Salary Dump Joe Johnson: Not So Fast

When the Detroit Pistons acquired Ersan Ilyasova for Caron Butler and Shawne Williams, some pondered the deal’s ripple effects in Brooklyn. One reason for Jason Kidd’s suspicious sequence of events. He asked his then Nets bosses to deal Brook Lopez to Milwaukee for Ilyasova and Larry Sanders. He left for Milwaukee, and dumped Ilyasova and Sanders for nothing. He then expressed interest in bringing Lopez to Milwaukee. Those are quite the dots. 
But the other reason for chatter about the deal was disconcerting: that the Nets lost an opportunity to deal Joe in a salary dump, akin to the Ilyasova trade. 
Such a deal, however, would be disappointing. It would do nothing good for the Nets except save money for an ownership group with way more of it than you or I.
THE NETS CAP PICTURE
On the surface one would think the Nets have approximately $8.5 million in cap room given they owe $58,678,633 to their players under contract, and the cap sits at $67.1 million. That ignores the reality of cap holds. 
A cap hold under the CBA is essentially a placeholder contract in exchange for bird rights. Although Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young are free agents, their cap holds, of $16,744,218 and $9,971,739, are still on the Nets cap. The Nets are allowed to exceed the cap to keep them because of this. The only ways to eliminate the cap hold: resign the player (and his new salary replaces the hold), or renounce his bird rights — that would require the Nets to use cap space to sign Lopez and Young, limiting them to the above $8.5 million combined. Essentially, the Nets will not renounce either, meaning they will remain on the Nets cap unless they choose to walk.
THE ALLEGED FLEXIBILITY 
For the sake of this exercise, suppose Lopez and Young sign at their cap holds – a very ambitious goal. The payroll would balloon to $85,394,570. Suppose the Nets successfully dumped Johnson’s entire salary for no money back — more ambitious than getting three draft picks for Paul Pierce and KG’s corpse (whoops). The Nets would have a payroll of $60,427,727, and essentially be looking at mid level exception targets. 
And all along, that has been the idea. Many have been sold on the idea that a Johnson salay dump would be about bringing in talent with the mid level of $5.5 million. Or the $2.1 million biannual exception. While factually accurate, this supposed benefit is not one, on many levels. 
The following players essentially received mid level money in free agency last year: Paul Pierce, Shaun Livingston, Josh McRoberts, Spencer Hawes, Caron Butler, Chris Kaman, Darren Collison, Trevor Booker, Marion Chalmers, Nick Young, PJ Tucker, Vince Carter, and Patty Mills. 
Look at this list. Pierce as an old veteran signing cheap to win (not happening here), and Livingston’s extreme injury history, are aberrations. At this stage, that is a list of by and large, sixth seventh and eighth men off the bench. Perhaps some of those players could be 5th starters on a playoff team, but even that is arguable. 
Even worse, the pool of mid level players this summer may be worse than the above one. Teams are already adjusting to new TV money; what was once a $5 million player is now an $8-9 million player to many. This caliber of player is worth a Johnson salary dump?
Making matters worse is the following: it’s not even smart for the Nets to use the mid level exception this summer. The list above is chock full of players on multiyear deals as is customary for the mid level exception — players of this caliber cannot gamble with the TV deal and need to get paid while they can. Brooklyn wants and needs to maximize its 2016 cap space, and 2017 space and beyond, to add foundational talent. The Nets should not eat into that space this summer by signing a bench player to a multiyear deal they will regret as they try to do bigger things in 2016 with that deal in the way. These players are out there every summer; just wait a year.

 Even if Johnson was Irrelevant to the discussion and the Nets had the mid level waiting for them, it would be dumb to use. To sell it as a rationale for a Joe dump is a mistake.

As for any 2016 benefit to a salary dump, Johnson expires in 2016. Forget that in its entirety.
A Johnson salary dump would do the following: have no good 2016 impact, not open any real 2015 flexibility, worsen the on court product … And save Mikhail Prokhorov a few dollars.
And therein lies the rub. A Johnson salary dump, while being presented in some corners as a tool to open flexibility, is nothing but a transparent effort to save scratch, from a billionaire who relies on your patronage spending ticket buying and merchandise collecting to keep getting richer. 

If the Nets REALLY wanted to add a free agent with a cap exception, the taxpayer exception is there. The players numbers near it produced last year — guys like Devin Harris and Jameer Nelson — are not smart additions but are not much worse than the mid level crop and don’t necessitate dumping Joe. 

But therein lies the rub. A Johnson salary dump does nothing good for anyone except save money for a billionaire reliant on your patronage and support. 

The more the Nets win in 2015-2016, the better off they are. With no draft picks, losing does nothing good. The more they win, the more easily Brooklyn can coax a free agent into believing that the program is close to being good, and that the player can get them there. A Joe trade impedes that goal. Is the goal of selling players on 35-47 good? No, but when your best young talent doesn’t have star potential, you don’t have picks, you don’t have trade assets (look at the Kevin Love trade: the Nets can’t sniff deals like that), and your best player has a thrice operated on foot, you do what you can. 

You must assess every move relative to your place on the arc of contention and your asset picture. In this position, the Nera need to balance maximizing future flexibility with maximizing their current win-loss record, to make that flexibility most attractive to free agents. A Joe salary dump impedes those goals.

Alas, a Joe deal would not reflect arc of contention dealing principles, but rather, “we’re not winning this year anyway let’s save some money.”

As a fan who wants to enjoy a quality product, why should you support that?

 

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