With the NBA playoffs behind us, the 2017 off–season is here and many teams must make massive decisions.CBA expert Danny Lerouxbreaks down the major challenges and opportunities for theBrooklyn Nets in The Crossover's NBA Summer Preview series.
Under GM Sean Marks, the Nets are finally taking their medicine. After years of win-now moves, from trading the pick that became Damian Lillard for Gerald Wallace to the Pierce/Garnett trade in 2013, Brooklyn finally embraced a more gradual approach to team building. Some of this shift came out of necessity, as they do not have many draft picks to work with, but the front office deserves praise for their judicious approach last off-season. Interestingly, that patience has already been rewarded, as Brooklyn secured a first-round pick from the Wizards for taking on a bad 2016 contract (Andrew Nicholson).
That should continue for the next year or two as teams frantically try to get out from under their terrible contracts, and the Nets should be able to extract a useful price for facilitating those moves. On top of about $30 million in cap space, Brooklyn also has two late first-round selections and some fascinating non-guaranteed contracts to decide on between now and the start of the 2017–18 campaign.
Here are three key storylines to watch for the Nets this off-season:
Brook Lopez: After years on the trade block, Lopez is now one season away from his first shot at unrestricted free agency. The Nets’ all-time scoring leader could help out a more competitive team, but his $22.6 million salary makes a trade harder to execute. Brooklyn does not need to move Lopez because they (again) do not have the rights to their own draft pick next year, but would be wise to secure something that can help the team later on, when they will be more competitive.
Salary Dumping Ground: Last off-season, there was a limited market for bad salaries because teams had been hoarding cap space for the 2016 cap spike and free-agent bonanza. Now, there is less flexibility around the league so available space has more value. Instead of signing free agents, the Nets’ front office can use some or all of their approximately $30 million to add draft picks and young talent through trades, like the move they made with Washington at the deadline. The biggest challenge will be what kind of money they are open to taking on, since other franchises are looking to unload multi-season contracts they doled out last summer. Those, like Andrew Nicholson in the Wizards trade, should carry a higher price since they limit what the Nets can do in future seasons.
Draft Picks: While the Nets traded their own first-round pick to the Celtics as a part of the ill-fated Garnett and Pierce deal back in 2013, they still have two of the top 30 choices: Boston’s via pick swap and Washington’s via the aforementioned trade. While the success rate of selections in the 20s is fairly low, getting a rotation player or two on reasonable rookie scale deals would be huge for the Nets long-term. Brooklyn’s roster flexibility allows them to take the best player available with both picks or combine them to move up for a superior talent.
Potential Free Agents: Spencer Dinwiddie (Non-Guaranteed), Randy Foye (Unrestricted), Quincy Acy (Non-Guaranteed), Archie Goodwin (Non-Guaranteed), KJ McDaniels ($3.5m Team Option or Restricted) and Joe Harris (Non-Guaranteed)
Likely Summer of 2017 Cap Space: $28.7 million
Realistic Maximum Summer of 2017 Cap Space (using $101M estimate): $32.5 million
2017 Draft Assets: First round picks from Washington (22nd overall) and Boston (27th overall) plus Boston’s second rounder (57th)
Potential Targets: Focusing on 2019–20 or even 2020–21 certainly narrows the field of potential signings for the Nets, as most unrestricted free agents are older and the younger ones have largely been discarded from previous teams. That leaves two compelling options outside of using cap space to build their asset base by taking on bad contracts: paying second-round picks and/or undrafted players on longer deals that extend into that window and one-year contracts for veterans that will not block their young talent. Isaiah Whitehead can serve as a model here, as they gave him a four-year contract that includes team control for those important later seasons.
Pressure Scale: 4. The most important pressure for Marks is to avoid mistakes that would be expensive to correct. With so little money on the books after the 2017–18 season, the Nets can spend some of their future flexibility now but need a worthwhile return to do so because it will be hard to get back if needed. Moving Lopez and possibly Lin would make sense for the right assets, but keeping them creates a more workable environment for Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and their 2017 picks. The front office will also need to decide which non-guaranteed players they want to retain with both Sean Kilpatrick and Harris having guarantee dates in late June.
State of the Franchise: Slowly rebuilding. Both Marks and ownership deserve praise for their approach so far, as it was always going to take a while for Brooklyn to work its way out of their mess. They did make short-term moves like signing Lin and Booker, but neither added long-term money to their books and the Nets still have plenty of money to use if desired.
In some ways, this farsighted approach can be freeing, as it lets the front office narrow the field of acceptable players in a way that could help them in some negotiations. After all, Brooklyn would be a great first call for players looking to rehabilitate their value since they will have playing time to offer. Drafting successfully makes a major difference too, and they will have at least two bites at the apple this season, potentially more if they can line up moves on or before draft night. They also have an interesting decision with K.J. McDaniels, as they can either pick up his $3.5 million team option or make him a restricted free agent by declining it. Trying to secure him on a cheaper deal by declining it would be an audacious strategy but likely too cheeky considering his option is inexpensive.
It will be fascinating to see if the Nets can successfully navigate this time where so many other franchises are spending recklessly. While partially forced by their unique circumstances, a little bit more pain in the interim could actually lead to them being better positioned for 2019 and beyond than most of their brethren.