By Steve Lichtenstein
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The Nets, as expected, accomplished their top offseason goal shortly after the clock struck midnight on the NBA free-agency period Wednesday morning.
According to ESPN, Nets general manager Billy King locked up center Brook Lopez and forward Thaddeus Young with new multi-year contracts. Lopez, who opted out of the final year of his old deal that would have paid him about $16.75 million, will reportedly earn around $60 million over the next three seasons. Young’s numbers were said to be about $50 million over four years.
Most analysts believe Nets fans should be ecstatic that they took care of such business so quickly. After all, with the Nets still in salary cap and luxury-tax hell (thanks to the burdensome contracts of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams), it would have been nearly impossible for King to procure more pleasant alternatives.
Once center Mason Plumlee was dealt to Portland on draft night, bringing back Lopez became a no-brainer, right?
That’s only if you believe that the Nets’ only goal should have been to extend their Brooklyn legacy of mediocrity.
In June, I examined how the Nets could dig their way out of their current hole. It included trading Johnson, stretching Williams and not overpaying for free agents like Lopez. Voila: salary-cap space.
Use it to value traits such as efficient three-point shooting, athleticism, defensive multi-tasking and hustle.
Lopez does one thing exceedingly well, which is score from various mid-ranges. But as far as everything else goes, his ratings range from average to godawful.
This is a max player?
The best players in the league make their teammates better. Lopez is a lousy passer out of the post, often chucking up high-degree-of-difficulty shots (a few of which go in) in lieu of finding open spot-up shooters.
On defense, Lopez’s immobility routinely leads to breakdowns off basic pick-and-rolls. He doesn’t get after loose balls or rebounds.
And this is when Lopez is healthy.
Lopez made it through the 2014-15 season in one piece, but you’d think that his history of foot surgeries would have been at least mildly concerning.
Yahoo reported that the Nets have some “protections” included in the contract should a recurrence sideline him again. But not on the court. It’s not like they could go out into the marketplace and get a suitable replacement midseason.
The Young deal also shows off King’s misguided value system.
Young is a nice player who energized Brooklyn after the All-Star break when he came over from Minnesota in the Kevin Garnett trade.
Though Young didn’t receive “the max,” let’s not pretend that his $12-$13 million annual salary-cap hit is chump change, even after the cap expands when the new TV money starts flowing over the next few years.
Young also has his limitations — he’s a tweener. Not big enough to contain the league’s burlier power forwards down low and not quick enough to check smaller players on the perimeter.
He is by no means a “stretch-4.” While Young burst into Brooklyn shooting flames from three-point range, he eventually reverted to his mean. He misfired on 13 of his final 15 treys over the last 11 regular-season games, and all four he took in the six-game loss to Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs.
Young has the ability to pass, handle the ball and create turnovers with hustle plays — it’s just not consistent enough to hurdle him into more elite status.
Mostly what Young does well is create scoring opportunities through skillful maneuverings off isolation plays.
King acts as if he can’t get enough players with that virtue, despite the league trend towards offenses that flow through ball and player movement.
On one side of his mouth, King will hail theses signings as indicators of the Nets’ commitment to ‘continuity.” On the other side, he’s leaking snippets about how Brooklyn nearly shipped Johnson to Memphis and that the marketplace for D-Will actually exists.
He has no misgivings about how these two contracts further condemn the Nets as luxury tax repeaters, but I guarantee that somewhere down the line, King will use cost control as an excuse to cut corners (like he did last year with Paul Pierce).
It’s true that Lopez and Young are worth more to the Nets than to other teams. But what does that say about what the Nets are worth these days?
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.