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Nets out of the big money era?

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Sports Intelligence is out with its annual report on spending by professional sports teams, looking at salary figures for 333 pro sports teams.  Last season, it notes, the Nets were the 11th biggest spender among all teams worldwide, with an average salary of $6.25 million.  That was first in the NBA and third in the US behind the Dodgers ($8.0 million at No. 5) and the Yankees ($7.3 million at No. 9).

The year before, the post-Boston trade Nets were even higher, at No. 6 worldwide -- also No. 3 in the U.S. -- with an average salary of $6.81 million.

So what about this year, with the buyout of Deron Williams and signing of so many players to rookie, vets minimum and other limited deals?  You're talking about maybe $4.5 million per player, which would drop the Nets to around No. 50 in the Sports Intelligence rankings.  Does this suggest a new era of "fiscal responsibility?"  Almost certainly yes.

The Nets barely avoided paying the dreaded repeater tax as a result of their off-season moves.  They'll be happy to let the Cavaliers be the first to pay it. They might pay a tiny luxury tax this season --and team insiders have said that would be alright-- but after paying out $123 million in luxury taxes alone over their first three years in Brooklyn, the Nets would like to try something different.

As Mikhail Prokhorov said in his message to fans, "Some of you have noticed a shift in our approach. You’ll see a team that is younger and more athletic this season. Our approach has been more strategic. We are making all necessary moves to be set up well for the future."

That means no more trades of first round draft picks, no more attempts to win now and pay later.  If they're going to take a chance on a player, it's going to be more like drafting Chris McCullough with his torn ACL than going for a declining Andrei Kirilenko or a limited Kevin Garnett.  It also means continuing capital investments: the $50 million HSS Training Center and a D-League expansion team, which cost another $8 million.

One league source told NetsDaily it will be a long time, if ever, before the Nets pay the luxuy tax again. Part of his thinking is that they will go into next summer with $40 million in cap space, enough to pursue a star or more likely, pay two of three good players ... some of whom may be their own. The other reason is they think with a longer term strategy and some good fortune, they can win while being fiscally frugal. They're putting a LOT of stock in continuity, particularly with the coaching staff.  (The insider said that he could foresee the Nets maxing out only one of their current playes, Bojan Bogdanovic, two years from now if he breaks out.)

Long-term strategies mean just that.  Years of thinking twice before big bucks decisions, rather than all-speed ahead. No more thinking about championship rings before the season begins.

This season may be the toughest one. They need to make the playoffs to avoid giving Boston (or whoever gets the pick in a trade) a lottery selection. If things go well in free agency next summer, they may not have to swap picks with the Celtics in 2017 and by 2018, the lost pick hopefully will be a late first rounder.  Not such a big deal.  And they will tell you, in a bit of spin, that McCullough or Argentine mystery man Juan Pablo Vaulet could be their first round round equivalent next year.  Maybe.

There is no rosy short-term scenario ... at least yet.  "We're here to win, Prokhorov told fans this week, but didn't say win what ... or when.  Of course, there could be a change in ownership, a sale of a minority stake being more likely.  It's interesting to note that one group rumored to be interested is Qatar Sports Investments, whose big property is Paris Saint Germain, the French soccer club who just happens to be at the top of the Sports Intelligence list of big spenders!