By: Matt Flynn | Staff Writer
This will be the first article in our review and grading of each NBA team’s offseason. We’ve now been through the draft, the three weeks of free agent moves, and seen a ton of cash-saving trades by desperate teams trying to avoid the luxury tax. Although teams don’t quite make their rosters in July, we now have a good idea of where each team sits before the season, with some time to address remaining needs and their payrolls.
Let’s start with the Brooklyn Nets, who had a really nice off-season under GM Sean Marks. Remember that the Nets essentially killed their chance for a successful rebuild back when they traded multiple first round picks to the Celtics for an aging Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in an attempt to compete with the LeBron James-led Miami Heat. Everything that has happened to the Nets since then has been an attempt to recoup these losses and work on a rebuild without picks at the top of the draft.
Surprisingly, the Nets have begun really making successful moves and head into this season as the first where they’ll have their OWN first-round pick. The Nets will be bad again, for sure, but they now have an incentive to be bad, and are closer than ever to a franchise turn-around. There’s finally some light at the end of the tunnel.
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Here are the current players they have signed with their cap hits/salaries in parenthesis. It’s listed in millions.
PG- Spencer Dinwiddie (1.7)*; Shabazz Napier (1.6); Dzanan Musa (1.6)
SG- D’Angelo Russell (7.0); Allen Crabbe (18.5); Rodions Kurucs (1.6)
SF- Joe Harris (8.0); Caris LeVert (1.7); Treveon Graham (1.5)
PF- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (2.5); DeMarre Carroll (15.4); Jared Dudley (9.5)
C- Jarrett Allen (2.0); Ed Davis (4.4); Kenneth Faried (13.8)
Their roster carries a total of $91 million in salaries, but they owe dead money to Dwight Howard (around $19 million for his buyout) and Deron Williams ($5.5 million after stretching his contract). This amounts to a total of 116 million in cap allocations. Dinwiddie’s is unguaranteed, thus the *, but I fully expect this to be guaranteed and paid by the team after his being a front-runner for Most-Improved Player last season.
They are well over the cap, which sits around $102 million, but they are well short of the luxury tax of $123 million. They’ve already used their room mid-level exception and operated as an under-the-cap team, which means they can really only use their cap to sign guys at the minimum, as they have appeared to renounce their team rights on the remaining unclaimed free agents, Quincy Acy and Jahlil Okafor.
For those who need a vocabulary lesson for the preceding two paragraphs, here’s a quick introduction. The NBA has a ‘soft cap,’ which means that a team can exceed it using contracts the NBA deems as exceptions. Each team starts with this 102 million base payroll, and they can exceed it through exceptions. There are two main types of exceptions.
One corresponds with where the team sits on the cap (there’s the room mid-level of about $4.5 million for teams under the cap, the mid-level exception worth $8.6 million for teams between the cap and the luxury tax line, and then the tax-payer mid-level worth about $5.3 million over the tax line), and one corresponds with allowing teams to exceed the cap to retain their own free agents, called Bird Rights. A team can use the different types of Bird Rights to retain their players, or they can renounce these bird rights and allow the player to float away into unrestricted free agency.
The reason they have to wait to either accept or renounce the rights is that the players carry “cap holds,” placeholder salaries that count against the cap until the team decides to sign the player using Bird Rights or let them go. If this cap hold didn’t exist to count on the team’s books, they could fill out their roster with expensive players and then just use Bird Rights to sign the players with no consequence.
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The cap holds give the teams an additional financial wrinkle in deciding whether to hold onto players. Acy and Okafor no longer have cap holds, and thus no longer have their Bird Rights, because the Nets have renounced them. Once renounced, the Nets cannot continue to exceed the salary cap to re-sign them, because they have lost the ability to use an exception to resign them.
A team can always sign guys at the minimum, which means that if the Nets have any new moves to make, it will come by minimum contracts or trades.
