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RUMOR ROUNDUP: As free agency opens, Nets look at incremental, not wholesale, change

According to the official rules of the NBA, free agency opens at 6:00 p.m. ET on Friday. When the clock strikes 6 (or 3 if you’re out west), teams will be permitted to contact free agents, restricted and unrestricted. Phone calls can be made, offer sheets can be tendered. Of course, we can also expect to hear about new destinations for the most sought-after players not long after the sixth chime rings out. It’s the way things go, although sanctions imposed on the 76ers last year for contacting P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr. early might have some effect. They lost a second round pick last Thursday. Don’t count on delays though. Be online at 6:01 p.m.

For the Nets, the big issue is Cam Johnson’s restricted free agency. He can agree to a long-term deal with the Nets somewhere in the $90 million over four year range or accept an offer sheet for a larger number from another team and wait for 24 hours to see if the Nets match. None of that has to happen Friday or Saturday. He can mull offers, maybe even visit another team (a worrisome prospect if it happens) before making his decision.

The big competition would appear to be the Detroit Pistons coached by Monty Williams, his former Suns head coach who admitting crying about the loss of Johnson and Mikal Bridges in the Kevin Durant trade. The Houston Rockets had been rumored to be interested but they are expected to make a mega-offer — $83 million over two — to Fred Van Vleet and a contract in the range of $30 million over two to Dillon Brooks, per NBA insider Marc Stein. That would exhaust their wealth of cap space which would in turn eliminate them from the CJ Sweepstakes. And Sean Marks & co. have let teams know in the game within the game that they’re prepared to match any rational offer.

How much is too much? Jake Fischer wrote this Friday about CJ’s presumed offer from the Pistons.

[R]ival personnel continue to expect Detroit to throw an offer sheet at Nets restricted free agent Cam Johnson. The 27-year-old sharpshooter seems destined to command a deal approaching $100 million over four seasons, sources said, and Johnson could perhaps yield an even greater salary for Detroit to force Brooklyn to reconsider matching his number.

The Nets have already made one move, deciding against qualifying offers for David Duke Jr. and two-way Dru Smith, making them unrestricted free agents who are unlikely to return to Brooklyn. If there are big moves to be made Friday (or over the weekend), they’re almost certain to involve trades. The Nets only have vets minimum deals to offer unless they want to use the taxpayers MLE now worth around $7 million a year. However, they didn’t use it last year and there’s no guarantee they will this year. Indeed, the 2023 free agent class is seen as mediocre and with the effect of the new CBA still to be determined, there’s going to a lot of hand-wringing before hands pick up pens.

As Brian Lewis reports, the most likely candidates to be moved are either Royce O’Neale or Dorian Finney-Smith, who as 3-and-D wings, are a valuable commodity around the league. As virtually everyone has reported, the Nets want at least a first rounder for O’Neale and a first rounder plus something else for DFS. There might be some wiggle room, particularly with Finney-Smith, presumably the more valuable of the two. If you hear the Nets are willing to let either go for some second rounders, expect a good player will also be included in return.

Indeed, Fischer wrote this about O’Neale in his latest summary.

The Cavaliers have continued trade calls on swingman Cedi Osman. Cleveland has attempted to land either Dorian Finney-Smith or Royce O’Neale from the Nets, sources said.

Zach Lowe also spoke about O’Neale and Osman on his latest podcast:

“Royce O’Neale for Cedi Osman is a trade that I think makes a lot of sense for both teams, with Cleveland probably giving a few second round picks.” Rumor or speculation? The Cavs did decide to extend Osman this week, which could be a prelude to a trade.

Beyond those rumors, Fischer all suggested the Nets could be interested in Wizards point guard Monte Morris.

Lewis also writes that “sources told The Post that they’re unlikely to trade Spencer Dinwiddie to shed salary,” Dinwiddie and Joe Harris, both big expiring deals at $18.9 million and $19.9 million respectively, could be more valuable at the trade deadline, depending on how the team is doing. The Nets will also have two expiring trade exceptions of $18.1 million and $4.5 million come February.

Indeed, Ian Begley of SNY reports there are some within the Nets front office who have argued for an extension of Dinwiddie’s contract. As of August 7, Dinwiddie eligible for an extension of up to four years and $128 million, the max seems unlikely. “Spencer Dinwiddie is eligible for an extension later this offseason. Per people familiar with the matter, there is support within the Nets to add years onto Dinwiddie’s deal via an extension.”

Speaking of big contracts, there is Ben Simmons who is going to be paid $37.9 million starting Saturday. However, a trade appears to be very, very unlikely because 1) the 6’11” guard-forward’s trade value is at an all-time low as he continues to rehab his back and leg and 2) the Nets are reasonably confident that he is progressing nicely, seeing positive growth in both his physical and mental states.

Yuta Watanabe might wind up being the first player from last year’s roster to move on voluntarily. The Nets reportedly haven’t given up on retaining him but they are unwilling to use anything but the minimum to keep him. Other teams, particularly the Suns and Warriors may top that. Seth Curry is another candidate for a quick departure. There seems little optimism for his return. He has said he is intrigued by Charlotte where he grew up.

Things change all the time in the NBA. Just ask Daryl Morey, the 76ers GM. But it sure looks like the Nets are not/not going all-in on big moves, Damian Lillard rumors to the contrary. (and Lillard is unlikely to be available for a while as the Blazers try to find winning pieces to surround him, keep him happy.)

One reason for the lack of ambition, Kristian Winfield notes, is that the Nets are happy being patient. As Winfield writes, they may be looking down the road for the next big opportunity.

The Nets, however, must also consider the summer of 2025, a free agency period in alignment with the expiration of Simmons’ contract. LeBron James, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Brandon Ingram, Jamal Murray, Lauri Markkanen, Jrue Holiday and OG Anunoby are all on pace to become unrestricted free agents when Simmons’ cap hit comes off the books, not to mention the projected salary cap spike pending from the broadcast deals set to be renegotiated the same summer...

Considering Brooklyn’s draft capital, that is a surefire route toward building a contender.

One thing that appears to be a big positive for the Nets as they push things down the road is that Joe Tsai is reportedly happy with the patient approach. He has proven he is willing to pay out big bucks in luxury taxes and take losses if need be. He has told NetsDaily that he regards luxury taxes as a long-term investment rather than a cost.

Bottom line: This isn’t 2019 when the Nets cleared the decks to welcome Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan in free agency and Nic Claxton in the Draft, nor 2020, 2021 or 2022 when they were holding on to the dream of winning it all. Reality intervened at the deadline. So don’t expect much. The word of the day, starting at 6:00 p.m. ET is “incremental.”