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Will Nets go RFA route again? Is fifth time the charm?

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Four times, the Nets have gone the restricted free agency route, tendering offer sheets worth a quarter-billion dollars (not a typo) to restricted free agents, coming up empty each time (although they did wind up with Allen Crabbe at a discounted rate a year later.)

To refresh your memory, here are the four...

Tyler Johnson, Miami Heat guard. $50 million over four years in July 2016. Heat matched. The Heat now have buyer’s remorse. One reason is that the way the deal was structured. If the Heat hadn’t matched, the Nets would have paid Johnson $12.5 million a year. But the Heat because of a CBA rule, will have to pay him nearly $20 million in each of the next two years.

Allen Crabbe, Portland Trail Blazers swingman. $75 million over four years in July 2016. Blazers matched. They, too, wound up with buyer’s remorse and dumped Crabbe for Andrew Nicholson a year later. The Nets still believed in Crabbe’s potential and were happy to dump Nicholson, who the Blazers waived, stretched and wished him well on his way to China.

—Donatas Motiejunas, Houston Rockets center. $37 million over four years in December 2016. Rockets matched. The offer sounds crazy in retrospect but the Nets had multiple “outs” written into the offer sheet, one of which would have permitted them to dump him in March of 2017. Nobody won in this one. Motiejunas refused to report to Houston because they wouldn’t match bonuses in Nets deal and he wound up in China after a short stint in New Orleans.

—Otto Porter, Washington Wizards small forward, $106.5 million over four years. Wizards matched. It was a bit of a coup just to get a top free agent, restricted or not, to sign the Nets offer sheet. He had other opportunities. Of the four, Porter is really the only one who’s lived up to his deal.

So what about this summer? The Nets don’t have a lot of cap space, compared to previous years, but it’s a bit relative: only seven teams have cap space and as of now, 12 teams are in luxury tax territory. The Nets effectively have about $15 million in cap space, but could do some deals and get more ... if they wanted to.

At the end-of-season press conference, Sean Marks was non-committal about going the RFA route again but he certainly didn’t say no.

“That’s one tool we may have,” he said of offer sheets to restricted free agents. “I’d never sort of single out we’re not going to do RFA or only target this guy. We have guys that we like, and we’ll see how that all falls into place. At this point, I’m not going to say we’re not going to do one thing or the other.”

And so, who might the Nets go after ... and for how much? The first name everyone mentions is that of Aaron Gordon, the 6’9” power forward who is all of 22 years old. If he were a Net this year, he’d have been their third youngest player, after Jarrett Allen and D’Angelo Russell. He averaged 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and hit 115 3-pointers, shooting at a 33.6 percent clip. He had a career high of 41 against the Nets early in the season. He did have a number of injuries that limited him to 58 games.

Steve Lichtenstein of WFAN thinks the Nets should target, indeed prioritize, Gordon this summer. He wrote Thursday...

“I think Gordon checks all of Marks’ boxes. A fourth overall selection in the 2014 NBA Draft, Gordon has played four seasons but will turn just 23 in September.

“Gordon is an exceptionally athletic power forward who can space the floor—a perfect fit for coach Kenny Atkinson’s offensive schemes. His efficiencies (43.4 percent from the floor, 33.6 percent from deep) last season were rather meh, but he was never the same after suffering the first of two concussions on December 8. His splits in his first 25 games (18.5 ppg, 8.1 rebounds, 49.2 percent shooting overall, and 40.1 percent from three) suggested he could have been primed for a monster campaign.

“Instead, Gordon slumped to the finish line, playing only 58 games while dealing with injuries to his calf, hip and head.”

All that said, the question is at what level would Orlando match? Word is that if the number is $20 million, they will wave goodbye and go into an even deeper rebuild. After the season, Gordon told the Orlando Sentinel his “ideal is max,” which would be more than $20 million. Why would the Magic let him go for nothing? Well, they have, despite their horrible season, a big payroll and think Jonathan Isaac, last year’s sixth overall pick, could fill Gordon’s role. And they did market AG at the trade deadline (and dumped 24-year-old Elfrid Payton, who they didn’t want to pay, for a second rounder.)

There are, as Lichtenstein points out, some valid critiques of Gordon’s game.

“There are scouts I’ve talked to who believe the Magic won’t be matching an extravagant offer for Gordon. It should be noted that those scouts don’t have the same opinion of Gordon as I do. They knocked his basketball IQ and said he presents all the questionable decision-making with the ball that we’re so used to in Brooklyn.”

Still, he is 22 years old and there just aren’t a lot of players out there with his potential. Would an $80 million or $100 million offer sheet be a big risk? Sure, but as that list at the top of the story notes, they’ve taken those risks before and there’s little doubt they are willing to do it again.