“To build out that (Nets) team, certain things are going to have to exist on that ball club.”
That’s what former NBA All-Star and now NBA TV analyst Caron Butler said when he joined Brian Scalabrine and co-host Steve Ceruti on this week’s episode of “Scals and Pals.” Butler discussed a slew of things, including Kyrie Irving and the Nets. He defended him, saying you may not like it but it’s his honest evaluation. And don’t forget, it was Butler who broke the news that Dinwiddie needed thumb surgery. He’s got some cred.
On the heels of Kyrie’s recent comments that the Nets might need to add another piece or two to solidify themselves in the title picture, Butler disclosed that Kyrie and Kevin Durant might already be recruiting some more of ‘their guys’ to Brooklyn this summer.
“(They’re) guys that have enough leverage and relationships that they know exactly who they want to play with already and it’s already written,” said Butler without revealing any names of targets.
The “it’s already written” segment of that quote is believable. As we’ve learned over the recent months, the Nets “Clean Sweep” was in the works long before it finally came to fruition. Spencer Dinwiddie was communicating with Kyrie for over a year.
Sean Marks even pursued Garrett Temple in a trade with Memphis prior to last February’s deadline in a multi-player trade that involved Allen Crabbe and JaMychal Green. Could he have known way back then that Temple was a desired piece by Kyrie? Don’t put it past him.
“I think there’s a handful of guys already out there, that’s about to come on the open market or already got momentum in their favor going to Brooklyn this offseason,” Butler said. “(Kyrie and KD) know who they want to play with already.”
Given both Kyrie and Butler’s comments, I thought we should take a deep dive into every roster in the association, marking off players that Kyrie and KD have connections with — even back to their college days at Duke and Texas, respectively. From there, I thinned out the group even more, taking into account contract situations, if the players were going to be available as free agents this summer, and if they could potentially be acquired by the Nets given the lack of financial flexibility.
The Nets will have a handful of mid-sized contracts this summer to deal if they choose to improve the team via trade, but in terms of adding talent in free agency, Brooklyn will only have minimum contracts and likely the mini mid-level exception at their disposal.
Nets are projected to be right up against the luxury tax next offseason ... and will likely go over it. In interviews this month, both Joe Tsai and Sean Marks have made it clear that the organization is prepared to go into the luxury tax to build a winner.
So for these purposes we’ll assume the Nets re-sign Joe Harris leaving them with just the mini mid-level exception. The mini mid-level exception, more formally known as the taxpayer mid-level exception, is for in-the-tax teams, or teams that want the flexibility to go beyond the (projected $143 million) tax apron at some point later that season. It can run up to three years, with 5 percent annual raises. The projected taxpayer mid-level for the 2020-2021 season based on an $118 million cap is around $6 million — $5,996,550 to be exact, according to NBA projections released in September.
One caveat: with some maneuvering of salary, the Nets could potentially get creative with the timing of a Harris re-signing to open up the full mid-level exception of about $9.7 million. However, that’s unlikely. The full MLE could run up to four years at roughly $40 million total.
All that being said, for some of these names to join forces with Kyrie and KD in Brooklyn, they might need to take a discount for a chance to pursue a title. Here’s the list of potential free agents that Kyrie and KD might already be recruiting:
Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors Forward/Center - Unrestricted
The man at the top of the list for most Nets fans right now. Ibaka is a champion, capable of playing both the 4 and 5. He could potentially play with Jarrett Allen or DeAndre Jordan as well as alongside Kevin Durant in the Nets’ front-court. Ibaka would immediately make the Nets bigger, longer, and better suited to combat the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, and Pascal Siakam in the East. Ibaka’s combination of strong interior defense, rebounding, and an ability to stretch the floor would complement the Nets personnel well and he’d be a sure fit in the Nets system. While Ibaka has already made nearly $120 million in his NBA career, at 30 years of age, he might see this free agency as his last chance to get paid a sizable salary. Ibaka’s market value is sure to be greater than the roughly $6 million starting salary the Nets could offer him, but the hope is that KD’s friendship with his former Thunder teammate and the chance to win a title is a strong enough pull for Ibaka to take a discount. KD and Ibaka actually joked in the following video that they hope they could team up again at some point in the future to get a title together. Cross your fingers, Nets fans.
