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Trying to divine Nets plans for free agency not an easy task

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Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

With two weeks left to the NBA’s busiest night for trades and three before the opening of free agency, the rumors have started to fly ... and three reporters covering the Nets contend the Nets have interest in Nerlens Noel, the Knicks shot-blocking, rim-running center.

Ian Begley of SNY, Mike Mazzeo of Forbes Sports Money and Brian Lewis of the Post suggest that the Nets have interest in Noel who played well for the cross-river rivals last season, averaging 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 24 minutes over 64 games, 41 of them starts.

It sounds like it might be accurate, considering that three reporters had the same information, but it’s highly unlikely given the Nets cap space — or lack of same — and Noel’s desire to get paid. He made $5 million last season and reportedly wants a lot more to sign this season, like double that figure. So, in essence, he would appear too rich for their blood.

The Nets are notoriously close-mouthed on their intentions in trades, free agency and the Draft. It’s part of their culture. The rationale is based on their player empowerment ethos. Players may know trades, etc. are part of the business, but they don’t want to be reminded about it, have to explain it. (That’s one reason Spencer Dinwiddie’s interview with Howard Beck about his contract situation was so unique.)

Still, there’s always a lot of speculation about both who the Nets will want and who they will keep from this year’s roster and at what price to Joe Tsai. The Athletic, Daily News and Forbes all tried their hand Thursday on predicting what the Nets will do a couple of weeks from now. (Although free agency opens on August 6, don’t expect much early about the extensions, in part because that’s the day of the Olympic medal game in Tokyo.)

Alex Schiffer and colleague Sam Vecenie of The Athletic summed up what the Nets face this summer

[T]he Nets have a lot of money tied up in their roster already — honestly, a comical amount — that will almost certainly result in them paying an exorbitant amount in luxury tax. With Durant, Harden, Irving, Harris, Jordan, Shamet, Claxton under guaranteed contracts next season, the Nets have about $154.2 million tied up in only seven players. With a projected $112.4 million salary cap and a luxury tax slated to come in around $137 million, the Nets have basically zero chance to get under the tax. So in that vein, they will have the taxpayer’s mid-level exception available to them to add to the roster this summer, which is slated to come in around $5.9 million.

Finding ways to maximize the CBA’s exceptions will be critical, whether it’s the vets minimum, the taxpayer MLE or a sign-and-trade. A big example: Vecenie writes of Bruce Brown’s restricted free agency: “they’re going to have to give him a reasonable amount of money” but he doesn’t define “reasonable.” It may not reach the heights Brown reportedly is seeking, between $8 million and $10 million a year.

Schiffer and Vecenie also take a long look at Dinwiddie’s possibilities. Although they offer no insider info (who does?), they’re skeptical that a Dinwiddie S&T could bring back much in return. They mention a couple of possibilities in L.A., Dinwiddie’s preferred destination, but suggest the prospect of a hard cap and the Lakers’ current needs make that less than likely. Here’s Vecenie’s take, based on the degree of difficulty such a move would require, starting with the hard cap.

Could the Lakers do something like move Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell to the Nets? (Brooklyn won’t be able to take back a player in a sign-and-trade by virtue of already being over the projected hard cap, so Talen Horton-Tucker is out.) As much as I like Dinwiddie, the Lakers might be better off re-signing Dennis Schröder and keeping Kuzma. Plus, the Nets would certainly want another team to take Harrell in a three-way trade in such a move given his near-$10 million salary.

Vecenie thinks Chicago, who cut Dinwiddie in 2016, could be a possibility. Again, though, it’s complicated...

[T]he Bulls want to compete sooner rather than later. Could they move Thaddeus Young’s partially guaranteed contract to the Nets and sign Dinwiddie? Young is about as perfect a fit with this Nets’ roster as you’ll find as a small-ball 4/5 who is versatile defensively. And while the Bulls could create enough cap space to sign Dinwiddie outright if they would move Young and Tomas Satoransky into someone else’s cap space, there is a case to be made they’re better off signing-and-trading for Dinwiddie with Young, keeping Satoransky, staying over the cap, keeping Lauri Markkanen’s restricted rights to maneuver with this summer, re-signing Daniel Theis via Bird rights, and then using their mid-level exception to improve their team.

All of this is speculation, of course. Bottom line for Schiffer and Vecenie is that the most likely scenario is that Dinwiddie signs with a team that has space, eliminating the possibility of anything significant other than a huge trade exception coming back to Brooklyn.

Our best bet, is that Dinwiddie simply signs somewhere in free agency, and maybe the Nets do a deal to create a trade exception that can be used next summer.

As for the Draft, like most pundits, the two writers wonder if how many of the Nets four picks — at Nos. 27, 44, 49 and 59 — actually get used. They think that the Nets might trade down from No. 27 into the second round which would save them money. It would also eliminate a $2 million cap hold, what the 27th pick would require, as they head into free agency.

Maybe a deal with a team like the Magic for No. 33 and another future pick would make a lot of sense here. The Nets would still get a good rookie, just at a cheaper price point

And forget the possibility of the Nets making all four picks, Vecenie writes. He does provide some names of possible stashes with their late picks.

It seems rather unlikely that they make all four picks, although having minimum salaried rookies on the roster could help their salary situation quite a bit. Get pretty well-acquainted with potential European stash picks like Santi Aldama, Gui Santos, Carlos Alocen, Vrenz Bleijenbergh, and others if you’re a Nets fan pre-draft.

Kristian Winfield of the Daily News hits on most of the same issues but adds a name of a free agent the Nets might be interested ... beyond their own ... in P.J. Tucker.

Tucker is a floor-spacing two-way wing who has earned a name as one of the toughest players in basketball. The Nets could use Tucker’s toughness, his defensive versatility and his potential as a small-ball 5 to bolster their lineups next season. They would only be able to sign him to a mid-level contract at best and a veteran’s minimum contract at worst, though Tucker is finishing the fourth year of a mid-level contract he signed with the Rockets.

Winfield also looks more broadly at the S&T prospects for the Nets when discussing Dinwiddie.

The Nets need depth in the backcourt, especially after postseason injuries to both Irving and Harden. They also need a starting caliber big man with an emphasis on rebounding and protecting the rim, as well as additional perimeter defenders and shooters.

Mazzeo deals with the elephant in the room, DeAndre Jordan’s future. He’s owed $20 million over the next two years, but was benched after May 8. As Mazzeo noted, opponents the Nets by 42 points in the 1,246 minutes that Jordan played. It was, of course, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving who brought Jordan aboard, the three having been teammates on Team USA in 2016.

Sean Marks would presumably consult with those two stars before potentially parting ways with Jordan — either via trade (which would presumably cost an additional asset like a first-rounder) or negotiating a buyout (which would clear a roster spot and additional salary).

Mazzeo also reports that the Nets have long believed the mid-point of DJ’s four-year, $40 million contract would provide them with an opportunity to move on.

The Nets had an idea that they could find themselves in this particular situation with Jordan halfway through his four-year, $40 million contract. But it was worth the risk to land Durant and Irving.

Like Winfield, Mazzeo cites the name of one potential free agent, Tucker. As for Dinwiddie’s situation, the former Nets beat writer with ESPN thinks Nets fans have seen the end of Dinwiddie’s play in Brooklyn.

Even with owner Joe Tsai’s net worth, it’s difficult to envision that Brooklyn would pay that steep a price for a Sixth Man given all its other big commitments.

Expect near daily rumors as the days dwindle down prior to the Draft and free agency. Some will have a kernel of truth. Sorting out those kernals will be tricky. Stay tuned.