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The free agent landscape for Bruce Brown ... and the likelihood he returns to Nets

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Brown, soon to be 25, will enter restricted free agency following his breakout season.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Following a breakout season in Brooklyn, Bruce Brown is set to get his first taste of free agency — and maybe big bucks — this summer.

Acquired in a three-team deal with the Pistons and Clippers last offseason, Brown quickly became a fan favorite, recognized for his hustle play and toughness on both ends of the court and his winning personality off it.

Brown took the role of “David” against plenty of “Goliaths” as the 6’4’’ position-less glue guy was often guarded by opposing centers. Brown excelled, displaying an innate prowess out of the short roll and became one of the best lane floaters in the league.

The role Brown served in Brooklyn was quite niche and will be tough to replicate elsewhere. There’s not another team in the league that possesses equivalent individual offensive firepower and very few that can rival the spacing the Nets display to allow a non-shooter like Brown to thrive. The creativity of the Nets coaching staff helped unlock a new dimension in Brown’s game, maximized his contributions (and potential earnings), and maybe even created a new position in the process. Not to mention that he became a James Harden favorite.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe dubbed Brown a “rover” earlier this season as the Nets guard/wing/center did most of his damage floating around the top of the key and downhill as the short roller. At this point in his career, Brown’s weak point is perimeter shooting ... He shot less than 30 percent from deep. So it was necessary for the Nets to find spots on the floor where he could keep defenses honest and not allow the opposition to help off him in the corner to crowd the lane for the Nets’ stars.

Brown’s prior experience as a point guard in college and high school combined with his strengths as a slasher, gave Brown the necessary skillset to excel as a decision maker in the short roll. As seen throughout the season and highlighted in the playoffs against Brook Lopez and Milwaukee, Brown at the 5 on offense was often the Nets drop defense trump card.

So what’s he worth?

Given Brown’s tough nosed defense, versatility, and youth (24), a handful of teams should register interest this offseason. Brown could command a salary above the taxpayer mid-level exception of $5.9 million this offseason, but there’s not a ton of cap space available around the league, which is potentially beneficial for Brooklyn. With Brown being a restricted free agent, Brooklyn will have the ability to match any offer sheet tendered Brown.

Only eight teams are projected to have cap space this offseason — New York ($51 million), San Antonio ($49 million), Oklahoma City ($37 million), Dallas ($34 million), Toronto ($23 million), Memphis ($23 million), Miami ($20 million), and Charlotte ($20 million). And some of that is fuzzy math as teams will have to make decisions on their own free agents before August, likely reducing those numbers significantly. By comparison, as Bobby Marks has noted, there were 15, 9 and 14 teams below the cap from 2017-18 to 2019-20.

The high end of Brown’s offers could reportedly reach the $8 million to $10 million range annually, with some full mid-level exception offers — around $9 million — possible as well. That could expand the pool of suitors.

However, for argument’s sake, which of the teams with cap space could Brown fit — New York, Dallas, Toronto, and Miami, maybe? All four of those teams seem to have their eyes set on bigger fish and New York and Miami, in particular, have floor spacing issues that could hinder Brown’s effectiveness. (The Knicks, for example, are seen as the most “aggressive” team in pursuit of Colin Sexton, the Cavs’ 22-year-old point guard. That could change everything at the Garden.)

Point being, the market for Brown may not be as robust as many seem to believe.

That high end of Brown’s offers — that $8 million to $10 million range annually — could be too rich for the Nets’ taste and Brown may have to take a bit of a discount to re-up with the Nets. A three-year, $18 million to $21 million contract could be more palatable for Brooklyn. If negotiations with the Nets and other teams become stagnant, Brown could opt to accept the Nets qualifying offer for $4.7 million in 2021-22. He would then have a no-trade clause for next season and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. (Players with qualifying offers can be traded only if they approve of the destination.)

Brown’s return to Brooklyn could also be dependent on a number of other cap-related moves. Spencer Dinwiddie is a free agent as well. While Dinwiddie is a better player than Brown, might the Nets prefer to keep Brown over Dinwiddie given the team’s needs — and more relevantly — the projected salaries of each of them? Dinwiddie is projected to command a lot more than Brown.

Additionally, there’s the lingering DeAndre Jordan question that hangs over the Nets’ cap heads. Jordan was banished from the Nets rotation late in the season. He didn’t play a minute after May 8. The prevailing wisdom was that the Nets were saving the veteran center for a bigger matchup that might come later in the playoffs with a more traditionally big frontline — Milwaukee or Philadelphia. Brooklyn and Philadelphia never made it to an Eastern Conference Finals clash, but Jordan was a DNP throughout the Milwaukee series, even with the Nets injured and so shorthanded. Jordan didn’t even check in for garbage time of any of the games.

So, it’s fair to wonder if Jordan and the $10 million owed to him next season (and the next one after that) will be a part of things in Brooklyn next season. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — who agreed to take less money to bring Jordan with them to Brooklyn — might have a big say, but it’s also possible the Nets could buy him out ... or use their first round pick along with some of their three second rounders to dump Jordan’s money elsewhere (OKC?) lessening the tax blow from re-signing Dinwiddie and/or Brown. In fact, the Nets would save $12 million in a salary dump, DJ’s $10 million and the 27th pick’s $2 million.

Brown is one of the many decisions the Nets will have this summer. He might have to wait his turn to cash in. As a role player, Brown’s process should move more slowly. He may have to wait his turn in the free agency pecking order, but who knows? It only takes one GM to make an offer. You’d think the Nets will deal with Spencer Dinwiddie, survey the trade market, and most importantly try to extend their superstars while waiting patiently for Brown’s market to take shape. As of now, the Nets have all of the leverage.