When you’re a team like the Brooklyn Nets with a lot of cap space --as much as $45 million-- and no significant draft picks (yet?), free agency is what you have to look forward to this summer.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing considering the Nets do have money to blow for a change, offering a glimmer of hope for the historically morbid franchise. Nothing sells an organization and fans hope quite like the off-season, and if you’re a Net fan, this is a great time for optimism.
The Nets haven’t exactly been synonymous with off-season winners in recent years, and reeling in any of the big fish of the 2016 free agency pond will be "difficult," in Sean Marks words, striking out on big targets may not be the worst thing in the world. You give it a shot --without raising expectations-- and move on.
It’s unreasonable to suspect Kevin Durant will arrive in the big city, even though he has several reasons for at least entertaining the idea. One would surmise that with the salary cap making an all-time leap in next off-season, and with the Nets still finalizing pieces for their new regime, it may be best for Brooklyn to use this summer to acquire building blocks for some big spending in 2017.
Now I know some people are not going to want to hear this, because New York sports fans are generally a win-now bunch of die-hards, but using 2016 as the launching pad for 2017 seems like a more than reasonable course of action, especially since Durant and others are a longshot to say the least. There are other reasons to hold off. Marks and Atkinson (hopefully) will have better reputations by next July. After all, both are neophytes in their jobs and player agents are cold souls. They want to see what the Nets can do.
That's not to say the front office should give up this off-season. Indeed, it would be an ideal time for the Nets to add some pieces in an effort to improve upon last year and build toward a potentially playoff bound team while remaining mindful of a packed ’17 free agent class.
This year's free agency class is also filled with a lot of landmines – marginal players getting overpaid left and right, and the new look Nets need not get sucked into to making a comme ci. comme ca 10 point per game player $60 million richer to come off your bench. Been there, done that.
There is plenty of value available for Brooklyn to build a decent team, whether from the ranks of the NBA or overseas, But they don't --and shouldn't-- feel the need to spend all $45 million in cap space. There's really only sanction for not getting to the projected salary cap "floor" of $82.8 million. Teams with a payroll less than that by April 15 will to pay out whatever difference there is between their payroll and the floor to the current members of the team. There are worse things. Been there, too.
But the big reason for being judicious with Mikhail Prokhorov's wallet is how incredibly stacked the class of 2017 looks. Here's an early read...
Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors
Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls
Jrue Holiday, PG, New Orleans Pelicans
Kyle Lowry, PG, Toronto Raptors (Early Termination Option)
Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers (Early Termination Option)
Victor Oladipo, SG, Orlando Magic (Restricted)
C.J. McCollum, SG, Portland Trail Blazers (Restricted)
Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Milwaukee Bucks
Kyle Korver, SF, Atlanta Hawks
Tyreke Evans, SF, New Orleans Pelicans
Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder (If he signs a one-year or accepts player option)
Gordon Hayward, SF, Utah Jazz (Player Option)
Serge Ibaka, PF, Oklahoma City Thunder
Paul Millsap, PF, Atlanta Hawks (Player Option)
Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers (Early Termination Option)
After 2016-17 the Nets will still have one more year of Brook Lopez ($22.6 million) and Thaddeus Young ($12.9 million), with the prospect of maintaining Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough and Sean
Kilpatrick for a combined bargain price of $3.7 million.
On the other hand, this upcoming class of available players has a lot of meh: Not a laundry list of long-term solutions when building your team, other than Durant or LeBron James in the unlikely event he opts out:
Mike Conley, PG, Memphis Grizzles
Ish Smith, PG, Philadelphia 76ers
Norris Cole, PG, New Orleans Pelicans
Rajon Rondo, PG, Sacramento Kings
Jeremy Lin, PG, Charlotte Hornets (Player Option)
Eric Gordon, SG, New Orleans Pelicans
Jamal Crawford, SG, Los Angeles Clippers
Terrence Ross, SG, Toronto Raptors (Restricted)
Jordan Clarkson, SG, Los Angeles Lakers (Restricted)
Allen Crabbe, SG, Portland Trail Blazers (Restricted)
Kent Bazemore, SF, Atlanta Hawks
Nicholas Batum, SF, Charlotte Hornets
DeMar DeRozan, SF, Toronto Raptors (Early Termination Option)
Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder (Player Option)
Chandler Parsons, SF, Dallas Mavericks (Player Option)
Harrison Barnes, SF, Golden State Warriors (Player Option)
Al Horford, PF, Atlanta Hawks
Ryan Anderson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans
Jared Sullinger, PF, Boston Celtics (Restricted)
Al Jefferson, C, Charlotte Hornets
Hassan Whiteside, C, Miami Heat
Bismack Biyombo, C, Toronto Raptors
It should also be noted that the 2017 NBA Draft is seen as much, much better than this year's. The Nets do have a pick in 2017, but will have to swap it with the Celtics if their pick is higher (and it probably will be.) But at least they will have a first round pick and probably a second , too.
So the argument goes like this: the Nets are among teams who could and probably should load their squad up with stop-gaps and young talent to maintain a high-level of flexibility while still making a respectable leap forward into possible playoff contention. Sounds about right.