• Greg Alcala

What Joe Johnson's Vacancy Means for the Nets

*Photo via Getty Images

February 25, 2016 became the end of an era in Brooklyn Nets history. Joe Johnson reached a buyout agreement with the Nets signaling the end to what was the failed Deron Williams-Joe Johnson-Brook Lopez experiment. Nothing significantly positive resulted from the culmination of stars besides a couple of playoff appearances and no championships.

This season, Johnson served as a role player on one of the worst teams in the NBA and the buyout not only benefitted Johnson, who is title-chasing with Dwyane Wade in Miami, but also the Nets. Johnson was in the final year of his $124 million-dollar contract, earning $24.9 million this season and agreed to give back the remaining $3 million to confirm his departure from the Nets, via ESPN.com. For the Nets, it allows them to exhale and say, “Wheewwww, at least that’s over.”

New Nets GM Sean Marks faces an uphill climb in rebuilding the damage that has been done to the Nets over the past couple years and we all know that will take some time. In the interim, Johnson’s vacancy allows the next-man-up an opportunity to prove themselves and develop their game and fortunately for the Nets, the youngsters are the benefactors. Before Johnson was bought out, he scored 19 points in a 104-112 loss to the Portland Trailblazers in 34 minutes of play.

On that Thursday, post-Johnson, Bojan Bogdanovic, not “Iso-Joe”, scored a team-high 24 points, in a rare 116-106 win over the Phoenix Suns. Johnson’s minutes will transfer and spread throughout the rest of the Nets outside of the starters, supplying guys like rookie Chris McCullough, Thomas Robinson, Willie Reed, Shane Larkin, Sergey Karasev, Markel Brown and newly 10-day contract signee, Sean Kilpatrick with an opportunity to showcase their skills to either remain in Brooklyn or create opportunities elsewhere. Someone like Kilpatrick needs this.

*Photo via AP

After four years as a Cincinnati Bearcat (2010-14) receiving several awards for his exploits in the Big East conference, Kilpatrick has bounced around the league since going undrafted in 2014. In the last year or so, Kilpatrick has spent time between both the D-League and short stints in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets, but he hasn’t made enough of an impact to change the course of his career. Maybe he can do it with the Nets.

On a team that’s 17-44, on the fast-track to nowhere, at least in the short term, there’s a chance for Kilpatrick to distinguish himself even with the bevy of guards the Nets boast currently. There is a considerable gap between being a D-League All-Star averaging 26.4 ppg, shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from three-point range and an NBA rotation player but if Kilpatrick can become an All-Star from the perimeter in the minor leagues, I’m pretty sure he can help out and knock a few down for the big ball-club. The Nets aren’t the greatest long-distance shooting team in the NBA. They ranked 18th by ESPN.com so there is a need for Kilpatrick.

On Sunday in a loss against the Timberwolves, Kilpatrick, in his fourth game with Brooklyn, finished with 19 points connecting on three of five three-point attempts.

Markel Brown can also win from the extra time on the floor. Through the first four months of the season, Brown was averaging 2.6 points a game.

In February alone, Brown has upped his scoring average to 8.9 ppg, featuring five double digit games in points. Brown is most known for his perimeter defense but as an athlete and only 24 years young, there is a lot of room for improvement for Brown as he continues to round out his game going forward. And it all stems from a lack of a midrange and consistent three-point shot that he can work on towards the end of this season.

*Photo via USA Today

Despite all of youngsters that Brooklyn possesses, all of the eyeballs are fixated in McCullough’s corner. He’s the Nets 2015 first round draft pick that missed most of his rookie campaign. He’s the 19 year-old who is as raw as can be but has a lot of potential as a SF/PF in this league.

On a losing team without direction for the moment, this is the best opportunity for McCullough. He’ll be able to get on the floor, make mistakes, enjoy some highs and endure some lows. He will understand what works for him and what he obviously needs to work on.

Most importantly, McCullough is on the court and for the Nets, that’s what counts.

The Nets most recent loss against the Timberwolves is just an example but this is exactly what this time of year means to Brooklyn. It also gives new GM Marks the chance to evaluate players in deciding whom he should keep or let go in rebuilding the Nets going forward and that will be key.

Johnson shouldn’t be the last veteran to go. Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, last years trading deadline acquisition, should both be on the trading block due to their abilities to bring back some assets in exchange. According to SBNation’s Yaron Weitzman, the first thing Marks has to do is hire a good coach, especially with Tom Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy available.

*Photo via NYPost

Weitzman writes that Marks has to be creative in adding players from the D-League, undrafted players and those from overseas and must find ways to acquire picks and more young talent for Young and Lopez, who I both mentioned above. During his introductory press conference, Marks prioritized what needs to be implemented into the Nets organization, and it all starts with the culture. “We’ve got a culture that needs to be set and that starts from day one,” Marks told Nets.com.

“The people in the organization are going to define this culture. It’s the hires that will be made over the next two, three, four months, those people are going to be the right people to push that culture, drive that culture. We’ll all be on the same page with a clear vision.” He’s got my vote.

Hiring anyone from the Spurs organization is a smart move and it seems like the Nets are taking a big step into the next four years with Marks as the gamechanger. It won’t be easy but after winning a championship with the Spurs as a player and helping sustain one of the NBA’s few dynasties, I’m pretty sure Marks has a wealth of knowledge to extract from to put into action. Unfortunately, it just so happens that one of his first few moves was getting rid of Johnson, which should help a new look Nets team in the meantime.

*Stats and Info courtesy of ESPN.com

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