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Where do we go from here? Think athletic wing, back-up big ... and aggressive review

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NBA: Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

They’re not going to stand still. That’s probably the biggest takeaway from various reporters who’ve looked at the Nets roster and found the holes that no doubt Sean Marks (and Joe Tsai) can see as well.

In recent days, Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks of ESPN as well as Yossi Gozlan of Hoopshype and Alex Schiffer of The Athletic have tried their hand on the Nets off-season situation. Here’s the basics... in no particular order:

  • They are likely to be aggressive although it’s unlikely they will have a roster with 10 new faces as they did last season.
  • The Nets are likely to use the two picks they got from Philly in the Harden-for-Simmons deal as trade assets to bolster the roster.
  • Bruce Brown wants to return and they want him back, but it will be expensive. Nic Claxton has become increasingly valuable considering how few bigs might be back.
  • Top priorities appear to be an athletic wing and a big, either in a trade or signed through the $6.4 million taxpayers trade exception.
  • A veteran voice, someone like Jared Dudley, Ed Davis or Jeff Green, is needed for the locker room if not on the court.
  • Seth Curry, as long as he’s not traded, is underpaid and it would be smart to extend him this summer.
  • Kyrie Irving’s contract status may be complicated by what he and Nets want in terms of the deal’s structure: how many years, guarantees, etc.
  • Joe Harris may have the best contract in terms of bringing back a star but after two ankle surgeries in the last six months — the second to correct an issue from the first — his value is not what it was last summer. Might be better to wait till the trade deadline.

As for Ben Simmons, things remain uncertain, but Steve Nash was very definitive in saying that the Nets will be better off next season with him and Harris back on the court. He also referred to Simmons as a “cornerstone.”

“As far as an organization, we’re really pushing to support Ben in any way we can to help him improve physically and get back on the court, and the mental side of that is part and parcel. They’re not separate. They’re not something that we don’t want to deal with. We want to help if he needs help in any aspect of his life and his game. He’s a cornerstone, so we want to help him feel great, play great and become a part of this team.”

Or as Bobby Marks wrote Monday night...

Now, the Nets’ hope for a championship resides in the health of a player that last played in June (Simmons) and another that is recovering from reconstructive left ankle surgery (Harris). The postseason and regular season have only confirmed how important both are to Brooklyn.

The biggest free agency decision, of course, will be on Irving. He has said quite clearly that he wants to return and there’s every indication that the Nets want him back, despite his recurring issues, specifically his commitment to the game. He has after all only played 60 or more games in four of the 11 seasons he’s been in the NBA and only 103 regular season games with the Nets in the last three.

But the devil could be in the details on Irving’s forthcoming deal.

Woj in his Sunday afternoon comments on ESPN suggested that the length of the contract could be an issue.

“What does an extension look like for Kyrie Irving?” asked Woj. “He has said he wants to be back in Brooklyn. He wants to continue with Kevin Durant. He could do a five-year deal, go beyond Kevin Durant. Durant’s signed through 2026. Does Brooklyn want to put him on the same contract path as KD? Do they want to do something shorter? Does he want to do something shorter? That’s going to be an interesting conversation between the Nets and Kyrie Irving.”

What’s the difference? Gozlan laid out the numbers Tuesday.

Irving has a player option worth $36.9 million that there’s a good possibility he will decline. He would be eligible to re-sign with the Nets this offseason for up to five years, $247.6 million. He could also decline his player option and avoid free agency by extending with the Nets for up to four years, $191.3 million. If he were to leave Brooklyn, he can sign with a new team for up to four years, $183.6 million.

A four-year deal would eliminate some of the risk associated with Irving’s often mercurial ways. It would also put him and KD on the same track with deals ending in 2025-26. As Bobby Marks noted.

It would be smart for Brooklyn to align the two contracts together.

A $49.1 and $52.5 million contract in years three and four is tough to stomach, but that is the price of business the Nets got themselves into when Irving committed to them in 2019.

Simmons current contract ends one year short of Durant’s and although he is eligible for an extension this August — two years and $88 million starting in 2025-26 — that seems highly unlikely.

