Free Agents (Cap Holds)
The Nets will begin their first season in Brooklyn this fall, but it's not yet clear which players will be wearing those black-and-white uniforms when the team takes the floor. The Nets have only four players under contract, for less than $10MM in total guaranteed salary. Even if Jordan Farmar exercises his player option as expected, the team's guaranteed contracts amount to just $13.67MM.
Even with the opportunity to gain an incredible amount of cap space, the Nets don't plan to be overly active in signing other teams' free agents until they figure out where they stand with their own. Deron Williams sits atop not only Brooklyn's wishlist, but the list of any team with cap space this summer -- and even some without it. With Dwight Howard locked into his contract for another year and Williams expected to opt out to explore free agency, the point guard is the clear-cut top free agent available.
It's impossible to say yet whether Williams, or the team's other big-name free agents like Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez, will end up re-signing with the Nets, but let's assume all three players are interested in returning. What might it cost the Nets to lock up their core players, and how much money would they have left over to spend on outside help?
As I outlined earlier today, a max offer for Williams would have a first-year salary of $17.18MM. Let's say Wallace agreed to a multiyear deal that started at about $8-9MM and that the Nets were forced to match an offer sheet for Lopez at around the same price. That would put the price tag for those three players at somewhere in the neighborhood of $35MM for 2012/13. Renouncing all of their non-Gerald Green free agents and taking into account minimum cap holds for empty roster spots would put the Nets' team salary at about $51MM -- $7MM+ below the cap.
Of course, to take advantage of that $7MM+ in cap room, the Nets would have to renounce their bi-annual exception, traded player exceptions, and full mid-level exception. It would probably only make sense to do so if there's a desirable free agent out there who will choose the Nets' $7MM over another team's $5MM mid-level. Would $7MM be enough to land a big-name power forward like Kevin Garnett or Ersan Ilyasova? Maybe, but I doubt it. It makes more sense to attempt to re-sign Kris Humphries by taking advantage of his Bird rights, allowing the team to hang onto those cap exceptions.
There are a lot of moving parts involved in the Nets' offseason. I haven't even mentioned the team's first-round pick, which it has about a 25% chance of keeping. Lucking into Anthony Davis would sure provide a massive boost to the franchise as it moves to Brooklyn, but it's an extreme long shot.
It appears the Nets' likely best-case scenario involves re-signing its major free agents, and heading into Brooklyn led by Williams, Wallace, Lopez, Brooks, Morrow, Green, and perhaps a second-tier free agent or two. Would that nucleus be enough to contend in the East? The Nets would certainly need to stay healthier than they did in 2011/12, and even then, they don't match up favorably with rosters like Miami's and Chicago's.
Brooklyn's new team faces an uphill battle this summer, its offseason hinging on Williams' final decision and some good fortune. The best-case scenario could lead to a promising squad that makes a strong first impression in its new home. But if the Nets don't luck out in the lottery and Williams bolts for greener pastures, things could get ugly in Brooklyn in a hurry.