Nets hope big-money risks pay off

NEW YORK -- Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks basically had no choice but to take some big risks this summer -- and so he did.

On Thursday, Marks signed Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson -- a pair of 24-year-old, restricted free-agent guards with all of 24 career starts between them -- to a combined $125 million worth of offer sheets.

Both Crabbe and Johnson figure to play significant roles in Brooklyn next season should Portland and Miami, respectively, decide not to match -- and each team has just three days to figure that out.

Marks inherited a 21-61 outfit lacking in future picks and dynamic talent. Former GM Billy King's blockbuster trades that netted veterans Gerald Wallace, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in exchange for the future proved disastrous, triggering the need for a massive rebuild.

Boston took Jaylen Brown No. 3 overall with Brooklyn's pick in 2016, and the Celtics also control the Nets' next two first-round selections in 2017 (swap) and 2018 (unprotected).

This was the reason people around the league cautioned potential candidates not to take this job. But Marks wanted the opportunity, interviewed well, earned the position and accepted the daunting challenge ahead of him.

And he did so with a clear understanding that he wasn't going to be able to lure the likes of Kevin Durant, Mike Conley or Al Horford to Brooklyn. Not now. He was going to have to take chances on lower-tier players: guys with potential; guys who were undervalued; guys who worked hard and possessed high character.

And so he did.

On draft night, Marks dealt starter Thaddeus Young for the rights to late first-rounder Caris LeVert -- who has a history of left foot injuries but might have gone in the lottery had he been healthy -- while also moving up in the second round to take local product Isaiah Whitehead.

The GM followed that up by being aggressive in free agency. With more than $50 million in salary-cap space, it seems like the Nets have pursued everyone ... probably because they have.

Marks gave Jeremy Lin $36 million over three years to reunite with first-year coach Kenny Atkinson and fill the starting point-guard vacancy. He gave reserve Trevor Booker $18 million over two years to presumably replace Young as the team's starting power forward. And he gave journeyman Justin Hamilton $6 million over two years to fill a reserve role in the frontcourt.

Then Marks gave Johnson, whose stellar start to last season in Miami was derailed by a shoulder injury that kept him out three months, $50 million over four years to be Brooklyn's sixth man, while Crabbe, a solid mid-range shooter who averaged 10.3 points per game for Portland in 2015-16, received $75 million over four years to be its starting shooting guard.

There are no lottery picks in that $185 million mix of additions. Just a late first-round selection (Booker), two second-rounders (Crabbe and Hamilton) and two undrafted guys (Lin and Johnson).

Marks might have overpaid for Crabbe and Johnson, but he basically had to, banking on their potential to become special players down the road. Most teams had significant cap space with the influx of national TV dollars, and the Nets had minimal assets to attract free agents.

Yet add Brook Lopez, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough and Bojan Bogdanovic into the equation, and they've at least got the makings of a young foundation with which to build on -- even if it's still perhaps considered among the worst rosters in the NBA.

Atkinson's strong reputation for developing players figures to be immediately put to the test. And who knows if the likes of Crabbe and Johnson can rise to the occasion in increased roles on a team that doesn't feature cornerstones Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum or Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside.

And so now, for the next three days at most, we wait to see if Crabbe and Johnson become Nets.

Marks has taken some big risks. In a few months, we'll get an early indication as to whether they'll eventually pay off.