You can point your finger at anyone you want, but everyone and anyone that was associated with the Brooklyn Nets this season is to blame for what turned out to be one of the biggest failures in NBA history.
Entering the 2021-22 NBA season, the Nets were picked by many to win the NBA Finals, and rightfully so with their All-Star trio of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden.
Well, Kyrie Irving was ruled ineligible to play before the season began due to his stance on getting vaccinated and New York City's vaccine mandates at the time.
Then, between players being in and out of the rotation due to health protocols and injuries, James Harden seemed to give up on the franchise that gave up everything to get him.
Tensions had been boiling over for months leading up to the trade deadline between Harden and Brooklyn and once February 10 arrived, the Nets struck a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers to grant Harden his wish of a release from the team.
Brooklyn sent James Harden and Paul Millsap to Philadelphia for All-Star Ben Simmons, Andre Drummond and Seth Curry in a deal that changed the landscape of the 2021-22 NBA season.
By the looks of things, it seemed like the Nets could possibly make out really well in this trade given that they would be getting some much-needed depth and a terrific defender in Ben Simmons, but Seth Curry missed some time due to an ankle injury, Andre Drummond was limited given his fit in the frontcourt and Ben Simmons did not play a single game this year due to mental health issues and on-going back problems.
Heading into the offseason, Simmons’ long-term status with the Nets and in the NBA is definitely going to be a key topic of discussion, but the key question that needs to be asked is “what is next for the Brooklyn Nets?”
This season was an emotional roller coaster and going from the “team to beat” to being a very beatable team, the Nets truly need to reevaluate the way their roster is constructed, starting with their two stars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Kyrie Irving’s Future In Brooklyn
The good news heading into the offseason for the Brooklyn Nets is that Kevin Durant is under contract long-term and is committed to building something special.
The bad news though is that Kyrie Irving has a player option that he could decline in the offseason to enter free agency.
Do the Nets need to worry about Kyrie Irving leaving the team and going elsewhere in the offseason?
Following their loss to the Celtics on Monday night, Irving took to the podium and talked about the chances of him staying in Brooklyn and signing a new long-term deal with the Nets.
“In terms of my extension, I don’t really plan on going anywhere,” Irving told reporters. “This is added motivation for our franchise to be at the top of the league for the next few years. I am just looking forward to the summer and just building with our guys here.
“When I say I’m here with Kev [Kevin Durant], I think it really entails us managing this franchise together alongside Joe [Tsai] and Sean [Marks] and our group of family members we have in our locker room and our organization.”
As many organizations have started to gravitate towards doing, Irving expects to work closely not only with his fellow All-Star teammate in Kevin Durant, but Nets' owner Joseph Tsai and general manager Sean Marks to build a team that is capable of achieving greatness.
The Nets dealt with a lot this season not only in regards to the drama that surrounded James Harden, but in regards to Kyrie Irving not appearing in a game until January 5 due to health protocols and vaccine mandates in New York City.
Losing Harden after giving up so much for him last season was definitely a blow to this franchise, but keeping what they have with Durant and Irving is a “must” heading into the offseason.
Durant is not going anywhere and it does not appear that Irving is having doubts about his future in Brooklyn either.
“There’s no question where I am going and how it is going to happen, I’m here with 7 [Kevin Durant], but I’m also here to build a great team,” Kyrie went on to say. “I’ve scored, averaged this many points, done this many things, you know individually been recognized for my greatness, but at this point in my career, I really just want to be a part of a great team and just dominate that way. I am not really focused on any individual accolades or achievements, but just really build something special. That’s my focus going into the summer, building with my teammates and just being there everyday.”
Just turning 30-years-old in March, Irving will enter the offseason continuing to receive questions about what the future holds for him, but he seemed to make his intentions pretty clear during his postgame press conference on Monday night.
As for what Irving’s next contract will look like, the seven-time All-Star is eligible to receive a five-year, $247.7 million offer from the Brooklyn Nets, should he decline his $36.9 million player option.
Other teams around the league will only be able to offer him four-years and $183.6 million in total, close to a $64 million difference in max contract offers.
Kyrie Irving is also extension eligible up until June 30 this offseason and the Nets can look to sign him to a four-year, $189.9 million extension.
Basically, what Irving’s upcoming contract situation comes down to is whether or not he is willing to forfeit some money to help his team build long-term. Based on his postgame comments on Monday, it does seem like Kyrie is willing to move forward and help the Nets in any way he can.
