The Nets don't control many of their draft picks for the next few years. That's certainly no secret. Optimistic Nets fans, as few and far between as they may be, will point to free agency as Brooklyn's avenue to future success. Those optimists have a point. There's many things about Brooklyn that might attract a free agent, but there's also many factors working against the Nets that could make the 2016 offseason a failure.
Let's start with Brooklyn's pitch to this year's free agents. First of all, the allure of playing in New York will get most free agents to at least give a cursory glance at the Nets. Barclays Center has a rep among NBA players as being a cool, modern arena And Mikhail Prokhorov has a proven record of spending money. He's laid out $123.4 million in luxury taxes and he sustained annual losses of up to $144 million in his (failed) attempts to win it all.
Then there's the brand new $50 million, 70,000 square foot HSS Training Center, which is nearing completion. The facility will include a state-of-the-art weight and conditioning area and also a two-story players lounge with a rooftop garden with great views of the city. Like Barclays, it will be state-of-the-art and its player amenities are likely to be the talk of the NBA when it opens in February.
The Hospital for Special Surgery, the namesake of the training facility, is the official hospital of the Nets, and the elite care they provide may attract free agents.
More importantly, Brooklyn will also have $40 million in cap space going into the summer.
With that said, landing a top-flight free agent is no slam dunk. First, the Nets will need to prove they can win as well if they want to attract free agents. The Knicks had plenty of cap space last summer and looked to sign LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Monroe. They can only boast Robin Lopez, Derrick Williams and Kyle O'Quinn as free agent signings. If the Nets implode this year, which could very well happen, free agents may feel inclined to avoid a dumpster fire of a team.
The lack of draft picks certainly doesn't help either. Surely free agents will probably be more concerned about the performance of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young over an unproven draft pick, but if Brooklyn's traded draft pick becomes of the lottery variety, free agents may take notice and wonder whether management knew what it was doing when it dealt the picks.
The Nets will have to distinguish themselves from the other teams in the NBA. They need to prove that the franchise can win and not just rely on their cap space. When every team has cap space as well due to the new TV deal, the $40 million the Nets have in cap space becomes disturbingly irrelevant. Brooklyn has also been cutting costs anywhere they can, and free agents will certainly notice that --the NBA is like a small town-- and take that into consideration.
There's also an issue with the talent of the 2016 free agent class. Arguably the two best players in the NBA, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, will be unsigned this summer, but how likely is it that the Nets will land either player? Ruling out some kind of divine intervention, the Nets will pursue some of the second-level if not second-rate talent in free agency. That talent includes Mike Conley, who Lionel Hollins developed in Memphis, DeMar DeRozan, Nicolas Batum and Evan Turner. If any of their own free agents play well, some of the money will have to go to them if the Nets want to keep them around.
The next summer, 2017, could bring bigger names, notes Bobby Marks, who used to track such things for the Nets.
BUT, it the Nets strike out on top targets in 2016, will they overpay for what's left, putting them into another hole down the road, when more and better talent will become available. As Marks explained back in July...
The free agent class of 2016 may end up being known as the summer of inflation. What no one is really talking about yet but should be is the class of the summer of 2017. That’s when the free agent class really overflows with talent. Stephen Curry, Chris Paul (PO), Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin (PO), Gordon Hayward (PO), Serge Ibaka, Rudy Gay (PO), Paul Millsap (PO) and Monroe (PO) just to name a few.
Will names like Conley or Batum be enough to bring a championship? Is Turner or DeRozan worth a big deal? Can the Nets even make an adequate enough of a pitch to lure those names? And if the Nets do fall into a deep hole this season, will ownership and management be disciplined enough to wait ... or try to make a big splash in 2016 and wind up doing nothing more than belly-flop?
Who knows. What is certain is Billy King will certainly have his hands full trying to turn this franchise around. Free agency could be as frustrating as the Draft Lottery.