Back in July, SB Nation named the top free agent targets in 2019, what looked like the most significant marketplace in years.
Now, with Karl-Anthony Towns signed in Minnesota, Kyrie Irving announcing Thursday that he has “every intention” of staying in Boston and Jimmy Butler likely headed to Miami where he’s ready to sign an extension, three of the top six players on that SB Nation list are either gone or mostly spoken for. (And we haven’t even mentioned Kawhi Leonard’s laughing fit in Toronto!)
For a team like the Nets who will have as much as $70 million in cap space next summer, what does that mean? It means a smaller marketplace and more competition for those who will be left. It also means the Nets may start considering Plan B’s: hold their fire in 2019 and wait till the 2020 class; invest heavily in what they got, starting with their three free agents of note: D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson; push for players outside the top 10, maybe locals like Tobias Harris or Kemba Walker; OR simply extend the rebuild by remaining flexible, focusing on the growing number of draft picks Sean Marks has accumulated and trades.
Of course, it’s only October, the season hasn’t begun yet and the Nets salary picture is likely to be different in July than it is now. The Nets have a tendency to make trades starting in December, like they did last year and again at the deadline. Maybe they trade away some of that cap space, a pick for a big name at the deadlline.
In the meantime, let’s take a look at what Mikhail Prokhorov calls “Plan B’s” ... or as Marks calls it, “flexibility.”
—The Nets are unlikely to make a splash in free agency for splash sake. They could hold to (much of) their cap space cache if they want. But the 2020 simply isn’t that good (unless some of those in the 2019 class opt into their player options.) There is a lot of “veteran” talent (aka “old”) like Kyle Lowry, Shaun Livingston and Goran Dragic at the point; Danilo Gallinari and Ryan Anderson at forward; Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol (unless he retires) up front. The best players look to be Draymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo, but Antetokounmpo gives every indication he wants to stay in Milwaukee and is restricted. BIG drop-off from this year.
—Assuming they play well, the Nets own players could be worth some of those big bucks. Russell will have to play VERY well to be worth the kind of extension he’s eligible for, roughly a five-year, $150 million deal and if he does, good for him and good for the Nets. The Nets can, if they and Dinwiddie want, extend the 25-year-old for four years and $47 million starting on December 8, the second anniversary of his three-year bargain basement deal. If not, he’ll be unrestricted in June (or traded at the deadline?) As for RHJ, what’s the market? He’s the kind of player who’s worth more to his current team than to most others. That matters. Also, when the Nets didn’t have him, as they didn’t Wednesday and they didn’t for 11 games (1-10 record) last season, they suffer.
—Make incremental steps by signing free agents outside the top 10 of this year’s free agent crop. As noted, two players in the next tier —Tobias Harris and Kemba Walker — have local ties. Harris, 26, is from Islip, Long Island. Walker, 28, is from the Bronx. Khris Middleton, 28, could come out this year as well. He’s not local, but he’s very good. Julius Randle? The Nets didn’t make a bid for him last summer. Would they go after him this year? There are other intriguing names, UFA’s like Enes Kanter, Ricky Rubio, Long Island’s Danny Green and the two Nikolas: Mirotic and Vucevic, And there’s always DeAndre Jordan, who just turned 30 and will be unrestricted. The questions start with, “how much?”
—Stay the course, be opportunistic with trades and draft picks. After this off-season, the Nets have a lot more assets going forward, starting with the cap cache. They should have two firsts (their own and the moderately protected Denver picks) and a second (New York’s) in 2019; their own first and one second (Denver’s) as well as a heavily protected second (Portland’s) in 2020; their own first and the Suns’s lightly protected second in 2021; and their own first and own second in 2022. The only pick they owe after that is their second in 2025, which goes to Atlanta. (Atlanta also has the right to swap seconds in 2023). With all that cap space and all those picks, Marks may be able to make a deal for a big player.
Now, you say, don’t give up on this year’s crop! Despite his current happiness north of he border, Kawhi Leonard has a lot of connections to the Nets from his days in San Antonio and is likely to give the Nets a “fair shot” says David Aldridge. Also, Marks has a relationship, says Frank Isola, with Leonard’s uncle and adviser who lives in north Jersey. What about KD? Of course, everyone knows he’s headed to the Knicks. (sarcasm font). Klay Thompson? His father calls Lakers games and they will have plenty of cap space.
Maybe the Nets will get a visit from those guys unlike in 2016 when their phone calls went unanswered. But that seems a bit much to ask for right now ... unless the Nets surprise and play very, very well. We have always been a believer in Luis Scola’s dictum: Once they win, the Nets will get everyone they want. Until then, they may have to find other ways to get better.
- How Nets can move on in 2019 now that stars likely out of play - Brian Lewis - New York Post