Welcome to Panic City!

Talent manager Michael Gruen takes a look at the future of the Nets in this guest post through the scope of multiple different insights throughout the basketball world.

Welcome to Panic City!

In June of 2015, in response to Mets fans getting overly exasperated following a seven-game losing streak, Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson coined the term “Panic City” by saying, “Here they come, the members of Panic City.” Although that was a bad streak, the rest is history as the Mets made it all the way to the World Series.

After the 2015-2016 NBA season, many Nets fans seem to have migrated to Panic City, planning to never return to “Nets Land” again. Although the concerns of the Nets future are legitimate, there is more than meets the eye here.  

The Nets do not own a first-round pick in the 2016 draft, but this draft’s lottery is excessively overrated. Ben Simmons, as highly touted as he is, is not the next NBA superstar. NBA scout Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com said on Simmons, “We’re not looking at the next NBA mega superstar. If you’re a really bad team and you’re rebuilding, I don’t think Simmons, Ingram, Bender, or anybody else in this group are that guy to build around. This draft just doesn’t have that.”

In other words, the Nets sending the 3rd overall pick to Boston will not cause them to miss the next Kevin Durant or LeBron James and that should make fans a little bit more content with the current situation. Don’t get me wrong, sending away the 3rd overall pick in any draft is never good, but this draft’s lottery prospects surely lessens the potential blow. With the lottery prospects being as weak as they are, the pick has less value.

Another thing about this draft, the teams that are selecting in the upper 20’s will still be getting a solid NBA prospect, as this draft is deep. What “deep” means is that there are a significant number of legitimate  NBA prospects in the draft, but there are no real potential superstars. Also, it is very likely the Nets will be able to purchase a pick in the early 30’s for cash alone.

Acquiring a pick would mean the Nets will receive another young player to develop that could become a solid role player. The Nets “going younger” model showed some signs of success in the 2015-2016 season. Adding an additional player or two in the draft should further the team’s push for younger, more energetic, enthusiastic players, which is very different from the year they had Pierce, Garnett, Williams and Johnson in the starting 5.

Some media outlets have reported that Chris McCullough was taken to be a replacement for this year’s first round pick as he went later in the draft because of injury. Although the Nets may have taken him to substitute for this year’s pick, anyone who says that McCullough is an adequate replacement for this year’s pick, which would have been 3rd overall, is full of malarky.

Isaacson told me, “While Chris McCullough could have a very bright future, he isn’t a substitute for having the number 3 pick in the draft, even in a weak lottery like this. McCullough was far from a polished player coming out of college and his injury set his development back further, so in many ways, he’s not that far ahead of this year’s draft class, and he wouldn’t have been a lottery pick this year.

McCullough was a good pickup, but he was projected to go exactly where he went and he was not a particular steal of a deal. Obviously, if he would have stayed another year in Syracuse and developed he could have potentially gone higher, but it works vice versa as well. Had he stayed in college and had a bad season, he may not have gone in the first round altogether and possibly would not even be considered a legitimate NBA prospect.

Another thing that fans tend to forget is the ability to acquire talent via overseas teams. Overseas scouting, if done effectively, can be a substitute for draft picks. Salva Mendez, an international scout for You First and the man responsible for bringing Knicks phenom Kristaps Porzingis to Latvia, gave me insight on how beneficial overseas scouting can be for Brooklyn.

He said, “Overseas scouting will be very beneficial for the Nets, especially without draft picks this year. There are some good players that they should follow and recruit.” With Marks tendency to leave no stone unturned, it is more than likely that he and the Nets have already begun to map out who they will target overseas.

Now that we have gone through the Nets draft situation for 2016 and ways for them to recruit prospects, let’s dissect what their offseason priorities should look like. TV and radio personality Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson” told me that “Hiring a new GM and coach is a start, but how the team attacks free agency and acquires draft picks is first priority this summer and the next few years.”

This is truer than in previous years and contrary to previous off seasons, this one is not about making a splash, it is about doing things carefully and conservatively, AKA the Spurs way. Marks has shown Nets fans in his brief tenure that he is patient, intelligent, and methodical. He has put a culture in place that will restore order to the Nets locker room, attract free agents, and allow the younger guys to develop.

