Back in January, just after Lionel Hollins and Billy King were dispatched and before Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson were hired, a writer for Hoopshype had a proposal to accerlate the Nets return to contention. It was NOT what Mikhail Prokhorov had proposed (and has since abandoned) parlaying the arrival of "one, two superstars" and "a lot of luck" into "championship contention" next season.
Instead, the strategy, by Mika Honkasalo of Hoopshype offered a different perspective on the Nets misery. He agreed with the Nets strategy of going for free agents over blowing it up ... but with a twist. Forget the big guys. Forget blowing it up -- trading everyone for draft picks and younger players -- overpay if you must, but go younger.
To put it simply, sign players to big deals before they develop their full abilities. Yes, overpay in the first year but (hopefully) by the time the contract matures, the players would be well worth those contracts.
Use that Prokhorov, money, that cap space on restricted free agents, scaring off the players' current teams by offering big contracts to young, and yes, unproven talent. Honkasalo argued the Nets have little chance at the big names like Kevin Durant or LeBron James or even Mike Conley. He also said absent that, the Nets might be tempted to bid for Nicolas Batum and Kent Bazemore and Ryan Anderson all very good complementary players but pay them like superstars. Jeremy Lin could qualify for that category too.
Now with the regular season and most of the first round of the playoffs in the books --and Marks, Atkinson and Trajan Langdon-- going through free agent preps, the proposed strategy could use a dustoff. Who might qualify? Honkasalo had a list of "very gettable players like Jared Sullinger, Meyers Leonard, Evan Fournier, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, and perhaps even Harrison Barnes if a max offer was extended to him."
There's a few others who might be valuable now that the season is over, following Honkasalo's definitions. Maurice Harkless, Dion Waiters, Allen Crabbe, Dwight Powell and Jordan Clarkson would be interesting ... although the latter three's ties to their current teams are a bit more protected by the CBA's so-called Arenas provision.
Bottim line: the strategy can be most easily encapsulated by the phrase, "scaring them off," make the free agents current team think twice about matching.
The process is a bit tricky and very dependent on good timing. The Nets would offer the player a larger amount than the market would likely bear. Say eight figures. Then, the player's current team would have 48 hours to match. If not, the player changes teams.
You may also notice in that list that several teams have multiple restricted free agents and targeting more than one could force a team to match only one. Harkless, Crabbe and Leonard are all Blazer RFA's. A smaller market team may not want to match. At least one mentioned, Miles Leonard, has a medical issue that will keep him out of the start of next season and Donatas Motiejunas trade to Detroit was reversed because of back issues.
Of course, it's a risk, but looking forward at the projected salary caps should soften that risk. According to a NBA internal document obtained by USA Today, not only will the cap rise this summer to at least $92 million, it will go up even more dramatically over the next five years -- the course of free agent contracts signed this year...
Here are the projections for the four seasons after 2016-17:
2017-18: $107 million/$127 million
2018-19: $105 million/$126 million
2019-2020: $106 million/$129 million
2020-2021: $112 million/$136 million
A contract ending with a $17 million salary in 2020 would amount to 16 percent of the salary cap compared to 24 percent this past season.
One of the big reasons the Nets basketball operations jobs have been so attractive is that ownership has been financially committed to the team. Missteps aside, they've spent and spent and spent on Barclays Center, on luxury taxes, on the HSS Training Center, now on the D-League and Nassau Coliseum. It's the one big cudgel the organization has to make this things happen. Do they use it smartly this time?