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Attention turns to Nic Claxton as Brooklyn Nets look to free agency

What’s the market for Nic Claxton this summer and how much will the Nets be willing to pay.

BASKET-NBA-FRA-CAVALIERS-NETS Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images

The Nets season at this point, three weeks from the trade deadline, does like it’s going to be rough going. They’ve lost 12 of their last 15 and have looked if not lackadaisical then muddled, there’s no timetable for Ben Simmons return and they were just fined $100,000 by the league for violating the Player Participation Policy.

Etc. etc.

So, it’s not surprising that fans’ attention — and probably the front office’s as well — is tuned toward the future starting with the deadline and then free agency. The Nets currently have no pick in the draft, having sent their unprotected first rounder to Houston in the ill-fated James Harden trade. The pick, by the way, is currently No. 9 over in albeit a bad draft.

As Brian Lewis reported this weekend, the biggest decision Brooklyn will have to make is on the future of Nic Claxton who is playing like a $100 million man. The Nets can’t extend him till July because of the vagaries of his contract. He will be an unrestricted free agent meaning the Nets will not have the opportunity to match another team’s offer sheet. They do hold his Bird Rights.

On the surface at least, things at this point are looking positive for a reunion. Claxton is having another solid season, the only blip being an injury that cost him eight games early in the season. The Nets also rested him two games.

In fact, he has been the Nets most productive player during their recent woes. He’s posted double-doubles in eight of his last 10 games including four straight. He’s among the league leaders again in blocks at 2.5 a game, sixth in the league. He’s also shown some more offensive flashes, a 3-pointer here, a coast-to-coast fast break there.

Both he and Sean Marks have said all the right things about a return with most pundits believing that he doesn’t get $100 million over the next five years which would take him to age 29, it will be close.

“In our business, you never really know what’s going to happen as far as trades, contracts and everything,” Claxton told The Post earlier this season. “But I’ve been here four years, and Brooklyn has been … huge, played a huge role in my growth, and I’d love to be here. But we’ll see how that shakes out. I’m just taking it day-by-day … and figure all that stuff out later.”

Marks said the Nets expect Claxton to be a Net for many years to come.

“The thing I’d love to see most is Nic get his $100 million [contract], because I’ve seen him come in the league,” his long-time fan and teammate Spencer Dinwiddie added.

So is there a problem? The Nets are in a crunch when it comes to the luxury tax threshold next season, just as they are in this one. Ownership and management do not want to go over that threshold and wind up having to pay the repeater tax in 2025-26 when free agents will abound and beyond. The repeater tax and other restrictions under the new CBA get assessed when teams are over threshold three years out of four.

So between now and July, the Nets will have to find a way to keep their payroll in check while paying Claxton and fielding a competitive team next season. That process could begin at the deadline. The Nets are about $8.0 million under the threshold now and there are persistent rumors that they are open to moving bodies in return for lesser contracts, maybe first round draft picks. While Dinwiddie ($18,9 million) and Royce O’Neale ($9.5 million) are expiring deals, Dorian Finney-Smith has two more years to run after this year, at a total of $30 million.

As our analytics guy, Professor B, wrote in a comment to this story, the math is a bit complicated.

The Nets’ key numbers next summer are $55.4m and $8.8m. The first is the distance between the luxury tax threshold and current commitments. Everything they do has to fit in that space. If Claxton gets $22m, that leaves $33m for everything else. The second is the distance between the salary cap and current commitments (including Claxton’s cap hold). That is what they’ll have to work with before falling back on exceptions (Bird rights, MLE, and vet minimum deals). That’s not enough to add a starting-quality point guard, which is why they probably have to trade for one or bring back Dinwiddie (whose salary would only have to fit in the $55.4m, not in the $8.8m, because the Nets have his Bird rights).

There are other decisions as well coming up in July. Day’Ron Sharpe, Claxton’s backup, and Cam Thomas, are both eligible to be extended with new deals starting in 2025-26. The Nets can either extend both this summer or wait and extend them next season, but they will become restricted free agents. How much will they command? And Lonnie Walker IV, Dennis Smith Jr. and Tredon Watford will be unrestricted free agents as well.

A contract averaging $20 million for Claxton would not be out of the ordinary for someone of his skills and recent production, as Lewis points out, quoting cap experts and executives at other teams.

Currently earning a base salary of $8.75 million and carrying a cap hit of $9.625 million, Claxton could conceivably double that pay come the summer. Hoopshype cap expert Yossi Gozlan told The Post he estimated that even if Claxton finishes with a similar campaign to last season and shows no significant jump in performance, the center is “looking at least at [Jakob] Poeltl money.”

The Toronto big man is in the first season of a four-year, $78 million deal.

One agent told The Post this week that Claxton would likely command a four-year, $90 million deal — roughly similar to the four-year extension Nets teammate Cam Johnson signed last summer that will pay him $94.5 million total, $90 million guaranteed.

Another source noted to Lewis that there won’t be a lot of free cap space around the league this summer with so many other teams not wanting to go near the threshold or the draconian aprons in the new CBA.

Added another league source: “If more cap space teams don’t surface, they’ll probably end up getting him back at market value,” which he suggested would be in the neighborhood of Clint Capela’s shorter two-year, $45.8 million pact. But considering Claxton’s age, he likely could command a similar salary for at least another year, if not two.

Bobby Marks of ESPN said similar things about Claxton’s market on the Hoopshype podcast with Mike Scotto.

“The Nets also have to pay Nic Claxton,” said Scotto. “They’re making it seem like they’re preparing to pay him. Claxton told me he wants to re-sign in Brooklyn when we did our interview. I have him somewhere in the $20-25 million range.”

Marks agreed with the estimate. “He’s probably at what Poeltl got somewhere around four years, $80 million with Toronto. I like Claxton better than Poeltl.”

In the meantime, Claxton said he’ll continue to focus on the issue at hand: getting out of the slump that has sent them careening.

“That’s just our job,” Claxton told The Post. “It’s our job just to stay in the present and not worry about not worrying about tomorrow, worry about this next game, whatever the next game may be.

“So just keeping yourself healthy; and everything, the contract, everything will work itself out. But right now, we’ve just got to focus on just trying to win games and then [for] me, just being the best version of myself for my team.”