Brown’s market is hard to place. Last summer, there was speculation that he could warrant a contract beginning anywhere from $8 million to $14 million. That speculation wound up dead wrong and he had to settle for the $4.7 million qualifying offer. It worked out well for both he and the Nets. After his role shifted and expanded following the trade deadline, Brown now seems destined for a big pay day on the scale some thought he’d reach a year ago.

“Obviously, Bruce Brown has had a tremendous season,” Woj noted. “He’s looking like a 12, 13, 14 million dollar player in this marketplace. They have to sign him.”

Brown on Monday night said he hopes to come back. That’s looking more and more likely. Not everyone is convinced that he will get that big of a deal because he has unique skills and the fit he has in Brooklyn might not be easily replicated elsewhere. Gozlan wrote:

The big question for the Nets is if they are willing to give him a significant raise for what could become a reduced role for him when Ben Simmons returns. He could thrive in a small-ball lineup featuring the Brooklyn All-Star trio and Seth Curry to close games.

There’s similar questions about Claxton’s value. Like Brown, he may be more valuable to Brooklyn than elsewhere (although there’s been some speculation that other teams might see Claxton in a different, facilitating role like he played at Georgia.)

The other issue affecting his market is his history of illness and injury which has robbed him of a lot of development time. As for his wretched foul-shooting in the first round, it should be noted that prior to the playoffs, he was improving. He shot 64 percent from the line in March, 60 percent in April.

The Nets can either sign Claxton before June 30 or wait till they see what his market is, then decide whether to match. As Gozlan wrote, “Claxton can still avoid free agency and extend with the Nets by June 30, 2022 for up to four years, $55.6 million.”

What other bigs might be around or can be picked up with minimum salaries? The Nets have Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, but there doesn’t seem to be that much interest in keeping them. Griffin didn’t play at all from April 2 through Game 3 of the first round on April 23. Although he contributed, he also looked gassed. Aldridge, who will turn 37 this summer, contributed early on offense, but because of a hip injury, played only 23 minutes between March 6 and the end of the regular season and didn’t leave the bench in the first round. Will he retire? He’s twice had hip surgery over the course of his career.

What about Andre Drummond, who played well after coming over from Philadelphia, starting every game he was available for between February 15 and Game 7. He’s hoping to get more than the vets minimum he played for the past two years. Bobby Marks isn’t sure Drummond is in the Nets future plans, that there might very well be a better use for the taxpayers MLE.

[F]or a second straight postseason (Drummond) has been a liability on the defensive end. He averaged only 8.2 minutes in the second half of the Boston series and did not play in the fourth quarter in Game 2 (and not at all after the first quarter Monday.)

The best option for Brooklyn could be to sign Claxton with the intention that he will be the full-time starter, and then use the tax midlevel exception on a wing player. The Nets could also put Simmons at center and have Claxton as the backup.

But if they sign Claxton, let Drummond go, don’t re-sign Griffin and Aldridge, keep Simmons in the back court and use the TMLE on a wing, they will need reinforcements up front. Bobby Marks thinks the Nets recent record with vets wanting to join a contender may be hurt by the team’s decision to waive DeAndre’ Bembry and James Johnson after signing them in the off-season, Johnson just before the playoffs leaving him out in the cold.

Still, at least one name of a prominent veteran has arisen. Sean Deveney, formerly of Sporting News, in writing for Heavy.com wrote Monday that that there is “mutual interest” between the Nets and Carmelo Anthony, a long-time friend of Irving and Durant, and a Brooklyn (Red Hook) native.

Still, as Charles Barkley said of the Nets roster issues post-game Monday, “The problem they got going forward three guys are going to be making $50 million. How are they going to find those other pieces is the question. That’s going to be the question going forward. Who’s going to want to play on that team?”

Maybe that’s where a trade comes into play, particularly using the 2022 and 2027 picks they acquired from Philly plus maybe some other pieces and/or a trade exception of which they have five, the two biggest at $11.3 million and $6.3 million.

Woj thinks that the Nets will use the picks as fodder for a trade.

