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Looking forward, Nets will have questions at the 5 ... and elsewhere

Brooklyn Nets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Andre Drummond surprised some Nets fans the other night when he said it was unlikely he’ll be back in Brooklyn next season. It was in the context of whether the Nets should sign Nic Claxton in the off-season.

“And if we’re all being honest, I’m only here till the rest of the season,” Drummond said when discussing Claxton. “So who knows what’s gonna happen in the offseason? So they need a guy like (Nic).”

Indeed, the Nets have limited options with Drummond, acquired in the blockbuster deadline trade. He’s an unrestricted free agent making the vets minimum. The Nets don’t have anything but his non-Bird Rights or the taxpayer mid-level exception (TMLE).

As Kristian Winfield wrote Wednesday...

The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement restricts the Nets from further exceeding the salary cap to retain him. The most they can offer is 120% of his current minimum salary, or the full taxpayer mid-level exception of just under $6 million. Those figures, in Drummond’s likely estimation, are not enough for a player averaging a double-double, 11 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, since his trade to Brooklyn.

Drummond is the Nets starting center, has been since the trade and his minutes have jumped since he ramped up his conditioning so he could play more minutes. Also, LaMarcus Aldridge is out with a hip issue — which has afflicted him on-and-off for much of his career. The Nets hope he’ll be back next week, but what about next year?

Both Aldridge, who will turn 37 in the off-season, and Blake Griffin, who turned 33 earlier in the month, are like Drummond on a vets minimum deals. How much longer will they want to play? So, Drummond makes a good point about Claxton. Other than 20-year-old rookie Day’Ron Sharpe, the 21-year-old Claxton is closest to a sure thing among the Nets current bigs. He will be a restricted free agent in the summer. meaning the Nets can match any offer from elsewhere if it comes down to that. They can either make him an offer early on in free agency or simply wait to see what he can get on the market, then decide what to do.

Of course, Drummond might not get what he wants in free agency. Some we consulted suggested that perhaps he could be had for TMLE ... or less. The TMLE would pay him about $12 million over two years. One comparable mentioned was JaVale McGee who is six years older than the 28-year-old Drummond but has three NBA rings. McGee makes $5 million this season.

Perhaps this concern about bigs is why a number of draftniks have suggested that the Nets could be interested in Duke’s Mark Williams, a 7’1” sophomore with rebounding cred, if they keep the pick they got in the trade. They have an option to use Philly’s pick this year or next.

The Nets will also face other questions in the off-season. Will they re-sign Bruce Brown whose Bird Rights they control? Will they extend Seth Curry beyond next season when he will make $8.5 million? And what about Kyrie Irving? He is eligible for a $34.9 million salary next season unless he opts out. He can also sign a $181.6 million extension that would keep him in Brooklyn through 2026 the same year Kevin Durant’s deal runs out. There’s also Patty Mills who could opt out of his player option that would pay him $6.2 million next season.

It’s all the reality of being a superstar-laden team. As Winfield notes, ”Durant earns $40.9 million this season. Kyrie Irving is on the hook for $34.9 million, Ben Simmons has a $31.5 million cap hit, and Joe Harris’ contract extension pays him $17.3 million this season.” The Nets commitment to those four is $12 million more than the salary cap. So teams like the Nets have to find bargains where they can, in vets minimum contracts, in rookie-scale deals and the TMLE ... and hope the owner is willing to pay the luxury tax.

Joe Tsai told NetsDaily back in October that while the tax may seem onerous, he sees it as more of an investment than a ledger loss. It’s a way to improve the value of the team — and gain “respect” in the league equal to some of the legacy franchises. Moreover, he contended that if you subtract the cost of the luxury tax, the Nets are making a profit.

“The luxury tax is important in that I see it as an investment for the future. That goes to the value of the team and just how people think about the team,” he said in discussing his strategic plan.

Sean Marks in his various moves since last August have dropped Tsai’s tax liability from $130 million to $110.4 million before trading James Harden and $95.5 million now. Nets insiders say the savings will be put to good use in the off-season.

One thing does seem certain. Steve Nash would like to seem more continuity going forward. He has noted on numerous occasions that he’s had to deal with a roster that had 10 new players this season and that was before the trade.