Andre Iguodala, Memphis Grizzlies Forward, Unrestricted
Iguodala is another player with championship pedigree. Golden State’s often forgotten Swiss Army knife is a three-time NBA champion and the 2015 Finals MVP. Iguodala is familiar with the big stage and always seems to excel against the highest level of competition. Another former teammate of KD’s, “Iggy” could provide the Nets with strong two-way production. He’s a high-IQ player, capable of handling the ball, and providing that ‘dog’ mentality on the defensive end. Iguodala’s overall versatility and leadership would serve the Nets well. How much does he have left? He is 35 and he hasn’t played this year. And although Memphis has said they won’t buy him out after the deadline, they could face pressure from his agent and others to let him go. Watch this space.
D.J. Augustin, Orlando Magic Guard, Unrestricted
As I said, connections run deep. Augustin was a teammate of KD’s while in college at Texas over a decade ago. The Nets came into this season with only two true point guards on their roster — Kyrie Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie. Theo Pinson was penciled in as the third string point guard, although Caris LeVert can help out with those duties in a pinch. Pinson’s production or lack thereof and the durability concerns with Kyrie and LeVert have highlighted the Nets need for a veteran backup point guard. Augustin could be that steadying hand for the Nets. He’s a career 38 percent three point shooter and could be a calming veteran presence on the back end of the roster, allowing the Nets to keep Kyrie fresh.
Quinn Cook, Los Angeles Lakers Guard, Unrestricted
Cook is yet another player with championship experience as well as another close friend and former teammate of KD’s, notice a trend? Much of why I said Augustin is a fit for the Nets stands for Cook. Cook is simply a younger, albeit probably less reliable option than Augustin, but he’s a player KD respects and he’s surely an upgrade on Pinson as the third guard.
Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder Forward, Unrestricted
Roberson has been injured for the large part of the last couple of years, but when he’s healthy, he’s an All-NBA caliber defender on the wing. At 6’7’’ with a 6’11’’ wingspan, Roberson possesses the length to bother some of the dominant wings around the NBA. Roberson has yet to play this season, but that’s why he’s the perfect veteran flier for the Nets to take a chance on — likely for a minimum contract. Roberson was an impactful player for OKC back when KD and Russell Westbrook were a duo and he also just happens to be the brother of Spencer Dinwiddie’s girlfriend. Dinwiddie and Roberson were also teammates at Colorado in college. Connections galore! He’s 28.
Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers Center, Unrestricted
With Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan already locked up, Thompson’s fit with the Nets might be unclear, but there’s no doubt that someone with his size and rebounding ferocity would greatly help the Nets front-court. Thompson is in the final year of a 5-year, $82 million deal and after amassing $98 million in his NBA career, might he be willing to take less to join long-time teammate Kyrie in Brooklyn? Given Thompson’s age, 28, and the fact that he has already won a ring, he might very well take a discount. The Kyrie connection should force the Nets to do their due diligence. And he and KD played college ball at Texas.
Kyrie and KD are most definitely recruiting other players that they don’t have prior connections with, too — like Garrett Temple this past summer. Kyrie liked the way GTemp defended him as well as his professionalism. I’m sure there also will be players that Kyrie and KD may push who Sean Marks might prefer to pass on — like Carmelo Anthony reportedly this past summer. How real that was remains to be seen.
But note this: the two are not afraid to speak their mind.
Furthermore, it’s important to remember that although they’re the biggest stars, Kyrie and KD aren’t the only recruiters the Nets have. Spencer Dinwiddie has proven valuable in that regard. He did get Irving to think about Brooklyn. Kenny Atkinson could potentially play a role as a recruiter once free agency opens, too, as many players from his Atlanta Hawks days will be available this summer ... or earlier, including Kent Bazemore, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, and even potentially Demarre Carroll if the Spurs and Carroll work out a buyout at some point.
The Nets will have tons of options to improve the roster and there’s going to be no shortage of players wanting to join the organization in its quest for a championship.
But for now, the Nets need to do the best they can with the pieces they have and remain patient, as Kyrie acknowledged last week:
“We’re going to do the best with the guys that we have in our locker room now, and we’ll worry about all the other stuff — in terms of moving pieces and everything else — as an organization down the line in the summer.”
In the NBA, connections are key. Look for them to continue play a big role as the Nets build out their roster in the coming years.