“Among the Nets trade assets from the Philadelphia trade with James Harden ... here’s a decision they have to make by June 1 ... Do they keep Philly’s 2022 first round pick, use it this year — it’s 23rd overall — or they can kick it to 2023. They got to make that decision by June 1.

“For the Nets, the chance to be able to use that in trades — they’ve got Philly’s 2022 pick and 2027 pick — Ultimately, they may never use a player from those Draft picks. They’re going to be trade assets.”

It would seem, using that logic, that a trade before June 1 might make sense. It would give the receiving team the option of using the pick in 2022 or 2023. But it’s a rare occurrence that big deals take place deep in the playoffs. One reason is that the league doesn’t look kindly on a big trade taking the spotlight away from playoff action.

The Nets also have a decision to make on Curry, who is eligible for an extension beyond his $8.8 million contract next year. Both Bobby Marks and Gozlan think it would be a smart idea to get Curry signed. As Gozlan writes, “Curry is extension-eligible throughout the season for up to four years, projected at $59 million.”

But it’s a little bit complicated, as Marks notes...

Curry is extension eligible starting on July 6, but because he was acquired in a trade, Brooklyn is limited in years (an additional two) and percentage increase (5%) on what they can offer in a new contract (two-years $17.4 million). Once the restriction is lifted on Aug. 11, Curry would then be eligible to sign a four-year $58 million extension.

Curry has one of the better value contracts considering his $8.5 million contract in 2022-23 is below both the midlevel exception and average player salary. Because Brooklyn is over the cap in 2023-24, signing Curry to an extension should be a priority.

But would Curry be a trade piece in a bigger deal because he’s so valuable? And what about Cam Thomas? Will Sean Marks get offers for him? Will he offer Thomas as a value piece? He’s under contract for another three years. And how about Goran Dragic? He didn’t seem enamored of his short tenure with the Nets, noting that that were was “something different, something difficult” every day on the turmoil-ridden Nets. If he leaves, he’ll have to be replaced.

As for Patty Mills, it would seem that the Nets want him back. If he opts in, he’ll make $6.2 million next season. Gozlan notes, “If he opts out, the Nets will hold his Non Bird rights and can re-sign him for up to four years, $31.6 million, with a $7.1 million starting salary.”

Would there be competing offers? There may very well be but those offers are likely to be less than he would have warranted if he hadn’t had a late season drop-off.

The Hoopshype writer thinks that despite what appears to be limited assets, the Nets do have some flexibility...

Despite their high payroll, the Nets have the means to make significant trades. They have five trade exceptions, including one worth $11.3 million and another worth $6.3 million. If they choose to convey the first-round pick the Sixers owe them for this year’s draft, they could look to package it with one of these exceptions for a player or two.

Still, Bobby Marks notes that if the Nets use the $6.2 million TMLE and take on a player with the biggest exception, at slightly larger price tag of $6.3 million, it would add $45 million in luxury taxes. So how much Joe Tsai is willing to spend? In an interview with NetsDaily back in October he said the Nets are profitable ... if you don’t include the luxury tax payments. Those he saw as an “investment” in the future.

Woj put the bill for salary and luxury tax payments at between $345 million and $350 million, Bobby Marks at around $330 million.

“They’re going to be approaching next year $345 and $350 million next year,” said Woj talking about the combination of salary and taxes. “That’s where Golden State is at this year: the highest salary and luxury tax payments in the league. Brooklyn is going to be in that neighborhood if they keep this team together.”

Bobby Marks noted the dramatic increase from last season.

Tsai paid $266 million in salary and tax this year (the second highest behind the Golden State Warriors), only to lose in the first round, and is now faced with the decision to keep the team’s own free agents — Brown, Claxton, Drummond, Mills (player option) — or cut costs and go bargain shopping with the veteran minimum.

If the same roster returns, the Nets could see their salaries and tax penalty approach $330 million.

We should hear more about the Nets situation in the next few days whenever Sean Marks and presumably Steve Nash hold their annual end-of-season press conference. In the meantime, get out your calculators and trade machines.

“This summer is gonna be a very, very important summer for our organization,” said KD. “We’ll see where we go next year.”