Offseason Decisions: Why the Nets should keep Lopez and Young

The cap and asset situation in Brooklyn, despite all the large contracts and moving parts, is rather simple, and can be broken down as follows.

-The Nets have about $8.5 million in cap space this summer if they were to renounce ALL of their free agents: everyone except Deron, Joe, Jack, Bogdanovic, Karasev, and Plumlee.  The simple math there: if the Nets were to keep one of Lopez or Young, they would not have any cap room this summer, aside from cap exceptions and minimum salaries. The Nets are not going to be notable free agent players this summer: look for trades, and role player signings, to define the 2015 summer.

The reason for that is a little known CBA principle: the cap hold. Under the CBA, the Nets hold the bird rights of Lopez and Thad.  In short, that means the Nets, in resigning them, may exceed the cap.  However, assuming both players opt out, as an exchange for these bird rights, both players would remain on the Nets’ salary sheet, for purposes of cap room calculations by virtue of their cap holds: a hold of $17,695,200 for Lopez and $14,116,304 for Thad.  There are only two ways for the Nets to remove these cap holds.  The first: renounce both players.  However, by renouncing, the Nets lose their bird rights, and must sign them into their cap space (like any other free agent): of which they only have approximately $8.5 million were they to renounce everyone. Translation: renounce either, and the player is gone.  The second way to remove the cap hold: resign the player, and their new contract dollar value replaces the hold.  Of course, that will not open up cap space — the Nets would only have $8.5 million in space by renouncing the holds, and have no space with the holds.

You can continue to do the math, but there is one essential issue this summer: the Nets do not have cap space this summer, unless they renounce both Lopez and Thad, which given the lack of cap space to sign them post renunciation, means bidding farewell to both players.  That renunciation could only open a maximum of $8.5 million if the Nets renounced EVERY free agent, plus whatever savings the Nets could accrue in dealing Deron, Joe, or Jack — which given the need to match money in deals, likely is not much.  Suppose the Nets opened $12 million in cap space this summer — likely the high, high end they could open, but with Brook, Thad, and Markel gone and Joe and/or Deron salary dumped.  Is that at all worth it?

 

-The cap in the summer of 2016 is projected to be $89-91 million. At this moment in time, assuming Deron opts into his sweet (for him) $22,331,135 deal for that year (why would he?!), the sole Nets under contract that summer are Deron and Bojan, at a total of $25,904,135.  Add Jarrett Jack’s 500,000 buyout for that summer, this summer’s first rounder (at $992,900), and Plumlee’s option if exercised, and the Nets would sit at $29,425,565 in salary commitments in the 2016 summer, and . The short of it: the Nets have a boatload of cap space totaling a potential $59,574,435 or so in 2016 if the Nets choose to completely strip their roster of talent.

-The Nets pick 29th and 41st in the 2015 NBA draft (absent deals between now and then), and no picks in 2016 (again, barring any deals for a pick).  The first round has proven tough to buy into using cash, and with the rookie scale not changing despite the cap jump, those picks have become ridiculous values because they will total an even smaller percentage of the cap.  Given the circumstances, The highest draft pick to join Brooklyn between now and opening night, 2016-2017, is likely the 29 pick this summer.

The Nets free agents this summer are as follows: 

Player Options: Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, and Alan Anderson. Each of their options are due for being exercised in June.  Anderson has declared he will opt out.  If any opt in, they are Nets unless traded. If any opt out, the Nets (and the players) have decisions to make).

Restricted Free Agents: Mirza Teletovic and Jerome Jordan.  When a player is a restricted free agent, the following occurs. First, the team must decide whether or not to tender a qualifying offer. If the team does not, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent. If the team does, the player is restricted, and the team gets three days to match any contract he signs elsewhere: the team is not required to match, but the qualifying offer allows for this right.  The Nets have announced they will not give a tender to Jordan, which makes sense. He could sign with the Nets like any other unrestricted free agent, but the Nets lose the rights on matching offers to him. The Nets likely will tender a qualifying offer to Mirza allowing them options.  Billy has said the market would dictate with Mirza, which essentially means (as many teams do with restricted free agents) that the Nets will let him get an offer, then decide if they want to match.  I think they should allow him to walk if he is offered an excess of $3.5 million beyond 2016: cap space is more important than role players right now.

