Although the Nets' salary structure is top-heavy with few players getting mid-range salaries, the Nets do have other, non-playing, assets they can use in trades to make deals work...as well as several expiring contracts. In fact, few teams have such a range of options.
None of the non-playing assets--draft picks, draft rights or cash--have any monetary value when working within salary cap restrictions, but they can help get a deal done. Rod Thorn was able to trade for Vince Carter last December not because Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and Alonzo Mourning were considered Carter's equal, but because the Nets had draft choices the Raptors thought could be useful in a rebuilding effort.
Here is a list of the non-playing assets available:
1. Nets' 2006 first-round pick.
2. Clippers' 2006 unprotected first-round pick. Nets could trade both picks or give a trading partner the choice of picks on draft night.
3. Nets' 2006 second-round pick . The 76ers have the option to exchange second round picks with Nets, part of the Marc Jackson deal.
4. Nets' 2007 first-round pick but NO second round pick that year, it having been dealt to Golden State in the Cliff Robinson deal. League rules prohibit teams from dealing away consecutive first round picks, but Nets could package the Clippers' 2006 pick with the Nets' 2007 pick.
5. All future Nets' first and second-round picks. Future first-round picks can be dealt with "lottery protections". The trading team in effect protects itself from disaster if it winds up in the lottery and having already dealt away a pick that could produce a star player.
6. Nets' draft rights to Mile Ilic.
7. Nets' draft rights to Christian Drejer.
8. Up to $3 million in cash to sweeten a deal. Nets received $3 million in cash from the 76ers, also in the Marc Jackson deal.
The are particularly competitive with the draft choices. The Nets are one of only five teams that look like they will have three picks in the 2006 draft--two first-rounders and a second-rounder. In addition to New Jersey, the others are Atlanta, Toronto, New Orleans/Oklahoma City, and Portland. All those teams, including the Nets, also have a second-round pick. The Clippers have one first round-pick and two second-round picks...and either Utah or Chicago will wind up with the Knicks' pick in addition to their own. That won't be determined til the end of the season, although it looks like Utah will get the pick rather than Chicago.
But the Nets have an additional advantage. Only the Nets' and Hornets' first-round picks are unprotected, meaning that they are unencumbered by any restrictions related to where a team finishes in regular season. Unprotected picks are more valuable than protected picks because a trading partner can make draft plans without having to worry where another team finishes in the regular season. And in some cases, the picks are protected for several years, not just this year.
In fact, you can easily make the argument that the two first-round picks the Nets have in their pocket now are more valuable than the picks they obtained in the Kenyon Martin trade and subsequently traded to Toronto for Carter. Those picks were protected. In fact, the Denver pick traded to Toronto won't be fully unprotected til 2008.
The other advantage the Nets have, in spite of their top heavy salary structure, is that most of the players they are likely to offer have short-term contracts. So a team wanting to dump a long-term contract might find the short-term contracts, with team or player options, a nice way to pick up salary cap space...as the Raptors did last year once they bought out Mourning.
The contracts of Marc Jackson, Jeff McInnis, Cliff Robinson, Linton Johnson, Lamond Murray and Scott Padgett are all one-year deals with second-year options, player options in the case of Jackson and McInnis, team options with the rest. Only Zoran Planinic has a two-year deal among those whose names have been mentioned in trade rumors. Antoine Wright has a guaranteed two-year rookie deal with a team option to pick up another two.