By Steve Lichtenstein
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Nets coach Kenny Atkinson probably wouldn’t have been happier with his Saturday evening in Las Vegas if he had won a slot machine jackpot.
Sean Marks, Brooklyn’s general manager, acquired one of Atkinson’s favorites, wing DeMarre Carroll, from Toronto in a heist of a trade first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The Raptors, who were desperate to shed payroll to get under the NBA’s luxury tax threshold, also sent to Brooklyn their lottery-protected first- and a second-round pick in the 2018 draft. In return, Toronto only asked for reserve center Justin Hamilton, a very flawed player limited to a few hot shooting streaks from long range. Wojnarowski reported on Sunday that Toronto plans to waive Hamilton and stretch his $3 million salary cap hit over the next three seasons.
Well done, Mr. Marks. That’s one heck of a haul for a salary dump.
The trade won’t become official until the Wizards complete the process of matching Brooklyn’s approximately $106.5 million offer sheet for wing Otto Porter, Jr., who must pass a physical. The Wizards probably thought they were getting revenge for what they perceived as Marks’ extortionist bid for an above-average young player by stringing it out until Wednesday, but it seems Marks will get the last word.
Washington management waited until the last few minutes of its two-day window ending on Saturday night to report that it would match on Porter, but news of the Nets’ deal leaked out shortly after midnight.
One of Marks’ favorite words in his media conferences is “strategic.” As in he has a plan for every stage of this massive rebuilding. And a backup plan. And a backup to the backup plan. When it became apparent that Porter wouldn’t be Brooklyn bound, Marks was ready to move on to Plan B from his seat at Summer League in Las Veags.
For about 60 percent of Porter’s price tag, Carroll will give Brooklyn an experienced “3-and-D” wing that it has so sorely lacked since, well, forever. No more, “Randy Foye will be guarding Kawhi Leonard tonight,” as per Atkinson’s laughable plan that he announced prior to a Nets/Spurs contest last season (before San Antonio opted to rest Leonard, thereby depriving thousands of customers the opportunity to see one of the league’s elite talents in his only Barclays Center engagement. Yet it is the Nets who are still given the most guff for resting guys in a meaningless-to-them regular season finale. But I digress.).
Carroll, who will turn 31 this month, is still considered a plus defender with his 6-foot-8, 212-pound frame and conscientious efforts. As for the downward shooting trends during his two-year tenure in Toronto that got him demoted during this past postseason run, Carroll thrived in the prior two seasons in Atlanta’s ball-movement system, as opposed to being the fourth option in the Raptors’, um, less democratic offense featuring the one-on-one skills of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
Atkinson happened to be an assistant on the Hawks under head coach Mike Budenholzer at the time, so I would expect Carroll’s 3-point efficiency to bounce back to his nearly 37 percent career rate before he went 109-for-320 (34 percent) during the 2016-17 campaign.
Even if Carroll continues to devolve in the two remaining years (at $30.2 million) of his contract into another Gerald Wallace, this trade isn’t only about the present. Marks was able to hold out for a first-round selection, a huge win for a club that next June will convey the last of its three first-round picks (not including the 2017 swap that cost Brooklyn the No. 1 overall slot) to Boston courtesy of the 2013 Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce disaster.
Even with the $11.8 million salary cap hit on this deal, Marks still has about $18 million in room, assuming guarantees totaling $4.8 million are picked up for Quincy Acy, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Archie Goodwin, for further improvements.
That’s bad news for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Pistons’ unrestricted free agent wing who may have been waiting patiently for an offer from the Nets somewhere close to Porter’s neighborhood.
As of now, overbidding for Caldwell-Pope might abet Marks in this “talent acquisition” phase, no matter the position overload, but it would be in direct conflict with his 1A mission of maintaining cap flexibility.
A better use of owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s funds would be the addition of a shooting big, an even rarer commodity than wings.
JaMychal Green (Memphis) and Nikola Mirotic (Chicago) would be ideal “stretch-4″ candidates. Unfortunately, as restricted free agents, an offer to either would force the Nets to go through the same agonizing process as they did with Porter, with minimal odds of coming away with the player in the end. The Porter match made Marks 0-for-4 in his restricted attempts since taking over for Billy King in February 2016.
Ersan Ilyasova should be more easily obtainable given his unrestricted status and the fact that he has worn six different uniforms over the last three seasons. A career 36.6 percent shooter from behind the 3-point line, he’d surely get more respect in Atkinson’s half-court spacing sets than either Trevor Booker or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Ilyasova is at least an average defensive rebounder and while his slow foot speed hinders his overall defense, he did lead the league in charges drawn last season (36).
Considering the relatively cheap ($16.4 million over three years) deal signed by Patrick Patterson to play in Oklahoma City, Marks shouldn’t have to break the bank to sign Ilyasova.
If all else fails, Marks can save the space for the trade deadline. Atkinson used the severely undersized Hollis-Jefferson as a slash-4 (it would be a stretch to call him a stretch-4 given his abysmal shooting stats) last season, so I would expect Carroll to play up in certain small-ball configurations. A lineup with Carroll, Jeremy Lin, D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert and Timofey Mozgov looks like a real NBA team on paper.
How much better could it be than last season’s 20-62 horror show? That depends on health and how well Atkinson adjusts to the loss of 20-point-per-game scorer Brook Lopez, who Marks sent to Los Angeles in June’s trade that brought in Russell and Mozgov.
We’re not talking playoffs in 2017-18, even in the decimated Eastern Conference, but at least the Nets seem like they’ve finally moved up from rock bottom.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1