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The math behind the D’Angelo Russell madness

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I wrote about Russell’s restricted free agency. Here are my numbers to back it up.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I recently penned a story at SB Nation about the Nets and D’Angelo Russell, and the fact that they won’t have any room to sign max free agents with his $21.1 million cap hold unless they trade Allen Crabbe or trade Russell himself.

As part of the editing process of that story, most of my number-crunching was cut. It’s OK — it makes the story easier to read and helps the story stay on point instead of bogging it down with dollar signs and collective bargaining agreement legalese.

But you, my dedicated Nets fans, deserve all the numbers. You deserve to know I’m not just pulling shit out of my ass. I sat here for hours, watched the sun go down and the shooters come out while crunching these numbers. You deserve to know that I’m not just talking the talk. I’m actually doing this.

So I’m taking what I cut from that overarching story and putting it here on Nets Daily. If you don’t understand the mathematics behind basketball, it’s OK. That’s what guys like me are for.

But guys like me are also here to help break it down and make it easier for you to understand that stuff. Thank God for copying and pasting:

To understand this problem, we must first understand Brooklyn’s finances

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

You might wanna pull up Basketball-Reference’s handy Nets’ cap sheet for this.

The first year of Dinwiddie’s contract extension pays $10.6 million, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. That makes a roster of Dinwiddie, Allen Crabbe, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs, totaling Brooklyn’s guaranteed salaries at $45.38 million. The Nets can and should choose to keep Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham, whose contracts will guarantee for Year 2 on July 10.

Let’s do the math together:

  • Crabbe: 18,500,000
  • Dinwiddie: 10,605,084 (yes, these digits matter)
  • Harris: 7,666,667
  • Allen: 2,376,840
  • LeVert: 2,625,718
  • Musa: 1,911,600
  • Kurucs: 1,699,236
  • Napier: 1,845,301
  • Graham: 1,645,357

Total: $48,875,873 if they keep Napier and Graham for the 2019 season.

The relief of re-crunching numbers you’ve crunched over and over again, and that number still comes out correct?

Brooklyn must also pay Deron Williams — yes, we still paying Deron Williams in 2020, fam — his final installment of $5.474 million since they stretched the final two years of his contract worth $27.5 million over five seasons. That figure counts against their cap, which is why teams don’t stretch contracts if they don’t have to.

$48,875,873 + $5,474,787 = $54,350,590 on the payroll

You’re seeing how this works so far, right? It’s simple math, just a whole lotta digits.

The Nets also have a $4.45 million room mid-level exception to account for. The CBA requires this amount to be calculated into a team’s payroll to avoid loopholes. Don’t ask questions, fam, just do the math.

$54,350,590 + $4,449,000 = $58,799,590

Here’s a tricky bit — teams also have to account for draft picks they’re expected to sign. It is standard for teams to sign their draft picks to 120 percent of their rookie scale salary. Brooklyn owns two first-round picks in 2019: their own and Denver’s. Those picks could end up anywhere from two mid-to-late selections if the Nets make the playoffs, to a top-5 pick and a pick in the teens if Brooklyn and Denver both struggle in the second half of the season.

I took numbers from both ends of the spectrum.

If the Nets won the lottery and the Nuggets fell to the worst record of all playoff teams — possible, but unlikely with how well they’re playing despite all those injuries — the math would be:

$8,120,700 (No. 1 pick rookie scale) * 1.2 (120% bonus) + $2,734,100 (No. 15 rookie scale) * 1.2 (120% bonus)


$9,744,840 + $3,280,920 = $13,025,760

If the Nets made the eighth seed in the playoffs, though, and the Nuggets retain their standing as the best team in the NBA, the math would look a lot like this:

$2,734,100 * 1.2 + $1,611,700 * 1.2


$3,280,920 + $1,934,040 = $5,214,960

A really big difference, right? Yeah, so I just took the average. It’s the best I could do without knowing where those picks would end up at this point of the season.

