Trade Deron WIlliams to the Kings?: Be Careful What You Wish For

There’s a principle of life that, when it comes to the NBA, seems tough for many to understand: it can always be worse. Such would be useful for the Nets to remember, with rumors of a deal to the Kings for Darren Collison, Jason Thompson, and Derrick Williams having surfaced (Hat tip to Adrian Wojnarowski for reporting the rumored terms: http://sports.yahoo.com/news/sources–kings-discussing-trade-for-deron-williams-222855172.html)

To quickly brush them aside, Thompson and Williams are worthless floatsam, really bad contracts that have no value that the Kings likely cannot wait to shed. They will fetch extremely little in return if the Nets look to flip them.  While less valuable at his age, the return is reminiscent of the Kings acquiring Terry and Evans from the Nets for Thornton, on the rationale that the smaller pieces wore more easily flippable.  The result? They turned Terry AND two second round picks into Alonzo Gee (http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/11543761/houston-rockets-acquire-jason-terry-sacramento-kings).

So, really, this deal comes down to a look at Deron, and Darren Collison.

Two things.  First, it can always be worse.  Second, it’s always nicer on somebody else’s plate.  Collison has bounced around the league, a high character guy who teams like on arrival, then sour on when they see that he’s not all that good.  He is not much of a facilitator, and his signing with the Kings was near universally denounced.  Yes, he has fit with the Kings, but even in a clear career year — where he’s had the benefit of blending in around the talents of Cousins and Gay — he’s been essentially a 15 and 6 guy on 30% shooting from 3.

Strip away the contracts, the failed expectations, the aggravation and grey hair, and just look at Deron and Collison as two basketball players on a basketball court since the beginning of last season (provides both a large sample, and a look at Deron at his lowest point). and Deron is the better piece.  He is a better passer tasked with more responsibility, and also a better shooter from distance.

More importantly, considering that Deron, largely at the lowest point of his career, is better than Collison at his apex — an apex of which we are unsure of sustainability — and this appears to be a low reward transaction for the Nets, at its best.

Remember, it can always be worse. And just because Deron has been (not always, but at times), a disappointment, a malcontent, an attitude issue, a guy who talks about not being a true New Yorker, a guy who demanded deals then did not perform to justify that, and so many other negatives, DOES NOT mean that the Nets should deal him in a trade that hurts the roster, just to exclaim “yes, he’s gone”! That sugar rush will wear off quickly if the deal is not a smart one.

On this note, any case to me made for this trade clearly does not stem from this year’s product. The trade absolutely hurts the Nets on the court. So, let’s look forward.

The Summer of 2015

The 2015 cap is projected at $66.5 million, the tax threshold $81 million. I sure do not care about the Nets’ tax bill, and will never justify any course of action on “this hurts the present and future produce, but the team saves money”: that money does not get distributed among the fanbase and goes in the pocket of someone with way more money than any of us. The implications of the tax, however: no team at the apron (i.e.: $85 million in 2015) can execute a sign and trade.

The Nets at this moment? They’re at $76, 786,017 in player salary for next season if Brook Lopez opts in.  Add $845,059 to that if the Nets exercise their team option on Cory Jefferson, and add that again if they do the same on Markel Brown. That would put them at $78,476,135 (and would be the cheapest course of action the Nets could take).  The Nets would have 11 players by drafting in the first round, with what will likely be the Hawks pick.  Currently that pick is at 26, for a salary of $991,600 and $1,036,600 in 2016.  (http://basketball.realgm.com/nba/info/rookie_scale/2016), putting the Nets at $79,467,735 for 11 players.

The Nets would then be at 11 players with the following free agents: Teletovic, Garnett, Jordan, Davies, and Morris.  Again assuming the cheapest of cheapest options (remember, the idea out there is flexibility), assume Garnett retires (plausible), the Nets fill 3 of the 4 remaining spots with bare bones minimum salaries of $529,093 (http://www.cbafaq.com/salarycap.htm), and the Nets resign Teletovic so that they can compete, at $7 million per, a very reasonable number. That takes the Nets to $88,055,014 next year — and that is also an extremely conservative projection on the low side. The number rises if the Nets sign any free agent beyond the rookie minimum, if Mirza makes closer to 8-10 per, or if the Hawks are not the 5th best team in the league as they are at this moment.

If the Nets do this deal, the payroll in 2015-2016 is $9,597,991 lower than it is at press time.  That puts them at, in these projections, at $67,188,026 heading into the offseason: that puts them a smidge over the cap heading into next offseason. At this moment, the Nets’ sole options next summer are the following:

-the ability to resign Mirza — an ability a Deron deal does not alter

-the ability to sign a free agent using the mini midlevel exception (as use of the midlevel requires you stay under the apron, which the Nets pass even under these conservative projections) — that ability does not change with a Deron deal

-a lack of ability to execute sign and trades — that ability is also nonexistent with a Deron deal, as the Nets would still need to pare salary to do that.  In regards to paring salary, who would they pare?

Translation: the short of it, for 2015 purposes, is that a Deron deal does little to alter the 2016 picture. The Nets will head into next summer with little flexibility to upgrade the roster, and a Deron deal will make little difference, outside of getting the Nets closer to the sign and trade threshold. However, teams trying to save money are unlikely to perform a sign and trade, especially when the Nets are hoarding cap space for 2016.

