porter has been stationed. Wall assisted on 175 of Porter’s 320 buckets.
Porter is not a player who has proven he can create shots for himself, or others, as evidenced by his meager 1.5 assists per game last season. He was not given many opportunities (65 in 80 games, according to NBA.com) to run pick-and-rolls as the ball-handler. He’s an above-average defender, but not a “lock-down” guy known for guarding multiple positions.
A lot of this could just be the Wizards’ system, where Wall and guard Bradley Beal dominate the ball on almost every possession. However, with Washington’s ultra-thin bench last season you’d think that coach Scott Brooks would have gone to Porter at some point, especially in the playoffs, if Brooks felt that a primary facilitator role was in Porter’s wheelhouse.
This is how Marks wants to utilize Brooklyn’s cap space of approximately $28.4 million?
Wouldn’t it have been better, for instance, for Marks to use that money to attempt to pry multiple young players to Brooklyn? After all, the Nets went 20-62 last season. There’s quite a few holes to fill. And after a whirlwind Fourth of July extended weekend, the Nets are near the top of the list in terms of cap room.
I would have liked to have seen Marks take a run at someone like Kelly Olynyk, a 7-footer who hits 3s at above the league-average rate who is now an unrestricted free agent after the Celtics announced that they will need to renounce his cap hold in order to sign All-Star Gordon Hayward.
Atlanta wing Tim Hardaway Jr., who worked with Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson two seasons ago, is a restricted free agent, but the Hawks seem to be in full tank mode and he could possibly be had at a fair price.
You have to keep in mind that the unintended consequence of the Porter offer is that the Nets will have to count his $24.8 million salary for 2017-18 on their cap from the point of the submission of the offer sheet until its resolution as if he were signed, sealed and delivered. Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post reported that the process could tie up the Nets until July 12 if Washington wants to be petty and delay Porter’s physical. In the meantime, such affordable alternatives (i.e. Patrick Patterson, the former Raptors power forward, reportedly agreed to a three-year, $16.5 million deal with Oklahoma City later on Tuesday) could be taken off the shelf.
And then Marks, like last year, will have to move on to Plan B, which could be similarly restricted free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of Detroit. And so on it will go down the alphabet.
Marks gets a pass because he was given an untenable situation 17 months ago when he replaced Billy King, who doomed the franchise’s future by gambling multiple first-round draft picks until 2019. Marks should be taking risks in the rebuild, such as when he traded cornerstone center Brook Lopez to the Lakers for 21-year-old guard D’Angelo Russell a few weeks ago.
However, the continued restricted free agency strategy carries a different type of risk, that of opportunity cost. So far, the Nets have been fortunate that the offended teams have saved Marks from himself. I’m counting on the Wizards to make it 4-for-4.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1