Sadly, the Brooklyn Nets season ended in the second round of the playoffs, with a 5 game loss to the Miami Heat. The question now: how do the Nets get better. Let’s tackle it.
The Current Roster
PG: Deron Williams, Jorge Gutierrez, Marquis Teague.
SG: Marcus Thornton.
SF: Joe Johnson
PF: Kevin Garnett, Mirza Teletovic
C: Brook Lopez, Mason Plumlee
-Free Agents: Paul Pierce, Shaun Livingston, Andrei Kirilenko, Andray Blatche, Alan Anderson, Jason Collins
Total Salary of the Nine Players Under Contract: $86,014,337 ($74,014,337 if Kevin Garnett retires and he and the Nets agree to purge his salary). (these figures do not include our free agents, but include Jorge Gutierrez contract under the assumption it becomes guaranteed: its value is negligible).
The CBA, as it Applies to the Nets
For those who do not know, or who are beginning to learn, NBA contracts are governed by the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The CBA is important: it’s rules tell you what the Nets can and can’t do. The following rules apply to Brooklyn.
-This year’s salary cap is $63.2 million. This year’s luxury tax is $77 million. The apron is $81 million: with the roster already at $74,014,337 for eight players or $86,014,337 for nine, the Nets are nearly guaranteed to be a team in the luxury tax, and above the apron. The apron is basically clinched if Garnett returns. These figures do not include the Nets’ free agents
–All team over the salary cap (read: the Nets) cannot sign free agents of other teams unless the team uses a cap exception to do so. Four primary cap exceptions exist, but the Nets only have two due to their being above the apron: one taxpayer exception of $3.28 million and unlimited minimum contract exceptions which top out at $1.45 million (they rise dependent on the free agent’s years in the NBA). Teams also cannot exceed the cap to sign a player without his bird rights.
-Teams over the apron cannot execute sign and trade transactions.
-If the Nets make a trade, salaries must roughly match. For tax teams like Brooklyn, they can only acquire 125% + $100,000 of salaries sent out in a deal.
-Some free agents are restricted free agents: that means that the player’s team, were the Nets to sign such a free agent to an offer sheet, would have three days during which the team could match any Nets offer.
-The Nets cannot trade any draft picks before their 2020 pick.
How can the Nets keep their Current Free Agents:
The Nets have Pierce’s bird rights, so they could offer up to the $19,181,750 max to keep him. As they’re over the apron without him, whatever they pay him has no affect on their other options in 2014 free agency, it just increases Prokhorov’s tax bill.
The Nets have early Bird rights on Blatche. They can offer up to 4 years, $25 million, and as with Pierce, such an offer would not affect their 2014 free agency situation. If a team were to offer a deal beyond that (hard to imagine), the Nets could not match.
The Nets do not have Bird rights on Livingston or Alan Anderson. They can offer either their taxpayer exception of $3.28 million over three years (3 years, $10 million), or a minimum salary. This is where Livingston’s financial decision comes into play. If another team outbids a 3 year $10 million offer, the Nets cannot match the deal. Also, if Livingston signs for the taxpayer exception, the Nets only have minimum contracts to offer free agents. The same applies to Andrei Kirilenko if he opts out: so essentially, if Kirilenko opts out he is likely gone. The same applies to Jason Collins, who seems likely to retire.
How can the Nets add to the team:
Free Agency: As stated above, the most the Nets can give a free agent is $3.28 million per year, over three years: their taxpayer exception, and that can only happen if Livingston does not resign at that number.
Trades: Of course, trader Billy may make trades if he would like but they come with multiple caveats.
1: given rules regarding matching salaries as stated above, if the Nets wish to bring in high priced talent (read: players worth more than the taxpayer exception) they must send out high priced talent in return. Deron, Joe, Brook, Paul, Kevin, and Marcus Thornton are the only Nets who make above $3.37 million.
2: With no picks to deal until 2020, the Nets are overwhelmingly unlikely to deal a pick in a deal.
3: The Nets are nearly the cap for 2015-2016 already, but their only contract in the summer of 2016 is Deron’s. Despite the Nets lofty spending, they have made clear that they do plan to keep their books extremely light for that summer, to make a run at Kevin Durant and other free agents available that summer. They tried and are trying to make a run with this group, and that summer represents their opportunity to reload after 2-3 years of this run. If the Nets make deals, they will likely look to keep the books light for that summer. The only way to add to the books materially that summer while keeping the books light is to deal Williams…which is of course possible.
In regards to assessing what types of deals the Nets can do: the asset they have is the ability to take on money. For example, perhaps they can deal Marcus Thornton for a better player who makes a similar wage, but is on their team’s cap through 2016. That saves the recipient a year of salary.
The key takeaway: it is imperative the Nets do everything they can to retain Pierce, Garnett, Livingston, and Kirilenko. While some seem to want to move on, you have to understand that what the Nets have, is really an inability to move on.
Want to let those pieces walk? With only one sole $3.28 contract to play with, you will never replace their production. Want to build through the draft? The Nets do not have a first rounder in 2014, 2016, or 2018. If they bottomed out in 2015, they would not receive the pick because they agreed to a pick swap that year with the Hawks. 2017? Same deal, except the swap is with the Celtics.
So essentially, the Nets are in a situation where they cannot rebuild, because they will not be able to select high in the draft.
Also, the Nets have $62,711,663 committed to their 2015-2016 roster. The only way to obtain 2015 cap space: deal Williams for an expiring contract, and string along a slew of one year deals around Johnson, Lopez, and Plumlee. But what if the Nets struck out in 2015? What if limiting them to one year deals led to Pierce and Livingston departing (both possible), and an inability to add productivity to the roster. Also, if the team struggles as a result, there is no lottery pick to save the day given the pick swap, and how desirable would that team be to suitors in 2015? Is it smart to take a step back with no picks in the well, for a single 2015 near max salary slot? Doing it in 2016 with two slots, and picks coming sooner down the road, feels more prudent.
The offseason in short? If the Nets lose any key free agents, they’re tough to replace given their limitations. Their only way into the draft is buying in, which likely does not net a first rounder given the hype of this draft and the CBA’s premium on cheap labor. If they want to add a signature name piece, they can only do so by trading one of their “big money pieces”: Deron Joe Brook Paul Kevin or Thornton. A Paul or Kevin or Joe trade feels highly unlikely.
All in all, this all makes for a tough offseason for the Nets. 6 free agents: 2 starters, and 2-3 important pieces off the bench. An inability to replace them if they leave, except with a single $3.28 million exception. A 7th player who may retire, with similar issues concerning replacing him. 8 players signed beyond that, but outside of Joe Johnson all feel tradeable in some capacity.
Really, the Nets could bring most of the roster back, make a few tweaks, become stronger on paper in the confines of Kidd’s new system, and have a very good 2014-2015 outlook. Or, the opposite can happen.
As we all know, the Nets never make things easy.
Note: if you would like to learn the CBA in greater detail, check out Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ: http://www.cbafaq.com/salarycap.htm