Among the multitude of deficiencies the Brooklyn Nets must address this offseason, point guard play is near the top. The club’s floor generals struggled throughout much of last season, and the front office now faces a crossroad at the position. General Manager Sean Marks must work aggressively to upgrade Brooklyn’s playmaking attack.
After the Nets parted ways with the oft-injured Deron Williams last year, they used a trio of middle-to-lower tier signal callers to run the offense in 2015-16. Jarrett Jack was serviceable if unspectacular before his ACL injury in January, and in his relief, Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan each averaged four-plus assists and seven-plus points per game.
It’s unclear which–if any–of those guards will return for the 2016-17 campaign. The Nets have a team option for Jack next year, but I would be surprised if they don’t decline it and buy him out. Sloan is an unrestricted free agent, so his future is undecided. Larkin has a player option, so he could pick it up or bolt.
Even if one or more of these floor generals returns next season, they should ideally be kept only as reserves. Larkin, for example, is a valuable playmaker and energizer in pick-and-rolls, but his diminutive stature limits his versatility on both ends of the floor. Both he and Sloan averaged just 11.6 points per 36 minutes.
Ultimately, Marks and Co. should earnestly pursue all options that could elevate their point guard outlook. Nets star forward Thaddeus Young indicated as much when he was asked which areas the team must tackle (per Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com):
Right now, definitely a good point guard and an elite scoring wing…I think those are the aspects of the game that we need.
Marks’ offseason search for a long-term playmaker won’t be easy. For starters, he won’t likely find a quality option in the draft because they don’t own a first-round pick (they pick at No. 55 in the second round).
The trade market is also tricky. Due to the aforementioned lack of draft assets and sparse depth on the current roster, the Nets would only be able to land a substantial playmaker by trading a prized possession—Young, Brook Lopez or soon-to-be-sophomores Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough (the latter two are likely untouchable).
Some teams have multiple high-level point guards (think Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns), but they would all likely ask for a return package that included either Lopez or Young.
Marks would be wise to pull the trigger if the right deal for someone like Jeff Teague or Dennis Schroder came along, but that trade may never happen—and if the Nets end up dealing Lopez or Young, it might be for a wing instead.
That leaves us with perhaps the most probable avenue to acquire a point guard: free agency.
Depending on who returns, the Nets could have up to $45 million in salary cap room entering 2016-17. While that gives Brooklyn plenty of room to pursue free agents, the rising salary cap (which could be north of 90 million) will ensure that most of the league will also have cap space to shop with.
There are a handful of respectable playmakers on the market this summer, but only a select few of them are both realistic targets and long-term upgrades. For example, a borderline All-Star like Mike Conley won’t likely leave Memphis for the Nets’ rebuilding project, so he’s an unrealistic option. And although a stud like Rajon Rondo would accept the right offer from Brooklyn and provide an upgrade, he’s not worth the extra-curricular hassle and isn’t a long-term bridge to contention.
So who are the optimal targets that are somewhat realistic? Let’s focus on three intriguing options:
Seth Curry, Sacramento Kings, 6’2″, 25 years old
If you didn’t catch the second half of the Kings’ season, Stephen’s brother proved he can compete at the NBA level. The younger Curry improved his shooting off the dribble and enjoyed several high-scoring outings to finish the season. He scored 17-plus in five of his last seven games, supplying a nice mix of facilitating and shooting.
Curry’s per-36 minute numbers (15.6 points, 3.5 assists) aren’t eye-popping, but his 45 percent three-point rate is exactly the kind of efficient weapon the Nets could use. Given his upward trajectory over the past year, he might be a dual-threat weapon who’s just entering his prime.
After declining his 2016-17 option in Sac-town, Curry will become a restricted free agent this summer. Brooklyn will be one of several clubs bidding on him, so he won’t be a cheap date.
Brandon Jennings, Orlando Magic, 6’1″, 26 years old
Jennings isn’t a huge step up from players like Larkin, Sloan or a healthy Jack. However, his best-case scenario and creative potential are certainly loftier. He bounced from the Detroit Pistons to the Magic last season, playing backup at both locales, so we haven’t seen him in a substantial role recently.
Benny Nadeau of The Brooklyn Game talked about how the Nets need a potent perimeter scorer at the 1. Given his unspectacular 2015-16 season, he could be an affordable pickup:
Without Deron Williams or Joe Johnson around anymore, the Nets need a stone-cold killer from behind the arc. Jennings is averaging 1.8 3PM for his career… As the backup now to Elfrid Payton, Jennings didn’t do much to set himself up for a big payday and, at just 26 years old, the Nets could do worse than a cheap gamble. If the price is right and Sean Marks doesn’t want to use the spot on any second-rounders, a Jennings reclamation project, much like Andray Blatche or Shaun Livingston, could work wonders for both sides.
Jeremy Lin, Charlotte Hornets, 6’3″, 27 years old
As soon as Kenny Atkinson was hired last week, the old New York Knicks/Jeremy Lin connection recirculated, and for good reason. Atkinson helped Lin take his career to another level during the “Linsanity” emergence, and now Lin enters the offseason with a chance to reunite with the coach and return to New York.
Lin has been a secondary facilitator for the Charlotte Hornets this season. He’s spent time playing the off-guard spot alongside Kemba Walker and also serving as Walker’s backup. If Lin took the reins in Brooklyn, his assist numbers would undoubtedly jump, especially running Atkinson’s pick-and-roll system with bigs like Lopez and Young. He posted just 4.1 assists per 36 minutes this season, but throughout his short career, he’s dished 6-8 assists in a primary playmaking role.
Lin’s playoff exploits against the Miami Heat have offered fresh evidence of his inside-out attack repertoire. He navigates screens, pulls up to shoot from distance, drives to the tin and draws fouls. Although he’s far from stardom, Lin would definitely bring a dynamic element to Brooklyn’s backcourt.