By Steve Lichtenstein
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I thought the Nets hit rock-bottom at the end of this past season.
A 21-61 record, their lottery ticket for Thursday's NBA Draft owned by rival Boston, and little hope for signing marquee free agents.
Evidently, Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks has no issue with burying the franchise even deeper before attempting to dig out.
How else can one explain Marks' moves on Thursday, when he reportedly offloaded forward Thaddeus Young, the Nets' second-best player, to Indiana for the 20th overall selection in the draft?
Indiana later chose Caris LeVert, a soon-to-be 22-year-old wing out of the University of Michigan who has had three foot surgeries in two years -- most recently on March 26 -- reportedly on the Nets' behalf.
Where was Marks' sense of value?
Go look at the last 10 years of the draft -- there were way more misses than hits at No. 20. The best of the bunch was Evan Fournier, a nice player who has averaged 11 points per game in his four seasons in Denver and Orlando.
Young may have had his flaws -- he's stretch-four sized without the 3-point shooting accuracy -- but he was one of few Nets who got after it every night no matter the lousiness of his environment. He used guile and hustle to average 15 points and nine boards per game while shooting 51.4 percent from the floor last season.
To only yield the 20th pick in return -- when Charlotte gave Sacramento No. 22 for reserve Marco Belinelli -- seems like Marks was selling very low.
It smelled like a Sixers-style panic move, one to create cap space (Young was due $25 million over the next two seasons with a $13.8 million player option for 2018-19; his 15 percent trade kicker of $3.75 million will still count against Brooklyn's cap) and accumulate draft picks for the sake of having them.
The problem: It will likely cost more in this TV windfall year just to replace Young with a player of equal value, assuming one can be found who is willing to endure what will surely be a lengthy rebuild.
And then there is the matter of LeVert, a player who was on no analyst's top 20 list.
I realize that the drafting of players is an inexact science. When he actually played, LeVert showed he could be the athletic wing with a deft outside shooting touch and the ability to guard multiple positions that the Nets so desperately need.
However, even if LeVert's injury history didn't scare Marks away (NetsDaily.com reported that Dr. Martin O'Malley from the Hospital for Special Surgery, the sponsor of the Nets' practice facility, repaired his foot in March), why not trade down to a more appropriate slot for a player most projected to go in the second round?
After the draft, Marks was not able to answer this or any other questions related to the "proposed" trade since the deal could not be finalized until July for salary cap reasons.
No matter. I'm sure Marks will eventually stress that LeVert was the player the Nets wanted all along, that he has lottery talent, and that he was indeed on other teams' radar.
Marks did however have time on Thursday to bask in the afterglow of trading up to the 42nd overall slot, which he used for the rights to Seton Hall's Isiah Whitehead, a Brooklyn native who played at Lincoln High School. The Nets gave Utah the rights to their 55th overall pick and cash in return.
As if the first home-grown Brooklynite to suit up in a Nets uniform makes up for the departure of Young, who became the first player to set down roots in the borough four years after the organization's move from New Jersey. Young and his family were omnipresent in their community. He will be missed on and off the court.
I will say that Whitehead's game does have the potential to bring excitement on its own.
Although he is more of a combo guard, the 6-foot-5 scoring machine will find more opportunity in Brooklyn if he can tailor his skills to those of a more traditional point guard.
Assuming the Nets cut ties with Jarrett Jack by buying out the $6.3 million he is owed next season for $500,000, Whitehead will be the only point guard on the roster on June 30.
The free agency negotiating period begins the following day. The Nets are projected to have over $50 million in cap space.
Marks told a group of reporters in his post-draft press conference that he will spend it wisely. He needs to do a better job of understanding NBA value than he did on Thursday.
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