$13,025,760 + $5,214,960 = $18,240,720/2 = $9,120,360

Now, we add this to our payroll. This is why it’s very possible Brooklyn includes one of these picks in a trade between now and draft day.

$58,799,590 + $9,120,360 = $67,919,950

The collective bargaining agreement also states teams must pay an incomplete roster charge of $831,000 for every open roster slot fewer than 12. That roster charge is replaced with the salary of the player who is signed to that spot, and it only applies during the summer — it does not carry into the 82-game season.

If Brooklyn doesn’t trade any picks and keep both Napier and Graham:

  • Crabbe: 18,500,000
  • Dinwiddie: 10,605,084 (yes, these digits matter)
  • Harris: 7,666,667
  • Allen: 2,376,840
  • LeVert: 2,625,718
  • Musa: 1,911,600
  • Kurucs: 1,699,236
  • Napier: 1,845,301
  • Graham: 1,645,357
  • Rookie 1
  • Rookie 2
  • Empty roster slot

$67,919,950 + $831k = $68,750,950

That’s all the money the Nets have dedicated to the 2018-19 season so far. The salary cap is projected to be $109,090,000.

$109,090,000 - $68,750,950 = $40,339,050

It’s easy!

But we haven’t addressed Brooklyn’s own free agents

Let’s get back to that $40.3 million number. We’ll use single decimal points from here on out.

Teams also have cap holds for fourth-year players entering restricted free agency. This is where D’Angelo Russell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson fall in the order of operations. That cap hold is either 250 or 300 percent of the salary of the player’s last year on his rookie contract, depending on whether that salary is below or above the league average. For Brooklyn’s free agents, it’s 300 percent because they both will make less than $8 million this year.

This cap hold is in place because teams are allowed to exceed the salary cap (hence the term “exception”) to re-sign their own free agents. It makes it tougher for teams to sign marquee free agents and re-sign their own top draft picks.

This cap hold is what makes things complex for Brooklyn with respect to Russell next summer

After crunching those early numbers, we get $40.3 million for Brooklyn to sign free agents. But Russell makes just over $7 million this season, so his cap hold will eat a ridiculous $21.1 million of Brooklyn’s salary cap space. Hollis-Jefferson makes $2.47 million this season, so his cap hold will be $7.4 million.

  • With Russell, no Hollis-Jefferson: $40.3 - $21.1 = $19,2 in cap space to sign free agents
  • With Hollis-Jefferson, no Russell: $40.3 - $7.4 = $32.9
  • With both Russell and Hollis-Jefferson: $40.3 - $21.1 - $7.4 = $11.8
  • With neither Russell nor Hollis-Jefferson: $40.3

The Nets could create a little bit more cap space this way:

  • If they renounce Napier and Graham:

$40,339,050 + 1,845,301 (Napier) + 1,645,357 (Graham) - $831,000 - $831,000 (incomplete roster charges) = $42,167,708

  • If they renounce Napier and Graham and the $4.5 million room mid-level exception (yes, teams can renounce this exception):

$42,167,708 + $4,449,000 = $46,616,708 — also known as the “about $47 million” max cap space Brooklyn could have next summer.

  • If they trade one or both of their picks. This is not sexy at all, but it frees up however much space they would have to pay their draft picks. Using my average calculation:

Remember this?

Best case picks of $13,025,760 + Worst case picks of $5,214,960 = $18,240,720/2 = $9,120,360

$46,616,708 + $9,120,360 = $55,737,708

Now we’re cooking.

$55,737,708 - $21.1 (Russell’s cap hold) = $34,637,068 in cap space

Hollis-Jefferson would be the odd man out in this equation. But this is how Brooklyn can keep Russell as a free agent and pursue a max guy at the same time.

Another way as I detailed in my story

Trade Allen Crabbe and Denver’s pick to Sacramento for Iman Shumpert and Justin Jackson. The Kings don’t have a pick and the Nets have two. Shumpert’s $11 million contract expires at the end of this summer. Jackson would be an incredible fit in Kenny Atkinson’s offense.