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Heading Into a Critical Off-Season, Nets Have Cap Space, Picks, Cash

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The Nets dipped into their cap assets to acquire Deron Wiliams, move Troy Murphy and sign Sundiata Gaines, but they still have seven draft picks over the next three years, with at least one first rounder in each of the next three and more than $20 million in expiring contracts this season...although they've made it clear they'd like to bring back Kris Humphries.

Now Billy King and Bobby Marks embark on perhaps their most critical off-season, the one where they prove that the addition of an All-Star point guard, the impending completion of Barclays Center and all of Mikhail Prokhorov's cash hoard can attract more top players to the Nets.

Here's what they have to work with.

Cap Space:

No one yet knows how the new collective bargaining agreement will work but the Nets seem to be prepared for most eventualities. They finished the season about $870,000 over the cap after trading for Deron Williams and signing Sundiata Gaines but more than $10 million under the luxury tax threshold. Beyond the big contracts, the Nets gave out a reported $635,000 in partial guarantees last summer and signed three players to 10-day deals, some of which remain on the books. There was $450,000 for Stephen Graham; $35,000 for Ben Uzoh, $100,000 for Sean May and $50,000 for Brian Zoubek, the last two long departed. The Nets also paid out $50,000 to Orien Greene and $70,000 to Mario West, who played for the Nets on 10-day contracts as well as $204,000 to Gaines who parlayed two 10-day contracts into a two-year guarantee before fracturing his hip. Graham and Uzoh's guarantees became part of their veterans' minimum salary. The guarantees paid May and Zoubek along with Greene' and West's 10-days count against the cap.

Expiring contracts:

The Nets have seven players on expiring contracts totaling $21.5 million. The expiring contracts, in descending order of size, are: Dan Gadzuric, $6.883 million; Sasha Vujacic, $5.475 million; Kris Humphries, $3.2 million; Quinton Ross, $1.14 million; Graham, $992,680; and Uzoh, $473,604. Graham also has a $100,000 partial guarantee on a second year which the Nets won't have to pay if they waive him before July 5. Brandan Wright, on the last year of his rookie contract, is a restricted free agent making $3.398 million. Should the Nets decide not to keep him, as expected, his contract too becomes expiring.

The remainder of the team is either on rookie contracts--Brook Lopez ($2.41 million) and Damion James ($1.16 million); or multiple year deals--Travis Outlaw ($7 million); Anthony Morrow ($4 million); Jordan Farmar ($3.75 million); Johan Petro ($3.25 million); and Gaines ($201,758).

Only the Kings and Pacers have less money tied up in salaries than the Nets do.

Draft picks:

The Nets have seven picks over the next three years, five of their own and two acquired in trades, including the two in the Terrence Williams/Vujacic deal. Only two of the picks have protection, the Rockets' 2012 lottery-protected pick; and the Lakers' 2011 first rounder protection which is protected 1-18.

Here are the details:

In 2011, the Nets have the Lakers' first round pick (protected 1-18), acquired in the Terrence Williams trade; plus their own second round pick. The Jazz control their first round pick. The Laker pick will be #27 while their own looks like it will be #35.

In 2012, the Nets have their own first round pick; the Rockets' first round pick (lottery-protected), acquired in the Terrence Williams trade; plus the Heat's second round pick (unprotected), acquired along with Chris Quinn. They sent their own second rounder to the Warriors in the Murphy deal.

In 2013 (and beyond), the Nets have their own first round pick and their own second round pick.

Regarding protections:

--The Lakers' 2011 first rounder. The pick is protected 1-18 through 2016. Since the Lakers finished with the league's fourth best record, the protections are now moot.

--The Rockets' 2012 first rounder. The pick is lottery protected (1-14) through 2016. If the Rockets pick falls in the lottery in 2012, the pick rolls over each year, again through 2016. In 2017, it would become a second round pick.

Until the Deron Williams' trade, the Nets had not traded one of their own first round picks since 1999, preferring to keep their picks and trade those acquired from other teams. (The last two first round picks the Nets traded turned into Matt Harpring and Wally Szczerbiak.)

Cash:

Mikhail Prokhorov is the richest owner in sports (unless you count Mukesh Ambani, owner of the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier Cricket League). He has already proven he's willing to lay out cash to push trades along, sending $3 million to the Wizards last June to facilitate the Yi Jianlian salary dump and another $3 million to sweeten the Deron Williams deal. He was also ready to pay the cost of front-loading contracts for restricted free agents Rudy Gay and Tyrus Thomas. Nets insiders say expect the team to again front-load offers this summer, making it difficult for cash-strapped teams to match. That includes adding cash signing bonuses, paying a whole year's salary up front or simply structuring a deal so the first year salary is huge.

Trade exception:

--an estimated $1.3 million exception acquired in the Deron Williams trade. It expires at the trade deadline in 2012. There are restrictions on its use...it can't be traded with a player for example...but they can be valuable. If the Nets wanted to trade a draft pick to, or swap picks with, a team in return for a player, they can use a trade exception to do so. Trade exceptions can also be used to grab a player off the waiver wire. The status of TE's after the new CBA is agreed to remains murky.

Mid-level and Low-level exceptions:

Under normal circumstances, they would have been able to use their mid-level (MLE) and low-level (LLE) exceptions, worth $5.85 million and $2.0 million, to sign and trade players in more complicated deals. However, the team renounced both last summer to get room for free agent signings. It's uncertain if the MLE and LLE will exist under a new CBA.