As everyone knows and as The Vertical first reported, the Nets traded Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough to the Wizards for their 2017 first rounder, Andrew Nicholson, and Marcus Thornton. Preliminarily, the Wizards’ pick is lottery protected, but they are well into playoff position, and it would currently convey at slot 24. In addition, the Nets, per The Vertical, plan to waive Thornton on arrival.
This trade makes absolute sense for the Nets, for multiple reasons.
Bojan’s Contract Status:
Bojan is a restricted free agent this summer. He figures to command between 3-4 years, and $36-$60 million total (conservatively estimating) on his deal this summer. The deal will page for his age 27-30 years. Accordingly, the Nets had three options with Bojan: get value for him in a deal, pay him for his past 26 seasons, or lose him for no return whatsoever. By taking option 1, the Nets get a return, which beats no return, and get a cost controlled first rounder who has room to develop, rather than paying a veteran. For a 9-47 team that makes all the sense in the world. Bojan is a good guy, and a nice shooter on the weakside, but he is a role player who does not defend. 9-47 teams need high upside kids, not veteran role players. As the Wizards’ end of the deal shows, you can relatively easily acquire players like Bojan when you are competing; in your developmental years it does not make sense to clog your cap or minutes with those types of pieces.
Some seem to believe the Nets should have received a first for Bojan, without taking Nicholson on. That would reflect a lack of consideration of the market. First rounders are at an absolute premium, especially when they come in the very next draft and that draft is considered “loaded.” Second of all, just the day before the deal, the Lakers secured what is currently the 27 pick (and will be a lower pick than what the Nets got for Bojan) for Lou Williams. Lou is better than Bojan, and teams around the league, it can be inferred from that and the way things were reported, clearly saw Lou as their first choice to upgrade their benches for the playoffs, and Bojan as their second choice. Lou is not only better but has a better contract status: the acquiring team with Lou gets him for approximately $7 million next year, guaranteed, while the team acquiring Bojan, like the Nets pre-deal, is forced to pay him in the $12-$15 million a year range, or lose him for nothing.
To get a higher pick for Bojan than Lou, a better player on a better contract, is a big win for the Nets.
Sure, the Nets did take Nicholson’s poisonous deal on to finagle a pick this high — and really, they moved up a good 5-10 places in the draft here, it would appear. However, multiple mitigating factors are at play given the Nets situation. First, the cap is estimated to be $102 million next year. Even if it stays flat at that figure going forward, Nicholson makes $6.3 million, $6.6 million, and $6.9 million over the next three years. That is a bad contract considering he has been useless, but not that bad in light of how high the cap is.
Second, and of critical import: massive cap space only has value if stars and near stars want to play for you. The Nets are the worst team in the league. Nobody of import will see them as attractive in the summer of 2017. They will chase restricted free agents like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and may garner interest from Jeremy Lin level free agents on occasion, but they are not going to be able to nail stars on this market. The loss of cap space, therefore, this summer, is not much of a loss for the Nets — nobody is signing into it.
Getting beyond this summer, even if the Nets are a free agent hotbed in 2018 (and that is a reach), Nicholson by then will essentially on a 2 year, $13.5 million deal. Suddenly, that does not seem like that awful of a contract to either let sit, trade, or stretch.
In short, the Nets gave up between $6.3 million and $6.9 million in cap space over three summers, but one of those summers matters little in that regard, and the Nets maximized the value of a draft pick in the process — the thing they really need.
The trade also provides one key thing: optionality. Bojan on a big contract is what it is. But now, with two picks in the 20’s, the Nets can develop two kids, package the picks, trade one for a 2018 pick, package one or both with a veteran, or the like.
This trade shows that Marks understands that cap space is an asset, not just in the summer:
Marks was smart this summer not to waste cap space on players who would not help the team build going forward, just to spend his cap space. Cap space need not just be used on free agents, but is also an asset during the season. Marks was smart to preserve cap space for that purpose rather than adding players who do not help the cause in the long term.
Cap space is an asset in trades because when teams want to dump bad contracts, you can be their dumping ground, at a charge. The Nets did that here with Nicholson, permitting Washington to relieve its books, at a charge of multiple draft places, at least. Given the fact that the Nets lose no more than $6.9 million in cap space in one given summer, when the cap is over $102 million, and that in at least the coming summer the Nets aren’t a factor for free agents, that exchange is absolutely worth it, from their perspective.
This trade reflects a clear plan
Brook Lopez is a Net, surely. But Sean Marks has now traded Thad Young and Bojan for kids and permitted Joe Johnson a buyout, to add Sean Kilpatrick. It is clear that he understands the need for Brooklyn to get younger.