Team Options and Nonguaranteed Deals: Markel Brown, Cory Jefferson, Earl Clark, and Darius Morris: the Nets, essentially, may retain these pieces if they want to.  I listed them in, my opinion, the order of likelihood that they are retained.  It seems a near certainty barring a trade that Brown is back , and close to that on Jefferson. Clark and Morris may be gone, but neither decision would be impactful in terms of overall planning.  All of these pieces are nonguaranteed, which provides flexibility. The Nets can trade them, and their deals count for salary matching purposes.  However, for the recipient, they can cut the player on arrival: essentially using the deal as a tool to save some money (this is why Alonzo Gee was traded so many times last summer). Given none of these deals expire until October, the Nets will likely keep them around.  Clark and Morris in particular will serve as fodder in trades, to help recipient’s save money or serve as potential pieces necessary to make salaries match under league rules.

So Who IS Under Contract?: Deron, Joe, Bojan, Plumlee, Jack, and Karasev: The Nets, of course, could trade any of the 6.  Deron and Joe are good bets to be shopped, particularly after Billy King’s letter. Jack could (and should) be shopped, too, because he has value to teams seeking a backup PG that are in win now mode.  Bojan, and to a lesser extent, Plumlee, seem like good bets to be back, but if the Nets hit paydirt on the right opportunity, I would rule nothing out after how crazy the Nets’ time in Brooklyn has been.  Karasev is expendable but given his knee injury, may be back: why trade for him?

Future Drafts Beyond 2016 (where they do not pick at all): The Nets swap firsts with the Hawks in 2017, and do not have a second. They do not have any picks in 2018.  They do not have their second in 2020, but otherwise have their full complement of picks in 2019 and beyond.

That’s the Asset picture.  So how can the Nets get the program on track in 2016?  While this is a 2015 offseason preview piece, with no financial flexibility this summer and the goal of doing damage in the 2016 summer, there is little the Nets can do this summer on the open market.  Again, this summer is about the trade market, which means decisions are to be made on the current core, and how the Nets can tinker with it without killing the 2016 flexibility they have.

The Balancing Act: The Nets MUST Keep Brook Lopez, and Should Keep Thaddeus Young

The Summer of 2010 has sent reverberations around the NBA, both among GM’s and fans alike.  It popularized, and glamorized, the idea of opening up cap space, then signing a whole bunch of stars, to remake a team.  Except, here’s the thing.  Inevitably, only one or two teams can sign the franchise transforming player out there.  Look at the cores of the contenders in 2014-2015. The Warriors drafted theirs. The Spurs theirs. The Rockets acquired their fulcrum in a trade. The Clippers drafted two of their big 3 and dealt for the other. The list goes on from there.

This list of free agents (http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/12307054/nba-free-agents-2015-2016) has many good players, but how many both will be free in 2016 (some are 2015 free agents) AND simultaneously be transformative talents.  The class of free agents is full of good and very good players, but there are few great free agents, and way more teams chasing them.  LeBron’s commitment to Cleveland is clear.  Joakim Noah is not the same as he once was. Brow, Kawhi Leonard, Dryamond Green, Bradley Beal, and Jimmy Butler?: restricted free agents of that caliber don’t move; their teams can and will match any and all offers. Are Wade and Dirk really leaving their franchises, and is Marc Gasol really leaving his unless it’s for San Antonio?

That leaves Kevin Durant, of course, as well as a few other good, but flawed, options.  Kevin Love could be free in 2016, but is he really leaving LeBron’s side? Maybe, but if he does, the Nets will have plenty of competition.  LaMarcus Aldridge is a good bet to stay in Portland, or become a Spur: he’s also likely signing a long term deal in 2015. Dwight Howard is likely disinclined to leave Harden’s side. Goran Dragic seems to enjoy Miami, but perhaps is a target as well.

That’s not to say the Nets should not try to snag free agents in 2016.  Check out that pick situation above: the Nets cannot pick in the lottery by virtue of their own losing until 2019.  Flatly, tanking is not an option for Brooklyn due to that reality, and the Nets also do not have the types of trade chips that land stars in deals.  Their best bet IS the free agency market in 2016, despite all its risk.