The following players are additions to the Nets roster from last year:
G- Shabazz Napier (free agent signing from Portland)
G- Dzanan Musa (draft, first round pick)
G/F- Rodions Kurucs (draft, second round pick)
F- Treveon Graham (free agent signing from Charlotte)
F- Jared Dudley (trade with Phoenix)
F/C- Kenneth Faried (trade with Denver)
C- Ed Davis (free agent signing from Portland)
The following players are losses from last year’s roster:
G- Jeremy Lin (trade with Atlanta)
G- Isaiah Whitehead (trade with Denver)
G- Nik Stauskas (signed with Portland)
F- Quincy Acy (still available)
F- Dante Cunningham (signed with San Antonio)
C- Jahlil Okafor (still available)
C- Timofey Mozgov (trade with Charlotte)
As they head into next year, they face Carroll, Dinwiddie, Faried, Davis, and Dudley as expiring contracts, as well as Russell and Hollis-Jefferson heading into restricted free agency.
They retain draft rights on three earlier recent second rounders: Juan Vaulet from Argentina (2015), Isaia Cordinier from France (2016), and Aleksander Vezenkov from Bulgaria (2017).
Next draft, they also have their own first-round pick (finally) as well as Denver’s if it falls 13th or lower. In the second round, they have the Knicks’ second rounder, plus Indiana’s if it falls between picks 31-44. Indiana’s second rounder likely will not convey, but they stand to have two first round picks and a high second with the Knicks. Not a bad haul.
Here’s a recap of each of their offseason moves:
Selected G – Dzanan Musa from Bosnia with the 29th pick in the draft (1st Round)
Selected G/F – Rodions Kurucs from Latvia with the 45th pick in the draft (2nd Round)
Right before the draft, they made a trade with Charlotte:
Nets receive: C – Dwight Howard
Hornets receive: C – Timofey Mozgov, 2018 2nd Rounder (became H. Diallo), 2021 2nd Rounder
This deal may sell off some assets, but the Nets made it clear future cap space. Howard’s contract was expiring at $23.8 million, while Mosgov’s carried two seasons left worth $32 million total. They essentially used the two future second-rounders to clear Mosgov’s 2019 salary off of their books, and then just bought Howard out for $18.9 million, where he’d get the remainder of his salary back after signing with the Wizards.
Sure, Howard’s money is dead money, but the Nets maintain future flexibility. I initially was critical of this deal in sending away future picks and getting Dwight, who would’ve helped them win more games. After realizing they were buying him out, I warmed up to the deal, as they still will remain a poor team and collect a high first-round pick, but were able to move off of Mosgov’s horrendous $32 million.
This deal limited the Nets to only one 2018 second round pick, which they used on Kurucs, as stated above. I grade the deal as a slight positive for Brooklyn.
They then made a pre-cursor deal with Atlanta before their major deal this summer:
Nets receive: 2020 2nd Rounder, draft rights to I. Cordinier (2016 2nd Rounder)
Hawks receive: G – Lin, 2025 2nd Rounder, future swap rights for 2nd round pick
This deal was a precursor to the next deal with Denver, as the team needed to get off of Lin’s $12.5 million salary to open up more cap space, so it’s really tough to analyze this deal on its own. It’s an odd choice for the Hawks to get Lin during their rebuild, but the Nets were more than willing to oblige. Essentially, this boils down to Lin’s true haul being the 1st rounder that the Nets received back from Denver…
Here’s the Denver deal:
Nets receive: 2019 1st Rounder, 2020 2nd Rounder, F/C- Kenneth Faried, F- Darrell Arthur
Nuggets receive: G – Whitehead, cash considerations
By trading Lin, the Nets created enough space to absorb both Faried’s $13.8 million and Arthur’s $7.5 million. The Nuggets were having luxury tax concerns, so by accepting $21.3 million in expiring contracts, the Nets were able to coerce the Nuggets to give up a mildly protected first round pick. Because of this current market’s lack of cap space, teams with space can sell it at a high price for teams needing to unload salary, and the cost of over $20 million for Denver was a first round pick.
