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Nuts and Bolts: What can the Nets actually do this summer?

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New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Incremental improvement. It’s a phrase Kenny Atkinson uses all the time, and it’s a term that defines Brooklyn’s eight-game uptick in the win column over the past two seasons. The 2018-19 season will be another year of incremental improvement, this one more so from within.

The Nets don’t have much cap space to sign free agents, even with Dwight Howard’s pending buyout. That’s not the way the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement works. We’ll get into that a bit later.

The Nets have their needs, it’s just unclear if they’ll be able to address them meaningfully this summer. Brooklyn has a few tools at its disposal. Let’s run through the numbers, then run through the options.

Brooklyn’s free agency snapshot

Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

2017-18 record: 28-54 (t-8th worst in NBA)

Guaranteed contracts:

  • Allen Crabbe ($18,500,000)
  • Dwight Howard ($23,819,725M, buyout pending)
  • DeMarre Carroll ($15.4M)
  • Jeremy Lin ($12,516,746)
  • D’Angelo Russell ($7,019,698)
  • Deron Williams ($5,474,787)*
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson ($3,211,464)
  • Jarrett Allen ($2,034,120)
  • Caris LeVert ($1,703,800)
  • Spencer Dinwiddie ($1,656,092, non-guaranteed)
  • Isaiah Whitehead ($1,544,951, non-guaranteed)
    Note*: Shhhhhhhhh. Brooklyn still owes Deron Williams $5.47 million over each of the next two seasons

Draft picks:

  • Dzanan Musa (120% of rookie scale at pick No. 29 = $1,618,320)
  • Rodions Kurucs (signed four-year deal, contract details unknown: ~$812.5K-1.312M)

101M projected salary cap - 95,499,703 - = 5.5M

Key Free Agents

  • Joe Harris
  • Quincy Acy
  • Jahlil Okafor
  • Nik Stauskas
  • Dante Cunningham

Trade Exceptions

  • Rashad Vaughn (expires 2/8/19): $1,889,040

Order of operations

A cap hold is a predetermined amount of money held against a team’s payroll due to pending free agents, unsigned first-round draft picks, salary cap exceptions and more. Brooklyn has over $40 million in cap holds from its free agents alone, so it has some decisions to make. Let’s try to make this as simple as possible:

  • If the Nets renounce all their free agents — “renounce” meaning they can no longer exceed the cap to re-sign them, unless with minimum contracts — they’ll be operating as an under-the-cap team and project to have $5.5 million ($101 million salary cap - ~$95.5M in guaranteed contracts) PLUS however much money Dwight Howard leaves on the table in buyout negotiations MINUS $813K for an open roster slot MINUS the $4.328 million room mid-level exception MINUS Rashad Vaughn’s $1.9 million trade exception (which can be renounced, as well). So cap room this summer under these circumstances is dependent on what Howard sacrifices to go elsewhere. Dwyane Wade had a $23.8 million salary in his final season with the Bulls, and he gave back about $8 million in buyout talks. If Howard gives back a chunk of money, Brooklyn could also renounce its room MLE to make an offer starting in the $12 million ball park. Four years, $48 million? That’s not a bad place to start at all.
  • If the Nets don’t renounce their free agents, they will be operating as an over-the-cap but below-the-apron team and can exceed the cap to re-sign them. The Houston Rockets have this designation and will exceed the cap to re-sign both Chris Paul and Clint Capela. Brooklyn has no Paul nor Capela, however, and this would be unlikely because the most important free agent Brooklyn has this summer is Joe Harris, and without cap space, the most competitive offer the Nets can make is 175 percent of his previous salary, or a four-year deal starting at $2.6675 million annually. Good luck with that. Not renouncing their free agents WOULD give the Nets the non-taxpayers mid-level exception of a four-year deal worth about $35.5 million — starting at $8.567 million — but if they use that, they’d be hard-capped for the season, and there are many drawbacks to being a hard-capped team. In layman’s terms, this is a bad move, one Brooklyn brass probably isn’t going to make.

What Brooklyn can offer

Charlotte Hornets v Washington Wizards Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Assuming Howard leaves at least $8 million on the table to walk away from the Nets — which would leave a comfortable $15.8 million on team payroll — here’s what Brooklyn can offer target free agents.

  • They can either sign a player to a contract starting with the $8.359 million remaining in cap space or split that amount into multiple players, while also using either the room mid-level exception ($4.328 million) or bi-annual exception ($3.353 million) to sign additional free agents.
  • Another, better option is that Brooklyn can waive its room lid-level exception and Vaughn’s trade exception and create $12.6 million of cap space to sign one or multiple free agents.

Are we speaking the same language yet? Good. Now that we’re speaking the same language, let’s talk free agents.

Team Needs

  • Shooters, preferably two-way shooters

One of my favorite points to make when talking about the Nets: Brooklyn both attempted and made the second-highest number of three-pointers per game, but its three-point shooting percentage ranked just 20th in the NBA. Keep it simple stupid: They need higher-efficiency shooters to convert on those open looks Kenny Atkinson draws up, and in a perfect world, those shooters are long, athletic and can play defense, too.

Prospective free agents: Trevor Ariza, Joe Harris, J.J. Redick, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wayne Ellington, Marco Belinelli, Doug McDermott, Luc Mbah a Moute, Luke Babbitt, Jordan Mickey, Nemanja Bjelica, Paul George ... I mean, one can dream, right?

  • Rim protection

Brooklyn was abused in the paint last season. As a matter of fact, only two teams gave up more points in the paint per game than the Nets. That can’t happen, and even though it starts with prideful defense at the point of attack, the rim protector has to do his job, too. Jarrett Allen has the tools to develop into a defensive anchor when he fills his body out with mass, but until then, Brooklyn will need help. The options are limited.

Prospective free agents: Nerlens Noel, Jerami Grant, my personal favorite — Montrezl HarrellKyle O’Quinn, JaVale McGee, Kevon Looney, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh

  • Talent on the wings

A team can never have too much talent on the wing, and a playmaker who can score with or without the ball would do wonders for Brooklyn, especially one with proven experience.

Possible prospective free agents: Rudy Gay, Rodney Hood, Glenn Robinson III, Mario Hezonja, again, hi Paul George

  • Veteran fourth-string point guard

Jeremy Lin’s injury showed just how much experience Brooklyn’s back court lacks. Injuries happen every day, b. Get a cheap insurance policy.

Possible options: Jameer Nelson, Isaiah Thomas (uh-oh), Devin Harris (welcome back!), Jose Calderon, Ramon Sessions

Three Questions

  1. Are the Nets still willing to take risks on reclamation project type players? If so, they can try to swing on a few prospects who haven’t panned out elsewhere.
  2. Is Brooklyn going to throw the kitchen sink at Joe Harris or let him leave and continue blossoming elsewhere?
  3. Are the Nets going to make any long-term contract offers when they can potentially clear cap space for not one, but two max free agents in the summer of 2019? Hi Klay Thompson. You would fit beautifully here.