The Brooklyn Nets made some quiet moves in free agency and are likely not quite finished. General manager Sean Marks re-signed Joe Harris to a 2 year – $16 million dollar deal, signed Ed Davis to a 1 year – $4.4 million dollar deal, and bought out Dwight Howard, mainly as a final move after shedding Timofey Mozgov’s albatross of a contract (2 years and $32 million). None of these moves, nor the current roster should have Nets fans excited about the 2018 season. But, what it does is free up a ton of cap space in 2019. That, coupled with the Nets owning their 2019 first-round draft pick for the first time since the infamous Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett heist is cause for optimism.
The Nets will have cap space to sign two max players in the summer of 2019 and with names like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Boogie Cousins, and Kyrie Irving available, the Nets could actually be serious players in free agency. It all begins with ownership’s willingness to do whatever is necessary to win. (Read: spend money on top talent). That will likely be the toughest job for this current Nets group to prove until they actually do it. With co-owners Mikhail Prokhorov and Joseph Tsai steering the ship it is unclear what the future and vision for the franchise are. Will Tsai eventually acquire controlling interest and is the top priority building a title contender or increasing valuation with overseas partnerships and building the franchise as a global brand? Will the desire for global relevance come into conflict with going deep into the luxury tax to build a winner? Becoming a global brand and building a contender are not mutually exclusive, but seems to have the potential for pitfalls if not managed very carefully.
The other key component is culture and coaching. Head coach Kenny Atkinson has done a tremendous job in this respect. Players around the league laud the Nets playing style and Atkinson is a believer in positionless basketball, motion, and turning down good shots to get great ones. He also preaches defense and holds his players accountable. The culture, despite the losing, is also one that fosters camaraderie. Nets players enjoy representing the city, specifically, Brooklyn, are active in the community and enjoy playing for the organization. Marks continues to do what is necessary to make the organization first class and move past the mess of the former regime. As 2019 approaches, he can definitely start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
As to what the team will look like on the court and where the Nets could possibly wind up in 2019, the sky’s the limit. The Nets won’t have any player on the books making significant money beyond 2019, except for Allen Crabbe. He will be on the final year of his deal, earning approximately $19 million. A lot of money for his expected value no doubt, but a valuable trade piece as an expiring contract. After Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll and Jeremy Lin are the team’s highest-paid players. Both will be unrestricted free agents and it’s unlikely they bring either of them back. If anyone comes back it could be Lin in a backup role after he tests the market. If the Nets goal is to seriously contend, paying a combined $27 million annually to that duo won’t get it done. Then there is D’Angelo Russell who no doubt wants to sign his rookie extension. But, the Nets will be in no rush to do that. They’ll likely let the 22-year-old hit restricted free agency. The oft-injured guard shows flashes. But, can he be the lead player on a playoff team? There’s a reason the Lakers were willing to let him go. Snitching notwithstanding. Then there’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who will also be ready for an extension. The Nets like his energy and what he provides, but how much do they want to lock him up for? All that is to say the Nets will look vastly different in 2019.
Attracting a top-tier free agent like the ones previously mentioned will still take a herculean sell job by the ownership group, Marks, and Atkinson. The Nets have no recent winning to speak of, and it’s not like the franchise history resonates with the current NBA stars. But, if this regime can convince the right player that he would be the start of something historic, maybe even iconic; bringing the first championship to Brooklyn and being the King(s) of New York (sorry Knicks fans) then 2019 could be the start of a new era in Brooklyn Nets basketball.
Now for the good stuff. What might some of these possible free agent signings look like?…
Irving may want to move on from Boston after this season as the marquee may be getting a bit too crowded. The Celtics got within a quarter of the NBA Finals without him and his all-star teammate Gordon Hayward. Make no mistake about it, Kyrie didn’t come to Boston to be a sidekick. He came to be “the man.” With Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown blossoming into their own, it will be hard for head coach Brad Stevens to hold them back. Also, remember Irving opted to get elective surgery and not be with his teammates on the bench for game 7 against the Cavaliers. Plus, he grew up in NJ and considers the NYC area home. That would also mean the Knicks are in play…This is all speculation but nothing about Kyrie’s season in Boston tells us it’s a guarantee he re-signs.
The easy-going sharpshooter has long said he wants to be a Warriors player for life and would even consider taking less money. The thing is, Klay is just the type of guy to do that, with his carefree demeanor and attitude. However, don’t let that fool you. He is a competitor and assuming the Dubs win the title again this upcoming season, that will be four titles in five years for Klay. He might be ready to do something different. Brooklyn is just the kind of place he might like to play for the next stretch of his career. He could pontificate on the many types of scaffolding all over the city. Brooklyn is VERY dog-friendly, so his bulldog Rocco would have an easy transition. There is plenty of nightlife, so Klay can certainly “get it in.” Most importantly Atkinson values the three ball. Klay would have the ultimate green light, much like he does in the Bay, but with more shots.
Now, if the Nets were to sign both players that would be some backcourt. With Jarrett Allen as a rim running 5 who can also stretch the floor that’s a nice nucleus. They could then move the Crabbe contract and possibly acquire a third piece in a sign and trade as part of a three-team deal.
The crown jewel of the 2019 free agent class. Again, assuming the Dubs win the title again this upcoming season. KD will have won three titles in a row and possibly three Finals MVPs. He would have the coveted “champions DNA” fans and certain pundits love to talk about. He would understand the cohesion and requisite toughness it takes to win championships. That might be enough time in the Bay. KD’s longtime business partner Rick Kleiman is a NYC guy, who would no doubt love to orchestrate “his guy” bringing a championship to the city. But Kleiman is a Knicks fan, so logically they would be in play. But Kleiman has strong ties to Roc Nation which is a partner of the Barclays Center (home of the Nets). The thing that most casual fans don’t realize is all of these “little things” play a part in these huge free agency decisions.
Let’s assume the Nets sign Kyrie and instead of Klay, they go for KD. Not crazy. KD is a big fan of Kyrie’s and lauds the point guards handle and ability to create his own shot. That’s a deadly pick and roll combo. If the Nets sign Kyrie and KD, how easy would it then be for them to get one of their buddies to join? Again a three-team trade including the expiring Crabbe deal, and maybe they land a big-time stretch 4?
Speaking of a big-time stretch 4…
I know he’s fallen out of favor with many NBA (err LeBron) fans but that happens when you play with James. Also, Love was not always used correctly in Cleveland. This was a 26 & 12, all NBA guy in Minnesota. You mean to tell me, he can’t resemble that player again? Yes, he wouldn’t be the number one option, but take away the last scenario of Kyrie and KD and assume Love is the first free agent target. That would put Klay Thompson back in play. The two grew up together in Lake Oswego, Oregon. They were actually almost traded for each other once. They both would bring elite three-point shooting, spacing and high basketball IQ to the table.
Going back to that three-team trade that would move Crabbe’s deal off the books, they can then possibly acquire someone like Kemba Walker. Imagine a team with Walker, Thompson, and Love as your three big pieces. The 2019 first round pick, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert off the bench and the small forward hole in the starting lineup filled by someone on a MLE (assuming the tax) or a veteran’s minimum? Other players will certainly see what the Nets are going for and would want to join. Player recruiting is the present and future of free agency. For the Nets, this wouldn’t be too bad at all.