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The subtle successes of the Nets summer — from not giving up the store to going long

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With Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson about to face the media Tuesday, their first sitdown since April, we thought we’d look not just at the headlines, but the nuts and bolts, the subtleties of the Nets summer. Looks just as good.

Brooklyn Nets Introduce D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov during a Press Conference Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Everyone talks —as well they should— about the Nets big successes of the summer: the signing of two of the NBA’s top 10 players, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but the Nets did a lot of smaller things that deserve attention.

Not giving up the store to create a Big Two.

The Nets combining KD and Kyrie was one of four big pairings of the summer. The Rockets got Russell Westbrook to put next to James Harden, The Lakers traded for Anthony Davis to pair with LeBron James and the Clippers added both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. All well and good, but the Rockets, Lakers and Clippers gave up a ton of picks. To wit:

The Thunder will receive first-round picks in 2024 and 2026 and pick swaps in 2021 and 2025 in the trade of Russell Wesbrook to Houston.

Meanwhile, OKC’s haul of draft assets for Paul George included L.A.’s unprotected first-round picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026, along with 2021 (unprotected) and 2023 (protected) first-round selections via the Miami Heat and the option to swap picks with the Thunder in 2023 and 2025, according to the ESPN report.

The Pelicans’ total haul of draft picks includes: this year’s No. 4 overall selection, a top-eight protected pick in 2021 (which becomes unprotected in 2022 if it does not convey), the right to swap first-round picks with the Lakers in 2023, and an unprotected 2024 first-round pick that New Orleans can defer to 2025. They also got Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart.

If you’re counting, that’s 10 first rounders and five swaps.

The Nets on the other hand gave up relatively little to add not just Durant and Irving but DeAndre Jordan as well. They needed to dump Allan Crabbe to free up $18.5 million. So they traded their own first in 2019 and s Lottery-protected first in 2020 along with Crabbe to Atlanta for Taurean Prince and a 2021 second. Then, the Nets traded Denver’s 2019 first rounder, the one they acquired in the Kenneth Faried salary dump, to the Clippers for the 56th pick in 2019 and the 76ers lottery-protected first rounder in 2020.

Finally, in the double sign-and-trade with Golden State, the Nets dealt D’Angelo Russell for Kevin Durant and the Warriors protected —1 through 20— first. So, the Nets, assuming the protections work out for them, will have lost one first ... net ... and got KD, Nicolas Claxton, a player they had at No. 18 in their internal mock at No. 31; Jaylen Hands at No. 56 and Prince, losing Crabbe and DLo in the process.

If Prince turns into a legitimate starter and there are indications he will, the Nets will have done even better.

“It’s not just that the Nets landed two of the top free agents on the market in Irving and Kevin Durant that yields a top grade,” wrote “cap enthusiast” Albert Nahmad. “It’s also the way the Nets positioned themselves to add two max players while sacrificing relatively little from their roster. Brooklyn brings back four of the six players who played at least 100 minutes in the 2019 playoffs.”

Manipulating the salary cap under pressure

Then, there was the salary cap manipulation that, as Nahmad said, created nearly $10 million, enough for Jordan, “out of thin air.” Nahmad explained it this way back then.

The Nets needed $70.0 million in cap room just to sign Durant ($38.2 million) and Irving ($32.7 million), let alone add Jordan ($9.3 million). They can only create $68.8 million by waiving Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham. Instead, they kept Napier, Graham and Russell, using Bird Rights to exhaust cap room. That permitted them to operate as an above-the-cap team.

Brooklyn guaranteed $3.2 million of the combined $3.5 million salaries of Napier and Graham, so they counted as outgoing salary in trade. They then combined Napier, Graham and Russell to do a double sign-and-trade for Durant and, because KD demanded it, the 2020 protected first rounder. (The Warriors sent Napier and Graham on to Minnesota.)

The Nets ended the day $8.3 million over the salary cap – having artificially created $9.2 million in cap room by exceeding the salary cap to do the double S&T for KD rather than sign him outright. And they gave that extra money to Jordan.

To facilitate it, Brooklyn only needed to structure $1 million in unlikely bonuses for Irving to still have room for Jordan and Claxton. As a second rounder needed to be signed out of cap space and in fact wound up signing a guaranteed three-year, $4.2 million contract. Without that extra cap space, the most the Nets could have given Claxton was a two-year contract worth about half what his final deal was. It will likely take at least two years for him to develop.

The Nets also added to their draft stashes, ideal for complicated trades, by participating in another sigh-and-trade that sent DeMarre Carroll to San Antonio with a contract that could be worth $21 million. That’s the kind of favor that will further help develop good will around the league and agent’s offices.

What made it all the more interesting is that the key pieces in the overall deal had to be sequenced so they all fit within the restrictions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. That’s why teams pay good money to their capologists.

Going for the long-term

Then, in late August, the Nets signed Caris LeVert to what every pundit worthy of a quote saw as bargain deal, $52.5 million over three years beginning in 2020-21. With all his injuries, LeVert had limited chances for a max deal, but the Nets offer gave him stability. No team options through 2023.

Signing LeVert meant that the Nets have virtually all their core pieces under contract on long-term deals. Durant, Irving, Jordan, LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie who was signed to his own reasonable extension last December. are guaranteed for the next three years. Even second rounders Claxton and Rodions Kurucs are signed through 2021-22.

The only players on short terms deals are Joe Harris, who’s an expiring contract next June; Prince, who’s in the last year of his rookie deal — and could be extended next month; and Garrett Temple, signed to a room exception deal worth $10 million over two with a team option in the second year. Jarrett Allen and Dzanan Musa are still on rookie contracts with Allen eligible for an extension next October and Musa the year after that ... when he’ll be 22.

What’s next?

Going forward, the Nets are likely to pay the luxury tax the next two years, but not at the level that caused Mikhail Prokhorov to gather up $90.6 million in 2014. They could have, under somewhat unlikely scenarios, two first rounders and three seconds in next year’s Draft.

They’re not fooling around. As the Brooklyn Eagle’s John Torenli wrote back in July...

“Marks made the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues the place to be for big-time NBA basketball for the foreseeable future, denying the Knicks a shot at landing perhaps the biggest free-agent windfall in either team’s history to date.

“And he isn’t done yet.”