No team spent more lavishly this offseason than the Brooklyn Nets, who committed over $240MM on free agent signings, a figure that doesn't even include the $89MM+ contract the club took on when it acquired Joe Johnson from the Hawks. However, it wasn't as if the Nets were going out and pursuing all the best outside free agents on the market. The team never officially cleared any cap space, instead electing to re-sign its own free agents, such as Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Gerald Wallace.
With the Nets well over the cap, it only made sense for the team to bring back another player whose Bird rights it held: Kris Humphries. Having no cap room or exception money remaining after their spending spree, the Nets could only sign minimum-salary deals, which likely wouldn't be enough to lure in another player capable of averaging a double-double, as Humphries did last season. So the team inked Humphries to a two-year contract worth $24MM, ensuring that the big man was around to help Lopez on the glass.
The price to retain Humphries was high, but there was some logic to overpaying — Dwight Howard was still on the trade market at the time, and if D12 had remained available into the regular season, the Nets could have re-entered the mix to acquire him. The more salary the Nets sent out in a hypothetical Howard deal, the more bad contracts they could take on from the Magic (or whichever team held Howard), so paying Humphries $12MM annually rather than $8MM could have actually helped facilitate a deal. Additionally, giving him two years at a higher annual average value, rather than three years, meant avoiding a long-term commitment, and getting the chance to clear him from the books in 2014.
Of course, mere weeks after the Nets re-signed Humphries, the Lakers acquired Howard, and it's unlikely that the All-Star center will be back on the trade market this season. Making matters worse, Humphries hasn't exactly fit in with the new-look Nets, falling out of favor with coach Avery Johnson, and seeing reduced minutes in recent weeks. After averaging nearly 35 minutes per contest last season, the 27-year-old is playing just over 23 per game this year.
According to Howard Beck of the New York Times, the Nets were never particularly enamored of Humphries, and his sudden demotion "practically screams buyer's remorse." There's some reason to believe that injuries have slowed Humphries recently, as a mild abdominal strain kept him out of action today vs. the Celtics and will sideline him tomorrow against the Bucks (Twitter link). Still, the former reality-TV star doesn't appear to be a core piece in Brooklyn, and when we asked earlier this week whether the Nets will try to trade him, approximately 85% of you predicted they would.
Deciding to move Humphries is one thing, but finding a logical deal is quite another. With a $12MM annual salary, nagging injuries, and a fairly one-dimensional game, Humphries may be a decent complimentary piece for a team, but he's hardly a tantalizing trade chip. He would likely have to be packaged with more attractive assets, such as MarShon Brooks or a collection of future draft picks, to draw a whole lot of interest.
Even paired with Brooks or a draft pick, it's hard to envision a perfect match for Humphries and the Nets. Brooklyn certainly has no qualms about taking on big-money contracts, making them a candidate to take on a player like Pau Gasol, who is owed $19MM annually. But Humphries likely isn't the sort of player the Lakers are looking for, and the Nets themselves may prefer to acquire a forward more suited for small-ball, with Wallace seeing major minutes at power forward lately.
Wilson Chandler may be a decent fit for the Nets, but his salary isn't significant enough to match up with Humphries'. Danny Granger is a big name that may be available at the trade deadline, and the Pacers could use backcourt help, but I'm skeptical that Brooks and a couple draft picks would be enough to entice Indiana to part with its top scorer. One name that has re-surfaced recently in connection with the Nets is Ersan Ilyasova, who the team reportedly eyed over the summer. Brooks could interest Milwaukee, if the team expects to lose either Monta Ellis or Brandon Jennings next summer, but the Nets would probably have to take on a bad salary like Drew Gooden's to make any sort of Humphries/Ilyasova swap a realistic possibility.
Even if there's not a perfect match out there for Humphries on the trade market, I expect the Nets to explore their options in earnest once he becomes trade-eligible in January. The team re-signed Humphries in order to retain a solid asset they would've otherwise lost for nothing, but the veteran forward hasn't been a fit in Brooklyn, and it may be time for the team to cut its losses. If a Humphries package can bring back another piece that would be of more use to the Nets, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him on the move on or before February 21st.