Have the Nets picks peaked in value? Should Houston trade them?
A crossroads moment
Well, it happened.
The Brooklyn Nets went from the unequivocal title favorites to a bonafide rebuilding team within the span of two years. And the Rockets control the fate of all of their first round picks until the year 2027. I’m sure this is exactly what Nets GM Sean Marks had in mind when he traded for James Harden in January of 2021.
Whatever his original goal was, we’ve arrived here now and it’s time to take a measured look at how valuable Rockets GM Rafael Stone’s treasure trove has gotten.
The 2023 first round pick swap is functionally worthless due to Brooklyn being 10 games over .500 and Houston being the worst team in basketball. You’re left with two first rounders and two pick swaps. As mentioned yesterday before this trade, the Nets have left themselves an avenue to being competitive due to the Irving trade. Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith are both good NBA players and the front office has added Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Jae Crowder to that mix.
Brooklyn is going to be good and has zero incentive to lose games on purpose. “How good?” and “Will this roster stay the same?” are key questions that will dictate whether or not Houston receives a strong pick from them in 2024. For the time being, it’s safe for one to assume that the Nets have made all their major changes until the offseason. If anything is done, it will be on the margins.
Brooklyn will likely take this remainder of the season to evaluate the talent on the roster plays before another shake-up. That’s why we can only answer one of those key questions for the time being. Before we get the answer to how good this team will be, it’s logical for Houston to take a hard look at these draft picks and compare it to what can be had on the open market. Both of these are reasonable predictions for how this plays out:
If things stand pat, the Nets are on-pace to surrender at least one lottery talent to the Rockets.
We don’t know if things will stand pat and it’s possible this is the highest point in value that those picks will ever reach.
Let’s start with that first point. If the Nets stand pat, there’s a reasonable chance that they’re a very good team that just falls short of the playoffs next year. The front offices in the East have gotten a lot smarter this decade and that’s coincided with a more competitive conference as a whole. Currently, the Nets stand just three games above the play-in tournament. And this is with Irving and Durant having each played over 70% of their games this season respectively.
Even if Ben Simmons, Mikal Bridges, and Cam Thomas perform admirably as the stewards for the team, it’s hard to believe they will win a greater percentage of games next season than they already have this season. Next year, Brooklyn will have to contend with a Giannis-led Bucks team, an Embiid-led 76ers team, a Mitchell-led Cavaliers team, a Butler-led Heat team, a Young-led Hawks team, a LaVine-led Bulls team, and a Barnes-led Raptors team. Crazier things have happened, but those are at least seven teams that pose legitimate threats to be better than the Nets next year. This is why it’s reasonable for one to predict that the Nets will surrender at least one lottery pick to the Rockets if things stand pat.
But this is why that second prediction is safer - nobody knows if things will stand pat. Look no further than Exhibit A: the 2021 Brooklyn Nets. Pardon my french, but shit can change quickly in the NBA. The Rockets can’t just assume the Nets will sit on all these newly-acquired assets.
This is same franchise scarred by the visual of the Celtics using their picks to draft Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown six years ago. They will do everything in their power to avoid a repeat of that disaster scenario, including using their new ammunition in trades. Brooklyn can turn around tomorrow and trade for another player the caliber of Kevin Durant because they literally just acquired the a Durant-equivalent worth of assets!
You have to remember that we’re talking about a team that resides in the market of Brooklyn, New York. What if Karl-Anthony Towns decides to demand a trade this summer? What about Trae Young? Damian Lillard seems happy right now, but what about tomorrow? Or hell, LeBron James seems open to the idea of a move.
But here’s some good news for Houston: the Nets haven’t traded for any of these guys yet. Right now, all the league knows for sure is that the Rockets own the future draft capital of a team that has just imploded in embarrassing fashion. These assets are a hot commodity, but they may not stay that way if Houston decides to sit on them. Sitting on them could be a worthwhile gamble, but it’s just that - a gamble.
At the very least, Houston should be having conversations up until the deadline with every NBA team to assess what exactly they can get for these picks.
And the first call you make if you’re GM Rafael Stone? To the Nets themselves.
Red Nation Hoops is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.