The reason the Nets need to keep Lopez, and probably Young as well, is simple: this generation of NBA players has shown that they do not want to be left on an island.  Sure, the Nets could approach the 2016 summer with $59 million in cap space without Lopez and Young: they would also need, quite literally, an entire roster.  Deron two years from now given his career arc, with Bojan, a 29 pick, Plumlee, perhaps Markel, and nothing else, likely at best? That is a 50-60 loss core, easily.  That is not something a free agent can look at, and express any sort of desire to join.  Literally, at that point, the Nets would be selling free agents on Brooklyn and their arena, and not a thing else.

Keeping Brook and Thad? Would the Nets have less cap space than the currently possible $59 + million? Yes they would! But suppose the pair combine to make $30 million or so in 2016-2017 — a pretty high figure.  The Nets would have something closer to $29 million in cap space (more like $31-32 million if they did not retain Plumlee, perhaps), but they would actually have the outline of a roster.

Would that roster being presented to free agents be superstar laden? No.  And it’s not like the Heat selling Wade in 2010, or the Rockets Harden in 2012.  But, it’s something.  At least a free agent could look at Brook, Thad, Bojan, Markel, maybe Deron if he is not traded, and perhaps a piece like Plumlee, and say to himself “that is a decent group. I could be the piece that takes it to the next level.”  It’s extremely difficult as a free agent to see a 15-20 win team and think the team is worth investing several years into…unless they severely overpay.  If the Nets can present free agents with the outline of a core, that could  be enticing. Guys can say “this group isn’t bad. It’s missing some athletes, some quick guards. They’re close to being a good team in the east. I can be that guy. It’s New York, it’s a nice place, I can see this working.”  Recall the 2011 Pacers adding David West: Paul George was an unestablished rookie at the time and the team was sub .500.  But they had the outlines of a roster, and that intrigued West.

Essentially, the Nets are in a better place entering the 2016 summer with a lot of cap space, and the outlines of a good roster (not a good roster, but a decent one with some component parts), than with “a lot a lot” of cap space, but nothing in house to show guys what they could be joining, other than New York City and a nice building.

Entering free agency with Lopez and Young in house also allows the Nets to more effectively shift gears if the 2016 summer is unsuccessful: remember, there will be more teams chasing good and elite talent, than good and elite talent available. The Nets cannot bottom out for several years.  Their only method of improvement will be to make the jump from mediocre to good, which requires flexibility but also desirability in the form of players wanting to be a part of your franchise.  If the Nets strike out with Lopez and Young in place, they could use the free agent pool to carve together a decent roster, and take another shot in 2017.  Strike out without them, and things could become even more grim in Brooklyn.

Lopez has his weaknesses, for sure.  He has improved defensively, but struggles switching onto smaller players.  He is good using his length and big body to contest shots in the interior, but somewhat vulnerable, especially when he is not in position due to his slow feet.  His feet themselves are another issue entirely.  Young can be beat up by bigger 4’s, and is not a good shooter from the perimeter.

But when push comes to shove, no asset on the Nets roster has the potential of Lopez or Young, or projects to be tradeable for a player as good as Lopez and Young.  Replacing either this summer would be next to impossible, and would essentially require Brooklyn to put all of its eggs in their summer 2016 basket.

Your plan needs to be malleable, flexible to adjust to your situation.  The Nets need to keep Lopez and Young for something of a foundation going forward allowing for that.  Lopez is an elite scorer who has come along some defensively, and for his warts, carried Brooklyn into the 2015 playoffs and overwhelmed Al Horford (who dominated the Wizards front line in the next series) once there. Young can guard multiple positions and switch onto smaller guards, an essential skill in the modern NBA.  Recall his defense on the overtime forcing game 4 possession.  Both play well off of guards because they can score in the paint off quick hitters and rebound crash opportunities, another valuable skill for bigs in today’s game.

The Nets do have other questions this summer.  Are Deron and Joe not only tradeable, but tradeable for a package that makes any sense for Brooklyn?   Why take on future money in trading either, particularly Joe — and why deal for them without dumping that money.  Do Mirza and Anderson want back in, and if so, what type of future money do they want?  Is Plumlee worth keeping around, or should the Nets package him for a veteran, or for a young player at another position?  There are plenty of questions about the Nets going forward, but the most important questions center around their two best players.

The Nets need to retain Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young this summer.

 

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