By Steve Lichtenstein
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Will it be Lin-sanity or just plain old insanity in Brooklyn next season?
Nets fans, still reeling from the effects of the Billy King era, are used to the latter.
Sean Marks is the new man on the throne in Brooklyn, having replaced the deposed King as general manager in February.
Armed with about $55 million of salary cap space when the NBA free agent market opened on Friday, Marks quickly came to terms with 27-year-old point guard Jeremy Lin. While contracts are not allowed to be signed until July 7, the reported deal called for Lin to be paid $36 million over the next three seasons, with Lin holding a player option for the final year.
Considering the ridiculous amount of money being doled out to free agents in these last few days, I believe Marks did well to sign his top priority at such value.
Not everyone feels that way.
Shortly after the deal leaked to the public, former Nets point guard Jarrett Jack, who was waived on June 30 to save the club $5.8 million in salary cap space, tweeted a derisive laugh. Of course, Jack later followed up with an explanation that it was non-basketball related — most likely after he received negative feedback.
Another past Nets star took to Twitter to weigh in on the move. Stephon Marbury, who toiled in New Jersey for two-plus forgettable seasons and is now a legend in China, wrote, “HAHA!! The NBA used my man to attract the Asian market. I don’t think the money is about basketball.”
Lin, the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the league, has been a polarizing player ever since he rose from near-oblivion to burst onto the scene while with the Knicks during the 2011-12 season.
Playing in coach Mike D’Antoni’s pick-and-roll heavy system, Lin thrived for a few months. His unselfish, though stylish, game was just what the Knicks needed to awaken their slumbering fan base before a knee injury in late March abruptly ended his magical ride.
A small segment of NBA followers was quick to deem Lin a flash in the pan. Some of their motivation was fueled by the fact that he looked different, that he came from a different background (Lin graduated Harvard with a degree in economics), and jealousy over how the New York media elevated him to superstar status.
Lin chose to leave the city that adored him that summer in free agency and he hasn’t come close to replicating that impact in subsequent stops in Houston, Los Angeles or Charlotte.
For the Hornets last season, Lin mainly came off the bench. He averaged 11.7 points, 3 assists and 1.9 turnovers per game.
Lin now has an opportunity to run an NBA show, since the Nets’ depth behind him is basically nonexistent.
There were mentions of a brief flirtation with Rajon Rondo (who reportedly agreed to a 2-year, $28 million deal with the Bulls on Sunday) and the Nets were scheduled to work out Brandon Jennings on Friday (Jennings took the Knicks’ one year, $5 million offer on Monday), but all indications pointed to Lin being Marks’ top target.
New Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson happened to be on D’Antoni’s staff in New York and has been credited by Lin for hastening his development.
While there will likely be an attendance bump — at least initially — at Barclays Center thanks to Lin’s signing, it’s that connection that lends me to trust Marks that this was a basketball decision as opposed to a business one.
Lin alone won’t make the Nets a playoff contender, but I predict he will be serviceable, which would at least beat the incompetence Nets fans were subjected to at the position last season.
After Jack was lost for the season with a torn ACL in early January, Brooklyn alternated between Donald Sloan and Shane Larkin, neither of whom will be asked back.
With Lin on board, I would expect that Atkinson will scheme to his strengths, utilizing him in pick-and-rolls with center Brook Lopez, one of the best finishers in the league.
While I don’t expect Lin-sanity, the Lin contract is far from crazy.
Insanity is giving career backup power forward Trevor Booker $18.5 million for two years (I pray the details of the contract, which have not been disclosed, call for an unguaranteed second year). Insanity is rushing on Day 1 of free agency to sign reserve center Justin Hamilton, who played in Spain last season after appearing in a grand total of 49 NBA games combined in the two prior years, for anything above the league minimum. The reported terms were $6 million for two years.
Both deals were deemed “sleepers” by many analysts, which is another way of saying that these guys haven’t been very good.
Marks is currently on hold awaiting the end of the signing moratorium to find out if the Nets hold the winning tickets in the restricted free agent sweepstakes.
Marks overwhelmed the competition on Sunday by getting Miami’s Tyler Johnson, a 24-year-old reserve guard, to agree to signing a four-year, $50 million offer sheet on July 7.
Restricted free agency is tricky business. The Heat will have three days after the signing to match any offer sheet. However, Marks structured Johnson’s contract to include a “poison pill” with heavily backloaded payments that raised doubt about whether Miami could afford to set aside those sums within its salary cap.
Marks is also reportedly in the running to get Alan Crabbe’s signature on a separate offer sheet, believed to be in the neighborhood of $70 million over four years. Crabbe’s agents have said that the 24-year-old Portland wing will be meeting with several teams on Tuesday, with the Nets believed to be among that group.
Johnson and Crabbe are precisely the types of players Marks promised to bring over — young, athletic, and efficient from 3-point range. If they’re both retained by their current clubs, however, Marks will need to proceed to Plan B.
In that case, Marks would have approximately $33 million to continue shopping in this overheated market for wings and bigs, as opposed to just $3-4 million with Johnson and Crabbe on board. Or somewhere in between.
Marks won’t know the results for three days after any offer sheet signing, but the salary cap space for those offers are considered used during the waiting period.
It’s enough to drive a general manager insane.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1