In terms of declining his player option and entering free agency, Kyrie Irving is fully expected to be a member of the Brooklyn Nets well past this season.
Who Stays And Who Goes In Free Agency?
The Nets are going to be very busy in both free agency and in the trade market this offseason.
As of right now, they have a total payroll of $160 million heading into the offseason, including Kyrie Irving’s $36.5 million player option, and Brooklyn is set to be a taxpaying team yet again during the 2022-23 season.
How much are they willing to spend and are they willing to become one of the highest tax paying teams in the league like Golden State, who is paying nearly $350 million in combined salaries and taxes, are the two biggest questions Brooklyn will have to address in regards to free agency and the trade market.
Looking at their roster right now, Durant, Simmons and Irving are not going to be going anywhere, so that is an estimated $115 million in combined salaries, pending Irving’s contract situation.
Joe Harris is making $18.6 million next season and Seth Curry is set to make $8.4 million, both players having guaranteed deals for the 2022-23 season.
Patty Mills has a $6.1 million player option to make a decision on by June 29 and then basically the rest of this roster is set to enter free agency.
In terms of “who goes” in free agency, Bruce Brown, Andre Drummond, Goran Dragic, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin are all unrestricted free agents and Nicolas Claxton is set to be a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer of $2.2 million that will be eclipsed in the open market.
How Brooklyn goes about piecing together their roster does depend on what Kyrie Irving’s contract is looking like, but assuming he and the Nets hammer out a four-year, roughly $190 million deal, we could be looking at a scenario in which they bring back Claxton, Brown and Drummond, using their tax mid-level exception, plus they could go out and add a player or two using one of their many trade exceptions.
In doing so though, the Nets would suddenly eclipse a $330 million payroll for next season, almost identical to what the Golden State Warriors have right now.
Building their bench is going to be the main priority of the Brooklyn Nets heading into free agency and there is no easy way to do so given the tax implications they face.
It is definitely possible for them to keep Patty Mills, Nicolas Claxton, Andre Drummond and Bruce Brown in the offseason, but it is likely that one of these four players will not return next season simply because none of them will be on minimum-like contracts and the Nets just simply cannot afford the tax penalties they will assume over the next several years as a result.
Finding height and depth, primarily on the wing, is going to be key for the Nets in the offseason.
The $11.3 million TPE they have from trading Harden to Philadelphia this season and their $6.2 million TPE they have from trading DeAndre Jordan to Detroit last offseason will most likely be utilized to bring in two key bench players and this could very much be at the expense of someone like Joe Harris or Seth Curry, who own the fourth- and fifth-highest guaranteed contracts on this roster as of right now, respectively.
Money is a big problem for the Nets and this will be reflective of what they do in free agency.
Steve Nash Likely To Remain With Nets
There has been a lot of talk lately about Steve Nash’s future with the Brooklyn Nets through two seasons and while there are those calling for a change in leadership, Kevin Durant came to the defense of his head coach on Monday following the team’s loss in the first-round of the playoffs.
“Come on man, yeah, Steve has been dealt a crazy hand the last two years, he's been having to deal with so much stuff as a head coach for the first time, COVID, trades, injuries. It is a lot he has had to deal with and I am proud of his passion for us,” Durant said in regards to being asked if Steve Nash is the right coach for this team.
Nash was hired by the Nets before the 2020-21 season and has recorded a 92-62 (59.7%) record as the head coach in Brooklyn. The last two seasons have been difficult, but the Hall-of-Famer does believe that he will be back with the Nets for the 2022-23 season.
“I’ve loved doing this and love these guys, love my staff, love all the departments,” Nash said. “Really have a great working environment, really enjoyed it and want to continue doing it. Ben Simmons and Joe Harris will give us a big lift, you know, and we’ll see how the rest of the roster rounds out, but we should be excited by that. Getting two of your top four guys back—two guys with size, one who’s an All-Star and one who’s one of the best shooters in the league—that gives us a big boost.”
Many have talked about Steve Nash being around next season and on Tuesday, The Athletic reported that there are “no signs” pointing towards the departure of Nash as head coach.
A ton of big decisions loom large over the heads of the Nets’ front-office this offseason and their status as a championship contender in this league depends on what transpires over the next couple of months for this franchise.
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