The line between a business decision and a basketball decision under the new CBA is a thin one. And while it would appear that the decision not to sign Paul Pierce was about business, its consequences are just as much about basketball, those on the inside argue.
Using some back-of-the-envelope projections, not signing Pierce to the same amount as the Wizards --along with other decisions this summer-- could save the Nets a significant amount in salary and taxes. The savings on Pierce alone could amount to $20+ million.
Here's the math: the Nets will pay out $102 million this year in salaries, for which they have to pay $91 million in luxury taxes. This season, with Bojan Bogdanovic and Markel Brown likely to be signed soon, the salary total will be around $9 million less or about $93 million. The difference includes lower salaries for younger players like Bogdanovic, Brown and Sergey Karasev as well as Pierce's lost salary, the biggest piece. Jarrett Jack also makes $2.3 million less than Marcus Thornton. The reduction drops the Nets a bit on the luxury tax scale and should result in the team paying out $33 million in taxes. That's a difference of $67 million in salary and taxes. Again a rough estimate. We're not capologists.
How is that a basketball decision? First of all, Pierce is 37 and in decline. The Nets have long wanted to clear as much space in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 season to first regain flexibility next summer and then ultimately have cap space for the following summer and the 2016 free agency class. In 2015-16, the Nets could be down to as low as $76 to $80 million in payroll. looking at projections. That would be below the luxury tax threshold, with the cap and threshold likely rising due to increased basketball-related income for the league. In doing so, the Nets would be able to once again be able to receive players in sign-and-trades, use both the full MLE and the biannual exception or BAE. They would also avoid the repeater tax.
With Pierce on the cap for 2015-16, the Nets had no hope of dropping below the threshold next summer. That would have forced them to make some decisions on re-signing or extending players, with Mirza Teletovic and Andrei Kirilenko free agents. Also, Brook Lopez has a player option next summer and thus is eligible for an extension.
By the next summer, 2016, only Deron Williams, Bogdanovic and the rookie contracts of Plumlee and Karasev are currently on the books (or will be when the Croatian signs this week). That's when Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard and LeBron James could all be free agents.That's the ultimate goal: To be flexible for the next great free agency class.
Of course, the Nets need to more frugal, even at the bottom end of the salary scale. Take the case of Tyshawn Taylor. They paid $2 million to buy his pick in 2012, signed him to a no-cut, two-year deal which paid him $474,000 in 2012-13 (plus an equal amount in luxury taxes), then $789,000 in 2013-14 (plus four times that in luxury taxes). That's about $7 million for a player who's out of basketball at end of his contract.
Will it work out? Can they win next season with their current roster, with the "core"? That's impossible to tell at this point. The Nets hope for a return to health by Lopez and Williams as well as fewer missed games for Kirilenko and Kevin Garnett, who lost more than 50 to back spasms last season. They expect further development from Plumlee and Karasev, a big rookie year from Bogdanovic and solid coaching from Lionel Hollins. We'll seee. That's why they play the games.