This article will begin a series of articles looking at all 30 teams, and the Nets’ options for improvement this summer by trying to poach talent from those teams. First up? The Atlanta Hawks.
Each article will start with the Nets’ asset situation, before delving into the team at the focus of the article.
I. The Nets’ asset situation
The Nets head into the 2017 offseason with something they did not have in 2016: options.
The Nets pick twice in this year’s first round: at press time, the picks would come in at 24 and 26.
Next comes cap space. The cap is estimated to be at $102,000,000, with the luxury tax at $122,000,000. he Nets owe $63.1 million in guaranteed salary to eight pieces for next year, including dead money: Lopez, Lin, Booker, LeVert, Hollis-Jefferson, Whitehead, Nicholson, and Hamilton.
That $38.9 million difference, however, does not tell the whole story because of options and cap holds. First, using the new rookie scale, there are cap holds for whatever rookies the Nets draft in round 1. Essentially, the hold cuts into the Nets’ cap space, to the amount of the hold — the hold is replaced with the pick’s salary after he is signed. If we assume no trades, and their picking at 24 and 26, the cap holds would total $3.1 million.
Second, the Nets have five team options, for Sean Kilpatrick, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Quincy Acy, and Randy Foye, totaling $9.8 million against the cap. They only must decide on Kilpatrick and Harris before free agency. Even assuming both are waived, the Nets would only save approximately $700,000, as the Nets would be assessed incomplete roster charges, so the Nets would have $9.1 million counting against the cap. Similarly, if the Nets were to decline their options on Dinwiddie, Acy, and Foye, they would be assessed approximately $815,615 in incomplete roster charges per roster slot. All told, the Nets will have between $4.1 million and $9.8 million counting against the cap, in the form of a combination of incomplete roster charges and team options.
Finally, Randy Foye has a $3 million cap hold; I expect the Nets to renounce him, so I will not include that. In addition, there are no holds for second rounders, so buying a pick will not affect their cap room (they can sign the pick after free agency).
All told, assuming they pick 24th and 26th, the Nets will have between $26 million and $31.7 million in cap space, depending on how many of their option pieces they pick up or decline.
That, in actuality, is not much cap space. Max contracts range from 25-35% of the cap depending on player experience; the smallest max contracts will hit $25.5 million. And just look at salaries that went out last summer — $26-$32 million (or thereabouts) will not get the Nets very far).
The following players earned over $20 million: Nicolas Batum, Dwyane Wade,Chandler Parsons,
The following players were $15-$20 million men: Ian Mahinmi, Evan Turner, Evan Fournier, Jeff Green, Kent Bazemore, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Harrison Barnes, Ryan Anderson
The following players were $10-$15 million guys: Solomon Hill, Arron Afflalo, Marvin Williams, Maurice Harkless, Miles Plumlee, Rajon Rondo, Austin Rivers
Even pure backups, like DJ Augustin, Jerryd Bayless, Matthew Dellavedova, Darrell Arthur, Jon Leuer, E’Twaun Moore, Dwight Powell, Garrett Temple, Cole Aldrich, Gerald Henderson, Jared Dudley, earned between $7-11 million per.
What do these numbers mean? They mean that the Nets’ cap space is not much of a weapon, in the short term. In short, the Nets can either get — assuming the players want to be here — one non star max player (like a Paul Millsap or George Hill), perhaps two high level role players (like a Kentavious Caldwell Pope and Patrick Patterson), at best.
The problem? That leaves the Nets with their current roster, plus pieces like that, and with little room to get better. Also known as no man’s land.
All told, that is why the Nets would be better off using their cap space another way: to absorb bad contracts in exchange for what they truly need – draft picks. The Nets need under 25 talent, and draft picks to add more of that talent. They do not need to try to win now.
Signing Paul Millsap, George Hill, or Milos Teodosic? That makes a splash. But it does not actually get the Nets anywhere.
Using cap space to add the Wizards’ first round pick and to get a free look at KJ McDaniels? Nobody is winning the headline with those moves. But those are the type of moves the Nets need to make right now.
And now, on to the Atlanta Hawks.
I. The Atlanta Hawks
The Nets have real opportunities to mine through the Hawks’ roster in an effort to get better.
The Hawks are a mid tier playoff team and appear intent to continue trying to win going forward. In a quiet, understated way, the Hawks are similar to the Oakland Athletics of the early 2000’s: they like to continue to produce talent from the cupboard, and will not hesitate to move on from talented pieces in the hope that a cheaper replacement will provide equivalent or close to it production, at lower cost.