Nets point guard Shane Larkin, told me that “It is important for the coach to keep everybody positive because when you have no draft picks, you have to build from within. All of the young guys on the team need to develop and become good players so that you can bridge the gap where you have no picks for a while.” Larkin, only 23-years-old, is one of the guys who can certainly develop under Coach Atkinson. Atkinson’s approach is exactly what Larkin feels is needed, which is the development of the younger guys.

Players talk; there is a new culture in Brooklyn and free agents know about it. An NBA agent stressed to me the importance of a good culture as it pertains to attracting free agents to Brooklyn. He said, “The culture of the team 100% plays a role in free agent’s decisions. Players want to go play for a team that has a stable front office. If players see the positive direction of the team they will be more inclined to sign there and that begins with the front office.”

In my opinion, Brooklyn may not attract superstars this year, but it could attract numerous young pieces that can be built upon to allow the team to contend a mere one or two years down the road, but patience is not a virtue, it is required. Yes, that is right, there’s a bulb flickering in the tunnel and it is not too far away, but fans need to be patient and let Marks and his crew do their thing.

I stress it again, fans need to be patient, as Jake Brown of CBS Sports Radio told me, “I think the Nets have to be patient. Rushing to win now is only going to put them further behind. This is a process. It’s going to take patience and a rebuild around young talent to get to the promised land again.”

So yes, there is hope, even if it is not centered around existing draft picks, but with that being said, things need to change. I have nothing against former Nets PR vice president Gary Susman, but it is time to part ways with how things were done when the team was in New Jersey and embrace the Big Apple media and mentality.  

With the Nets relieving Susman of his services along with other moves in the front office, we are starting to see that change occur. The Nets need fresh faces and a new attitude; the transition has certainly started and it will continue until the season’s start and beyond.

One thing the Nets have that many other teams don’t is an owner that is devoted to winning, but is that enough to attract free agents? Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told me, “No. It is not enough.” But hey, it sure is a good start.

With a good GM in place, a new coach in Atkinson, a new culture being set, and a new front office, there is potential here. Just look at what Cuban did with his Mavericks; He purchased a team that was in the dumps and took them to the promised land.

Sean Marks’ first major decision was to hire a coach, which he did with great integrity, hiring Kenny Atkinson. The mere fact that the media had no idea who was going to be hired in advance, shows me that Marks has already begun changing the way the Nets front office operates. I can’t remember a single Billy King decision that did not leak, but leaks are something Marks appears to not tolerate. Again, the Spurs methodology showing vibrantly.  

In my opinion, the Atkinson hire was a good choice. I am not alone in this opinion, your very own Brian Rzeppa said, “Atkinson has established himself as one of the top coaches in terms of development. With Marks making the decision to bring him in, it signifies that the team is building both for the present and the future.”

Brooklyn Nets color commentator Tim Capstraw added in a recent conversation, “Sean Marks has been extremely impressive with how he goes about business and the decisions that he’s made. Kenny Atkinson is the perfect choice for head coach of the Brooklyn Nets.”

I asked Nets point guard Shane Larkin about why fans should be optimistic, “Kenny Atkinson is a great developmental coach who wants to build a winning culture in Brooklyn so fans should be excited for that, but also patient.”

He continued, “Fans should be hopeful because Sean Marks has put a team around him that will do all the things they can to find new players and diamonds in the rough, similar to how the Spurs always do.” Like we said earlier, Marks does not leave a stone unturned and he will do whatever he can to find guys overseas or via the D-League who can play at the NBA level.

With the infrastructure that Marks has put in place, there is no reason to believe the Nets will not recover. They will recover, and it will be sooner than later. Be patient, let Marks and Co. do their thing and get ready to see significant changes in an organization that has not been open to changes in the past.

The team we see on the floor this year will be a step in the right direction as opposed to a step in regression like it was in 2014. Nets fans, sell your house in Panic City and get ready to move back to Nets Land!

Michael Gruen is a talent manager, managing multiple NBA athletes. He owns GrandStyle Management. He can be reached via email at [email protected].

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