THE SUMMER OF 2016

This is where a deal could have a dent, but that dent has been overstated. Here is the current picture headed into 2016.

1: The Cap (the tax is typically $12-15 million above the cap per a complex formula): in the most bold of projections, the cap could hit $91.2 million (http://www.cbssports.com/nba/writer/ken-berger/24740037/nba-enters-new-stratosphere-with-tv-deal-but-how-will-pie-be-split). In the most conservative of projections, the cap would be at $70 million, pursuant to a slight raise from 2015 akin to the raise over 2014-2015.

2: The Salaries on the Books, requiring a few assumptions. Let’s be conservative: 

-Deron: $22,331,135 after opting in (he’s not insane)

-Teletovic: $10 million (in this variation, I am minimizing the Nets space and assuming they gave Mirza a premium to stay).

-Karasev: $2,463,753 after exercising his option.

-Plumlee: $2,328,530 after exercising his option.

-Brown: $1,180,431 after exercising his option.

-Hawks 2015 first rounder: $1,433,800 (assuming Hawks fall to the 18 pick in 2015, in being super conservative).

-Two Purchased Second Rounders: $1,068,564

This puts the Nets at $40,806,213 — with approximately $29,193,787 in cap space — an absolute ton.  Remember, that number can EASILY be significantly higher. The Nets can decline Brown’s option, and reneg on extending second round picks into their 2016 space, easily pushing into the 30’s.  They may decline Karasev’s option if his development is stilted by 2016. They may sign Teletovic to a smaller deal than an 8 figure sum.  Couple that with projections over $90 million, and the Nets can have as much as $55 million in cap space, with Deron on the roster.

The conclusion: this team has PLENTY of flexibility on the free agent market in 2016, with Deron in the fold, as at least SOMETHING to show free agents.  Yes, these figures do not account for Lopez or Johnson, but it is unclear how much that matters to Brooklyn.

The cap space figure without Deron: Add $10, 276,681 to the figure. But here’s the problem.  In the worst case scenario for Nets space, they go from A LOT of space to “A LOT A LOT.” In the best case scenario, with the new TV deal? They go from “ridiculous cash on hand to remake the roster in its entirety” space to “who needs all these space because this is so much space” space.

This is NOT a situation where the Nets lack flexibility, and this deal provides it. Rather, this deal changes nothing for the Nets assets options and flexibility picture until July 2016, at which time it just enlargens an already large trove of cap space.

And there’s the rub. Does that extra cap space really matter? Look at the roster the Nets will be selling to free agents: it’s BEST non Deron piece is CLEARLY Mirza. There is NOTHING on hand to sell free agents besides Brooklyn, Barclays Center, and a chance to essentially build a roster with a blank canvas. Which, for all the New York City swagger about that being smart, is not a great plan, historically.

The Knicks and Nets tried that in 2010 and wound up with ancient knees on one end of the river and a motley crew on the other: free agents want to play with other talent, not come to something uncertain.

The Mavericks tried that for years (http://www.hoopscritic.com/story-of-the-rondo-trade-the-great-mark-cuban/), before Mark Cuban made the decision: having SOME quality on the roster that garners player respect around the league, even if that talent is flawed (read: highly flawed Deron), BEATS having an island, and a bit more cap space. Cap space is worthless if guys have no desire to sign into it. It is valuable IF you can attract talent to the roster using it, and what you can present based on what is already in house.

What is in house may be flawed, but it better be talented, which Deron is: he is a better player than what the Kings are offering the Nets, and his name cache may be HELPFUL (if not a clincher: there are never gurantees in free agency) in actually attracting talent to the roster. Players do not need to look at the roster and see 50 wins, but DO need to see something where they can say “I can improve the core of this, I can be the missing piece.” Are guys smart if they use Deron to draw those conclusions? Honestly, probably not, but in a league where Dwight Howard listed Stephen Jackson as a top 5 teammate, and LeBron James list of moves forced in Cleveland and Miami reads like a “Billy King on a bad day” epitaph, and Chris Paul was angry at the New Orleans Hornets for letting Jannero Pargo go, (etc: this can go all day), this is a league where you can sell players on talent given its name or its pedigree. Deron at least offers the Nets some semblance of a sales pitch to free agents, that Collison does not. And at the end of the day, I would rather pitch “we have alot of cap space, the outlines of a roster, and a nice city and building” than “we have a lot a lot of cap space and a nice city and bulding.”

The concern in this corner: in making this deal, the Nets will pitch it as financial flexibility, but given the enormous tax savings they would be looking at, and unlikelihood that those savings are actually successfully reinvested in 2016, are they simply thinking “we won’t win these next 2 years and probably won’t score in 2016, let’s just save money”?

CONCLUSION

As with much around Brooklyn lately, it’s possibly easy to read this and think “wow, the Nets are truly stuck.” The reality is that they are.  If they try to win now, they have a low ceiling. Try to rebuild, and there’s simply no way to replace the lottery picks traded out. Try to trade the big 3, and there’s nearly no way to deal without dealing at a loss — and as bad as things are, dealing at a loss only makes things worse.

The Nets ONLY hope is a 2016 roster remake. From a “let’s win” perspective, all eggs should be placed in that basket, without dipping into future assets. The proposed Deron deal may not dip into the future, but it does not help fill that basket, and chiefly operates to save money for an oligarch.

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