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Despite James Harden trade, Nets will have options in 2021 NBA Draft

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Dallas Mavericks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The price for James Harden was high. In the four-team deal, Brooklyn had to give up four players: Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince and Rodions Kurucs, $2.6 million in cash considerations and control of all their first round picks going forward: unprotected picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026 plus the right to swap picks in 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027. All of them are bound for Houston.

Whew.

All that said, the Nets look like they’ll have plenty of options whenever the NBA Draft is held in the summer ... or at the deadline later this month when picks could be a valuable currency. Short term, things are not that bad. How so??

To start with, it’s highly unlikely the Nets and Rockets will have to swap picks. The Rockets currently have the NBA’s third worst record and if things don’t change, they’ll likely wind up with a top-5 pick in a draft generally considered strong. The Nets first, on the other hand, is currently 25th. So one of the draft assets Houston demanded, a swap pick this year, will be, in a word, worthless. (The Nets can’t trade the pick but could trade the drafted player’s rights after the Draft.)

There was a possibility before the Nets went on their recent run that they might have gotten involved in the Rockets very intricate swaps with other teams (try to figure it out here) but the more games Brooklyn wins and the gap widens with Houston, that possibility lessens. (At this point, its’ unlikely but Houston could swap the Portland first with Brooklyn, meaning Brooklyn would receive the Blazers first and Rockets the Nets but again, it’s unlikely.)

Brooklyn could also have three picks in the second round. They already have two seconds: the Suns’, acquired as part of the Jared Dudley salary dump, and the Hawks’, acquired in the Allen Crabbe salary dump.

And the Nets may very well have a third. On Draft night, 2016 —Sean Marks’ first— the Nets gave up Thaddeus Young, in return for the rights to LeVert and a second rounder, lottery protected through 2023. In other words, if the Pacers dropped out of the playoffs in any year between 2017 and 2022, the Nets would get the pick. As of Monday, the Pacers are in ninth place in the East. So if that continues, the Nets would get the Pacers second.

So, if the season ended today (spoiler alert: it won’t), the Nets would have the 25th, 39th, 47th and 57th picks in the 2021 Draft. How likely will the Nets use all of them? Not at all likely. First of all, Marks seems to be following the Pat Riley model of roster-building: using the Draft to make room for superstars and to acquire role players for a title run. The Nets, for example, traded two firsts in the 2019 Draft to open up cap space for the “Clean Sweep” and send out its only pick in 2020 to acquire Bruce Brown and Landry Shamet in a three-team deal. Moreover, there’s just not a lot of room on a championship contender’s roster for second rounders.

So what is likely? Bobby Marks noted last week that if the Nets chose to use the $5.7 million Disabled Player Exception (DPE) to acquire a player on an expiring deal, a big like JaVale McGee, for example, they’d have to add a second rounder or two to sweeten the deal. (The Nets also have $3 million in cash considerations available.)

Going forward, things will be different. Next year, the Nets will have to give their first rounder to the Rockets and they only have their own second rounder. Bottom line, the Rockets made a bet that Marks will not be able to sustain Brooklyn’s success long-term. If not, Houston will be stuck with pick swaps that are worthless and low first rounders ... in return for a top 5-to-10 player.