The Brooklyn Nets are finally, FINALLY, out from under the mistakes made by Billy King. King was dismissed (re-assigned, technically) in January 2016, but his legacy was not entirely extinguished until this year. After their 2018 first-round pick is conveyed to Cleveland, they’ll finally possess all their own firsts for the foreseeable future and have control over their team’s direction and destiny. With Brooklyn realistically opening the summer with $13.4 million in cap space, what will general manager Sean Marks and his staff do to strengthen the team as the Nets move into the post-King era?
Of their incumbent free agents, the only player of any real value is Joe Harris, who broke out under Kenny Atkinson’s direction last season and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Brooklyn will not be the only one chasing Harris when the calendar turns over to July, but they will have some inherent advantages: he’s already comfortable in Atkinson’s system, will be guaranteed a significantly bigger role on the still-building Nets as compared to most other teams, and Brooklyn will be able to outbid another team should he receive a full offer at the mid-level exception, even if they spend their way through their cap space early in July.
Despite their abysmal past few years, Brooklyn isn’t devoid of young players capable of playing key parts in their future playoff rotation. Jarrett Allen impressed in his rookie season at the center position, Caris LeVert continues to shine in every role the Nets give him, and Spencer Dinwiddie would have been in serious contention for Most Improved Player in 2017-18 if it weren’t for Victor Oladipo making the leap from role player to superstar. Allen still has three years left on his rookie deal and LeVert has two, but Dinwiddie will be up for a new contract in 2019, at which point he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Starting in early December, Dinwiddie can sign an extension with the Nets for up to four additional seasons, much in the same vein as Josh Richardson and Norman Powell last year. Marks and his staff will certainly be in contact with Dinwiddie’s camp throughout the summer trying to hammer out a deal that’s best for both sides—Dinwiddie’s hasn’t made a whole lot of money in his career, so he may be open to the financial security that comes with a long-term extension.
Note: Dinwiddie is not eligible for the same renegotiation and extension that Robert Covington signed with Philadelphia last year. Players must have signed a four-year contract and are eligible for the renegotiation and extension on the third anniversary of signing that contract; Dinwiddie signed a three-year contract and thus cannot be renegotiated and extended.
Two other extension candidates emerge this summer for the Nets: D’Angelo Russell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Russell was in and out of the lineup with injury and disappointed when he was on the court in his first year in Brooklyn. His three-point shot regressed in both usage and efficiency despite Atkinson’s run-and-gun, three-pointer-happy offensive philosophy and his defensive warts were on full display every night. As Russell’s star continued to fade, Dinwiddie took his place on the mantle as the Nets’ best all-around point guard, which will surely impact extension negotiations between Russell’s agent and the Brooklyn organization. Hollis-Jefferson is a bit of an awkward fit next to Allen—playing two non-shooting big men in the modern NBA is asking for trouble. The combination was mostly successful last season in a bit more than 1,100 possessions, but a long-term partnership might be too limited offensively to make it work. Still, Hollis-Jefferson would provide significant value as a third big man and in what will be an impacted 2019 market, he may take a lower-value extension to lock in guaranteed money for the next few years rather than braving the waters of restricted free agency.
Planning for the distant future is the most important aspect of the Nets’ summer. Capitalizing on the upcoming primes of Dinwiddie, LeVert, and Allen will require more space than they have this year, but with DeMarre Carroll and Jeremy Lin in the last years of their contracts in addition to potential restricted free agents Russell and Hollis-Jefferson, the Nets could be in line for almost $60 million in space in 2019 and almost double that in 2020, when Allen Crabbe and Timofey Mozgov will be free agents and the ghost of Deron Williams will finally stop haunting their cap sheet. Dinwiddie and LeVert will need new deals in the time between now and 2020, which will eat into that space, but taking the long view as it relates to filling out the team around their three key building blocks is the prudent way to handle things.
Any player who takes up significant future space had better either come with major assets attached or fit perfectly into the Dinwiddie-LeVert-Allen future core. Instead of impacting the future just to fill the roster slots and cap space presently available, Brooklyn may be better off trying to take on more bad money to stock their war chest of draft picks. Denver is reportedly dangling the 14th pick in this year’s draft for anybody willing to take on Kenneth Faried’s $13.8 million—the Nets could carve out enough room to take him into space and pick up a lottery pick in the process, which would be their first pick in the top 14 since they took Derrick Favors third overall in 2010. If Philadelphia strikes gold in free agency, they’ll move quickly to dump Jerryd Bayless’s expiring contract on a team with remaining cap space. Jared Dudley or Tyson Chandler could be on the move from Phoenix, as could Kosta Koufos from Sacramento. All five of these players will be free agents in 2019, so moving for them to gather additional assets wouldn’t impact the team’s long-term financial outlook but could give them valuable draft picks to continue to build around their current core pieces.
30 Teams in 30 Days takes you through every team’s thinking heading into the offseason, from evaluating their own personnel to dealing with their cap situation. This is the second installment, covering the Brooklyn Nets. You can find Brooklyn’s full cap sheet here.