For the second straight season, the Nets struggled to crack the 20-win mark, and for the second straight year, the race for the top spot in the lottery was no silver lining for fans, since the Celtics will end up with Brooklyn’s pick.
The 2013 blockbuster that saw the Nets trade multiple first-round picks (and swap rights) to Boston for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett continues to loom large over the franchise. Although there were some positive signs from some of the Nets’ young players in 2016/17, Brooklyn finished with an NBA-worst 20-62 record and owes the Celtics one more first-round pick in 2018, hampering the organization’s ability to accelerate its rebuild.
Here are five key questions facing the Nets this offseason:
1. Is Brook Lopez staying put?
Few NBA players have been involved in as much trade speculation in recent years as Lopez, but the Nets continue to show little interest in moving their veteran big man, despite not being close to contention. Brooklyn was reportedly seeking multiple first-rounders in exchange for Lopez earlier this year, reluctantly lowering the asking price to a first-round pick and a second-rounder just before the deadline, as bigs like DeMarcus Cousins and Nerlens Noel were dealt for modest packages.
Lopez is heading into the final year of his contract with the Nets, which means the team could risk losing him as an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Lopez seems happy in Brooklyn, and the franchise likes having him around as a reliable veteran presence. But the Nets aren’t going to contend in 2017/18, which means that if Lopez is going to be a part of Brooklyn’s next playoff roster, he’ll have to re-sign.
Lopez has stayed healthy in recent years and even added a three-point shot to his arsenal last season. He’d have value in a trade, so the Nets will have to decide in the coming months – or perhaps even the coming weeks – what his future holds. Is he considered a long-term piece? If so, is the club confident he won’t leave as a free agent in 2018? If not, Brooklyn may have to seriously listen to trade inquiries.
2. Will the Nets return to the restricted free agent market?
A year ago, the Nets aggressively pursued multiple restricted free agents, inking Tyler Johnson, Allen Crabbe, and Donatas Motiejunas to offer sheets. All of those offers were matched, leaving Brooklyn empty-handed, so it will be interesting to see if the team dips back into that well in 2017.
Restricted free agents are generally younger and less expensive than the top players on the unrestricted free agent market, which appeals to a Nets team building for the future. But the fact that teams have the ability to match any offer sheet their restricted free agents sign makes it difficult to pry them away. The Nets would likely have to overpay to avoid having their offers matched, and even then, there are no guarantees — Crabbe’s deal looked untenable for the Blazers, but they still matched.
This time around, the Nets could splash around for RFAs like Otto Porter, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Nerlens Noel, but those players likely aren’t going anywhere even if Brooklyn offers the max. Second-tier RFAs like Jonathon Simmons, Mason Plumlee, Nikola Mirotic, and Tony Snell may make better targets for the Nets, if they decide to go that route.
3. What should the Nets do with their two first-round picks?
Although the Nets were forced to give up the No. 1 overall pick to Boston, the team still holds a pair of first-rounders. Brooklyn has the Celtics’ first-rounder (No. 27) as a result of that pick swap, and also acquired the Wizards’ pick (No. 22) in a deadline deal for Bojan Bogdanovic.
A year ago, the Nets showed that they were willing to roll the dice on a player who wouldn’t necessarily be ready to contribute right away, when they used their lone first-round selection on injured guard Caris LeVert. That’s looking like a savvy pick 12 months later, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Nets go a similar route this time around.
Prospects with health questions, such as Harry Giles and OG Anunoby, could be on the Nets’ radar, and draft-and-stash prospects like Andzejs Pasecniks and Isaiah Hartenstein may also make sense. Rodions Kurucs and Jonathan Jeanne may also have been possibilities for Brooklyn, but Kurucs has withdrawn from the draft, and Jeanne was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, putting his basketball career in jeopardy.
4. Are there other opportunities to add draft picks?
If the Nets don’t dive into the free agent market as actively as they did a year ago, they’ll have plenty of cap room available. In order to reach the salary floor, it might make sense for the team to accommodate another club’s salary dump, if it means gaining an asset of value.
For instance, the Trail Blazers are believed to be shopping one of their three first-round picks in an effort to reduce team salary, and the Nets have reportedly inquired. The opportunity to add a first-round pick as a reward for taking on a contract like Crabbe’s or Evan Turner‘s or Meyers Leonard‘s should be appealing to the Nets. Particularly since each of those players has some upside, even if they are overpriced.
Crabbe, a Nets target last summer, would be the most obvious fit for Brooklyn, though he’ll be even more expensive than he was in 2016, due to a 15% trade kicker. It’s also worth noting that the Nets currently don’t have a 2018 first-round pick, so if they want to get back into that draft, they could seek out a trade partner besides Portland.
5. Which of the Nets’ non-guaranteed players are keepers?
The Nets only have one free agent – Randy Foye – but six of their players have non-guaranteed contracts or team options for the 2017/18 season. In some cases, those decisions should be fairly easy — Sean Kilpatrick will be brought back on his minimum salary deal, for example. Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris should return too.
In some instances though, those decisions may not be so simple. Did the Nets see enough from K.J. McDaniels down the stretch to warrant picking up his $3.48MM team option? How about former first-round pick Archie Goodwin, who is on a minimum salary contract? For every player the Nets bring back, there will be one fewer roster spot to use on a new draft pick or free agent signing.
Brooklyn has plenty of time to make many of those decisions, but will have to make early calls on Kilpatrick, Harris, and Quincy Acy, whose 2017/18 salaries will all be guaranteed by mid-July.
Here’s where things currently stand for the Nets financially:
- Brook Lopez ($22,642,350)
- Jeremy Lin ($12,000,000)
- Trevor Booker ($9,125,000)
- Andrew Nicholson ($6,362,998)
- Deron Williams ($5,474,787) — Waived via stretch provision.
- Justin Hamilton ($3,000,000)
- Caris LeVert ($1,632,480)
- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson ($1,471,382)
- Isaiah Whitehead ($1,312,611)
- Total: $63,021,608
- K.J. McDaniels ($3,476,873)
- Total: $3,476,873
- Quincy Acy ($1,709,538)1
- Archie Goodwin ($1,577,230)
- Spencer Dinwiddie ($1,524,305)
- Joe Harris ($1,524,305)2
- Sean Kilpatrick ($1,524,305)3
- Total: $7,859,683
Restricted Free Agents
- Randy Foye ($3,000,000)
- No. 22 overall pick ($1,713,720)
- No. 27 overall pick ($1,423,560)
- Total: $6,137,280
Projected Salary Cap: $101,000,000
Maximum Cap Room: $33,209,882
- With eight guaranteed salaries, two cap holds for first-round picks, and a pair of cap charges for empty roster spots, the Nets would have a team salary of $67,790,118. Their available cap room will dip a little if they keep some of their players with non-guaranteed salaries, as is expected, but they’d still have more than enough room to aggressively pursue at least one major free agent — perhaps an RFA, if they follow 2016’s blueprint.
- Acy’s salary becomes fully guaranteed after July 16.
- Harris’ salary becomes fully guaranteed after June 30.
- Kilpatrick’s salary becomes fully guaranteed after June 30.