Although Lin is clearly the most valuable of these players, the Nets would not have been able to complete this deal without trading him to the Hawks. So, in reality, they traded Lin, Whitehead, and a distant second rounder for a first rounder, four-second rounders (draft rights of Cordinier, Atlanta’s, Denver’s, and Phoenix’s), and expiring contracts. Not bad! These deals work as a huge positive, and give the Nets two 2019 1st rounders, their own and Denver’s.
I’m also not convinced that Faried’s contract is all bad. If he can be given a chance to play in the rotation, he could be an expiring contract that could be sold to a team in need of a rotation big man at the trade deadline. He’s only one season removed from being a 10-point, 8 rebound big with an efficient scoring touch, good energy, and average defense despite being slightly undersized.
They then flipped Darrell Arthur in a deal with Phoenix:
Nets receive: F – Dudley and a 2021 2nd rounder
Suns receive: F – Arthur
The Suns needed some space to reach out and get Richaun Holmes from the Sixers in a deal I’ll discuss on a later date, so they actually gave up a 2nd rounder to go from Dudley’s $9.5 million to Arthur’s $7.5 million. Neither of these guys would play much in the Nets’ rotation, so flipping Arthur for Dudley and a second-rounder is a nice piece of maneuvering.
In terms of free agent signings, they made some nice ones. They had Early Bird Rights on Joe Harris, which means that they could sign him for 175% of his previous year’s salary or the league average salary. The $8 million average received by Harris goes in line with that, allowing the Nets to retain a value player separate of cap concerns. I’m not sure he’s worth $16 million over two years, but his career-best season of 11 points and 42% from three-point range makes him a valuable player coming off the bench for a good team. Every competitive team needs a shooting specialist like Harris, and he’s really come into his own as a shooter.
They also took minimum fliers on Napier and Graham. Napier continued improving his efficiency and shooting last year, getting up to almost 9 points per game and shooting the three at 38%. He did a really good job as the third guard in Portland’s rotation and also made strides at the defensive end. He’s become a valuable two-way player, and the market squeeze had Portland let go of him, likely anticipating a larger contract, when he signs with the Nets for the minimum.
Then, they also used the minimum for Graham, a good shooter with a developed body and defensive upside at the SG through PF positions. When money was flying out the door for players like Anthony Tolliver or Ersan Ilyasova, the Nets got Graham, a younger guy with more upside, for the minimum. I love these deals, getting Napier and Graham for the minimum.
Finally, they used their room mid-level exception on Davis, a Power Forward/Center who gives good efficiency and switch ability at the defensive end. He’s a solid rebounder and has good touch finishing around the basket. I think he’s a fine addition as an extra big man, but I’m not sure that I would play him over Faried when the Nets could try to rehabilitate his value for a deadline trade.
Davis and Faried can’t play together, especially knowing that Allen needs minutes, as does Hollis-Jefferson at the Power Forward spot, whose shooting limitations make him a more valuable Power Forward than Small Forward. I probably wouldn’t have used the entirety of my Room MLE on Davis, but it’s certainly not a bad deal.
Overall, the Nets gained future flexibility, added future picks, took fliers on valuable, high-upside players, and left themselves in a position to be bad enough to have a good draft in 2019. This season will act as a prove-it year for Russell, who needs to show that he’s worth a lucrative deal in restricted free agency, and also is the same for Hollis-Jefferson, who the Nets hope continues to make improvements.
He could easily be the starting Power Forward of the future. Slowly but surely, guys like Allen, RHJ, LeVert, Musa, Harris, and either Dinwiddie or Napier figure into their future plans, and the outline of what the team will look like is coming into focus. They can also use Carroll and maybe Faried to try to get additional assets at the trade deadline, and could potentially have another roster spot open for a minimum contract if they decide to buy out Dudley.
I’d give their offseason an A-.
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