Three years ago Friday, the Nets set a record they’d like to see broken. On July 7, 2014, Mikhail Prokhorov was forced to pay the NBA a luxury tax of $90.6 million, the cost of bringing in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on contracts that paid them a combined $27 million for one year’s work. It was painful, on a lot of levels.
Are they still spending after that debacle? Yes, as indicated by the killer offer sheet the team tendered the Wizards early this evening. Although the team is under new management, ownership — Prokhorov and Dmitry Razumov — has stayed consistent on one thing through the years: they remain willing to spend to get things done. This time, though, it’s strategic. Bright shiny objects can prove costly ... as they learned.
On Thursday, Sean Marks submitted a four-year, $106.5 million contract to the Wizards for Otto Porter. The fourth offer he’s made to a restricted free agent in a year, but this one was different: it contained upfront money for the RFA, 50 percent of each year’s salary to be paid by October 1. For a billionaire with cash reserves estimated at $5 billion, that’s loose change.
In the past, the organization was never afraid to use Prokhorov’s wallet as a means to get to an end, as they tried to become a top-class organization on and off the court. From paying out $7 million to provide Barclays Center with studio lighting to spending $52 million on the HSS Training Center, it all counted against the bottom line, which ha often been tinged with red. Normally, this flies completely under the radar for fans of a team that finishes in last place. Not this time. Ted Leonsis, the Wizards owner may not balk at the payment, but he will have to consider it.
Back in December, Marks told reporters about Brooklyn’s cap situation compared to other teams, and how it would be utilized as one of their competitive advantages in certain situations. While Prokhorov is supplying the cash, Marks is supplying the strategy.
“The (number of) teams with potential cap space shrink and shrink and shrink,” said Marks. “So, it’s not like last year when there were a couple dozen teams that could offer big salaries. It’s shrinking as it goes. There’s no secret out there now. Every team knows we’ve got plenty of cash to spend and maneuver around. We’ll just be strategic in how we do it.”
Indeed they’ve been strategic. Marks found a market for restricted free agents with a pretty nifty mindset: if the other team doesn’t match then they get a solid young piece who fits their vision for the rebuild. If the other team matches then they have to commit a lot of money to a player who wasn’t making much beforehand. It can win fans among players and their agents AND it lets the competition know the Nets are in it to win. As Devin Kharpertian, formerly of The Brooklyn Game tweeted, Marks and Prokhorov have “weaponized” the RFA offer sheet.
So far, and this could change on the weekend, the Nets have failed in three attempts while waiting on Otto Porter. That record hasn’t seemed to deter Marks or ownership. They’ll continue to toss darts at the board.
“It’s definitely a tool that we have in our toolbox here,’’ Marks said of restricted free agency in April. “The fact that we have cap space, and the cards have fallen the way they have, we’ll obviously continue to try and be as aggressive and creative as we can in building this team; and if that means going through restricted free agency, that’ll be the path we go through.”
Indeed they have. It’s not that the Nets offers to Tyler Johnson ($50 million), Allen Crabbe ($75 million) and Donatas Motiejunas ($37 million) were small potatoes. This time, they went unconventional, something they could do with an owner whose assets may have shrunk a bit over the years, but they’re still in 11 figures.