The bottom rung of the features seven players, from age 21 through 26, all of them on their rookie deals or vets minimums, none making more than $1.5 million. With the Nets in a deep rebuild, how many of them can succeed, how many can be rotation players as the team begins a slow and steady slog back. payroll
Four of them are 21-year-olds on rookie deals -- Isaiah Whitehead, Caris LeVert, Chris McCullough and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. while a fifth.Anthony Bennett, is a 23-year-old draft bust looking for redemption. Two others, Sean Kilpatrick, 26, and Joe Harris, 24, are former D-League stars with one year to prove they're something more.
If the Nets are ever going to get beyond the loss of draft picks, let alone win some games, a number of these guys will have to prove themselves, become keepers ... or at worse trade pieces that can bring back other young assets.
Here, in descending order, from highest paid down, are the Nets best hopes. Combined, they will make $8.2 million this year, less than nine percent of the salary cap, and none will make more than $2.6 million in any year of their current contract. In calculating total contract cost, we've included team options. We're optimists.
--Caris LeVert: Along with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, LeVert has the best chance to be a bargain long term. LeVert will make $1.56 million this season. He's the highest paid because he's the high end of the rookie scale at No. 20. At 6'7" --Kenny Atkinson says 6'7 1/2", perhaps to prove he can play the 1, 2 and 3-- LeVert needs to be healthy. But he is the best two-way player of the group, with a good shot, good ball-handling and passing skills and solid defense. How much will be play this year? Hopefully more than RHJ and Chris McCullough did last year. One piece of under appreciated bad luck for last year's Nets: both their first round picks missed 50 games each. One league source called him "a home run," again if healthy Turns 22 later this month. Total contract cost: $7.5 million
--Rondae Hollis-Jefferson: RHJ will make a little less than $1.4 million this season. Taken at No. 23, Chad Ford called him the most underrated pick of the 2015 Draft. His obvious tenacity --and some deep stats-- show his potential for defensive greatness. His shot remains a question but Atkinson says the Nets are pressing him to take shots if he's open. The head coach notes that Hollis-Jefferson's "curse" is that he's so good slashing through the lane that he will often --too often-- pass on the other shot. The Nets are also looking to RHJ as a leader among the young players and he's embracing the role. Doesn't turn 22 until January. Total contract cost: $5.3 million
--Chris McCullough: All the tools, other than strength, McCullough showed in limited minutes last season that he has potential as a stretch 4 on both ends. He can floor the floor, handle the ball, hit the deep 3 and block some shots. He is still only 210-215 pounds, a mere 10 to 15 pounds more than he weighed his junior year in high school. Works hard. He's coming off his first summer league going into his first training camp. How many minutes does he get with Luis Scola, Trevor Booker and possibly Anthony Bennett and Justin Hamilton ahead of him? And how soon? Turns 22 in February. Total contract cost: $4.7 million
--Isaiah Whitehead: Surprised to see him here? The Nets may have traded up to get him at No. 42, but they see him as first round talent and according to one report, had him at No. 18 on their internal mock draft. So they paid him late first round money, $1.1 million this season, and gave him first round years: two years guaranteed, two years on team options. They were not obligated to play him anything as a second rounder. At nearly 6'5", he has size. The Nets see him as a combo guard and he's said they've had him play at both the 1 and 2 in practice, although he played more 1 than 2 in Las Vegas. Turns 22 in March, making him the youngest Net. Total contract cost: $4.6 million
--Anthony Bennett: The biggest risk among the seven if you look at the hopes the Nets have assigned to him, but among the smallest. The story is, by now, old. A monumental bust at No. 1 in the 2013 Draft, which has not produced any real stars yet, he was seen as the next LarrySean Marks. No doubt a talent. He's 23, won't turn 24 until March. Total contract cost: $2.1 million, another burly 6'8" forward out of UNLV. That was three teams ago. He seems to have gotten past his conditioning issues. "He’s well aware that this is a terrific opportunity and he needs to make the most of it. And he’s hungry. We’ll see; the ball’s really in his court, now" said
--Joe Harris: No one is talking much about Harris. He's coming off ankle surgery (who isn't?!) and basically spent two years as a victim of two trends in Cleveland. The first, the priority in his first year, was to develop all their top five draft picks, sometimes to the detriment to those taken late in the first round or high in the second, like Harris. The second trend, last year, was win now with LeBron James. He wound up in the D-League where he showed he could shoot and then when he got hurt, was unceremoniously dumped on Orlando, who cut him. He's 24, turns 25 next month. Where does he fit? He's said he has no problem playing for Long Island and he might. Total contract cost: $2 million.
--Sean Kilpatrick: The oldest and along with Harris the cheapest of the group. In fact, at 26, Kilpatrick is three months older than Justin Hamilton, the 7-footer the Nets signed out of Spain. On the other hand, the D-League star for the Delaware 87ers has already proven he can play in the NBA averaging nearly 14 points a game for the Nets in his short stint with the Nets last season, shooting 52.6 percent overall and 36.1 from three. You can see him as a bit of a gunner or instant offense. Take your pick. Sean Marks' first signing, bringing him in after dumping Andrea Bargnani. Total contract cost: $2 million.
The Nets of course have other young players, Beau Beech is 22; Yogi Ferrell and Egidijus Mockevicius are both 23. But they appear destined for Long Island or should we say, the Long Island Nets locker room at the HSS Training Center.
Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson have said repeatedly that the Nets will have to find gems in the lower first round, in the second round, in the D-League and overseas if the Nets are going to make up fot the three lost first rounders and the five lost second rounders. We are about to see if that's going to work.