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How will lower cap affect NBA free agency ... and Nets decision on Joe Harris?

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Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Other than hiring a new head coach, the Nets biggest decision this summer will be signing Joe Harris ... and at what salary.

There seems to be a sense that both the Nets and Harris want to re-up.

“Yeah, definitely! Why wouldn’t you?” Joey Buckets asked rhetorically in February, as Brian Lewis notes.

“Obviously those are guys who I’ve gotten close with now that I’ve been with them this past year. They’re obviously incredible players. You see what they’re able to do when they are healthy and are playing. I don’t see that there’s anybody in the NBA who wouldn’t want to play with those guys.”

Sean Marks seems similarly disposed to getting a deal done. When the Nets GM was asked about taking care of Harris a few days later on WFAN, he replied, “There you go, absolutely.”

Of course, the next question for both is at what price and that’s where it gets complicated. Harris makes $7.7 million this season, the second year of a two-year deal that paid him $8.3 million in year one. He agreed to take less last year so the Nets could have just a smidge more cap space last summer. And virtually everyone agreed than and now that the deal was a bargain for Brooklyn.

With Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan scheduled to make nearly $85 million among them next season, the Nets are almost certainly going to be over the luxury tax threshold, Because they have Harris’ full Bird Rights, they can go well over the cap to sign him.

Back in January, Joe Tsai reiterated that he was willing to go there. ”We know the fans expect us to win a championship...if we pay luxury tax, so be it,” Tsai told Ian Eagle.

Now, of course, things have changed. With the Chinese TV shutdown and the coronavirus pandemic, NBA revenues are headed south. A week ago, Ben Golliver of the Washington Post wrote that the combination of the two could lead to a $1 billion revenue hit —about a 12 percent drop— for the league this year, dropping the salary cap (and the tax threshold.)

Depending on whether the league returns to play —which is less and less certain as the virus toll mounts in the league cities— and who you believe, the cap could drop between $8 million and $15 million next season, either of which would be the biggest drop ever.

Will that matter to the Nets? Hard to tell at this point, but Tsai is the second richest owner in the NBA after Steve Ballmer with an estimated net worth of $11.1 billion. Although he’s lost more than a billion dollars in his fortune since January 1, it jumped by $3.4 billion last year.

What’s a good value for Harris? He’ll want a raise no doubt (but he’s also joked in the past about how he makes enough money now.) How much? Analysts have suggested anywhere from $10 million to even $16 million a year but again that was before the pandemic. And if the Nets go over the tax threshold in three out of the next four years —which is likely, they will descend into repeater tax hell, just as the Prokhorov era Nets did.

Still, the Nets need a deep shooter to open things up for KD and Kyrie and really, who is going to pay Harris that much in an NBA economy where a lot of the teams with less wealthy owners in smaller markets won’t be able to make a profit?

So assuming everything says the same, it would appear Harris will be back, probably at a big number. Indeed, If the season is over, Harris did himself a favor as the year wore on, as Lewis writes Sunday...

Harris leads the Nets in plus-minus (plus-111), and was posting career bests in points, rebounds and minutes. He was playing his best right before the season got shut down, averaging 15.2 points on 44.8 percent shooting from 3-point range since Feb. 1.

In Harris’ last six games, he upped those figures to 16.3 and 47.2 percent from deep.

His 3-point number dropped a bit but he still has the 13th best percentage from deep ALL-TIME and fourth best among current players, just ahead of Klay Thompson, just behind Kyle Korver. He’s no longer just a 3-point shooter either. His game, as our Matt Brooks noted in a film study, has evolved into a “delicious hoops feast.”

Of course, no one knows when free agency will begin or whether the league will make adjustments to the cap/tax in conjunction with the players union. It is, like Harris’ best shot, up in the air.