Trading Lou Williams, despite being a playoff team, was one quiet example. More recently, Jeff Teague and Al Horford revealed two louder examples. Rather than keep Teague despite his production, the Hawks traded him, with the logic that Dennis Schroder is not only productive, but that his current extension will be cheaper than the figure Teague gets this coming July. In addition, there were murmurs that the Hawks did not offer Horford a max deal, in his departing last summer. The Hawks, ultimately, replaced Horford with Howard at, you guessed it, a much cheaper cost both annually and in terms of years.
Even the Tim Hardaway Jr. trade involving the Knicks was a money saver.
With that said, the Hawks have some serious financial choices to make, and a team like the Nets can take advantage. For starters, their ownership is unlikely to approve paying the tax this coming summer, with the Hawks, in all likelihood, fresh off a first round defeat at the hands of Washington, Toronto, or Boston.
That creates some belt tightening realities in Atlanta. Assume, for starters, that they successfully retain Paul Millsap by maxing him. That puts the Hawks at $22.3 million shy of the luxury tax. However, that figure does not include the following:
-contracts for their three picks this draft: at press time, the Hawks currently pick 19, 31 (the Nets’ second rounder), and 49. That comes to $3 million in salaries if the players are all kept.
-new contracts for Tim Hardaway Jr., Mike Muscala, and Thabo Sefolosha
-Ryan Kelly’s $1.5 million nonguaranteed contract.
-new contracts for Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Dunleavy, and Kris Humphries
Simply put, if the Hawks keep Millsap at or near the max, they are at risk of losing some of these lower level pieces, or choosing to dump picks, simply due to the luxury tax. All told, without being in the Hawks’ war room, there is no way to know what they are thinking. However, it seems unlikely that they keep all of their picks, and Hardaway Jr., and Muscala.
That opens a door for the Nets. The 19 pick? That seems like an unlikely add, as the Hawks do not have any bad money on the books for the Nets to absorb. But maybe the Hawks trade the 31st pick at low cost, as they need to tighten the books to keep Millsap and duck the tax. Maybe they decide that the 49 pick is just not going to make an impact for them this year, and the Nets are able to buy the pick for cash. The 49 pick is unlikely to help much, but the Nets NEED to take shots on any young talent they can find. When Isaiah Thomas was taken 60, you cannot dismiss second round picks. Period.
Free agency may present opportunities as well. Ilyasova, Sefolosha, and Humphries are outside the age bracket the Nets should target, and Ryan Kelly is under team control. Mike Dunleavy’s ire at going to a Hawks team that was not winning tells you all you need to know: that is not happening. And Paul Millsap is either staying put or going to a winner.
However, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mike Muscala are intriguing pieces for the Nets to look at.
As for Hardaway, he is only 24 years old, so he would be signing with the Nets to provide his prime years, rather than to watch his prime pass. His three point shooting has improved. His defense has even improved as a Hawk. Hardaway would be a big upgrade for the Nets on the wing, and could grow with their core.
Is he restricted? Sure. Did the Nets strike out on that market? Sure. But that raises another point: no matter how many times Marks strikes out with restricted free agents, he should not stop trying. Opportunity cost defines whether anyone should enter any transaction. The Nets, given their record, are not a destination for any relevant unrestricted free agents. So, while restricted free agent offers ties up cap space, the only cost to the Nets is a more limited ability to look at dime a dozen reserves. Given the ability to get core pieces in restricted free agency if a team does not match, that opportunity cost is more than worth the chance of getting a quality player — even if the chance is small.
In addition, given the likelihood teams match on restricted free agents, you have to play the odds, and try to find free agents where there is a chance that the incumbent balks. The chance is NEVER 100%, but there IS a chance with Hardaway Jr . If the Hawks keep Millsap, given their financial crunch, they may balk at keeping Hardaway Jr. If Millsap leaves, the Hawks may decide to retool, and decide that cap space is more valuable than a hefty deal to Hardaway Jr.
So, if the Nets target Hardaway Jr., is there a guarantee they get him? Of course not. But they have a puncher’s chance, which is all they can ask for.
As for Muscala, I am not as high on him, but he is worth a look if the salary and years are prudent. At 26, and in season 4, it is unlikely that he improves over the life of a contract. In addition, while he is shooting well this year and overall in his career, he was atrocious last year, and whether that occurs again would be a lingering concern. However, he would be a nice fit on the Nets’ bench, has a relationship with Kenny Atkinson, and would fit the offense.
All told, the Atlanta Hawks figure to lose in the first round and face a summer of some uncertainty, and many decisions on who stays, who goes, and what picks come in. The Nets have a chance to pounce.