The Celtics drafting number one, with a pick that would have been the Nets’ if they did not make “the trade,” is clearly a bummer.
However, when the Lakers scored the 2nd pick in the draft, that led to less depressing Nets rumors. There was talk of a salary dump involving Luol Deng or Timofey Mozgov. And there was chatter of D’Angelo Russell being available.
Where the Nets fit into this really depends on what the Lakers do this summer. Their interest in Paul George is no secret, and Magic Johnson has declared his intent to spend lightly in 2017, because he thinks he has a better chance of luring big free agents in 2018.
At press time, the Lakers will have approximately $40.4 million in space next summer on an assumed $103 million cap, with the following pieces in place, assuming they exercise Brandon Ingram’s option do not renounce Julius Randle, and let every other piece depart: Ingram, Randle, Deng, Mozgov, and Jordan Clarkson. However, they would only have $9.5 million to spend on free agents other than Paul George, and George may not be attracted to a core this barren, with that little to spend on help to surround him.
Enter the concept of salary dumping Mozgov and Deng. If one assumed their $34,000,000 in 2018 was off the Lakers’ books, suddenly they would have a treasure trove with which to surround George, and retain more of their young pieces along the way.
All of this begs the question for Nets fans — if the Lakers are willing to salary dump Mozgov or Deng, can the Nets pawn young assets to make it worth their while?
Clearly, there is appeal to a salary dump on the Nets’ side, if the price is right: the Nets desperately need young talent, anyway they can find it. The lost cap space is not that meaningful: both expire in 2020, so the Nets would lose 3 summers (2017-2019) of cap space. One of those summers, in 2017, is likely a lost cause anyway insofar as big spending is concerned — the Nets are not in a position right now to nab bigtime free agents, so what is the value of the cap room?
Sure, a veteran like JJ Redick is a better player right now than Mozgov or Deng. But Redick (just by way of example), is not taking the Nets to the playoffs or title contention — not close. The Nets would be better served acquiring young assets by taking on bad money, then signing better veterans that do not move the needle, without obtaining picks. Essentially, the Nets would be better served acquiring Deng and a first rounder than acquiring Redick, alone.
While acquiring picks by taking on dead money is alluring, however, at some point there are diminishing returns on that approach, when you add too much bad money. If the Nets are to add Mozgov or Deng they had better acquire real value in return: they already have about $12 million in dead money through 2020, by way of Andrew Nicholson and a person I shall not name. Deng or Mozgov would essentially place a max salary on their books full of dead money, through 2020.
As described above, the Lakers likely NEED to dump at least one of Deng or Mozgov if they want to add Paul George. That provides leverage to teams they talk trade with. And few teams can afford to take on such a high volume of dead money — but the Nets can. Being one of few legitimate suitors for either player means they should drive a hard bargain.
D’Angelo Russell becomes the obvious piece to contemplate, given the rumor the Lakers, poised to draft Lonzo Ball, may shop him. If the Lakers put Russell on the market, despite being a disappointment to date, he should develop a fairly robust market. Teams have long leashes with top picks, often believing they can be salvaged if put in the right situation. That hurts the Nets, as other teams will likely have more to offer the Lakers. The Nets have Lin and Lopez, but neither player, as high character and talented as they are, likely moves the needle for Paul George in terms of wanting players to team up with in LA.
However, if the Lakers are so desperate to move Mozgov or Deng that they attach Russell, he has enough upside that the Nets need to jump on that.
Beyond that possibility, which is unlikely, the Nets would need to think closely about whether a salary dump is worth it.
The Lakers pick 28th in this year’s draft in addition to 2nd. The 2nd pick is going nowhere (unless the pick itself is used to get George right now), but the 28th could be in play. While a nice asset, a pick that low is not enough to take on 3 years of dead money. The Lakers lack a 2018 pick, so they have no first to trade after the 28th pick, until 2020. Is the 28th pick this year and a 2020 first worth three years of dead money upwards of $16-$18 per? I tend not to think so, and George’s potential becoming a Laker makes this risky, but the Nets would have to consider it, as it is a close call. Having another pick in the 20’s would open up so many options in their rebuild. And if the Lakers added Larry Nance Jr., and/or a 2018 or 2019 second rounder, into the deal, the Nets would have to pull the trigger (adding Nance feels unlikely).
Jordan Clarkson is an intriguing option, but due to his surprise status as a solid player, has become overrated. He is a solid reserve guard, but not a starter on a good team. Perhaps the Lakers would use a Mozgov or Deng dump to ditch Clarkson, but the Lakers need more, not less, talented players to pair with Paul George. They likely keep Clarkson this summer. If they try to salary dump him, however, the Nets should consider it. A player of his caliber is likely worth $15-$18 million on the open market, and he would add a young piece their kids can grow with.
From there, there are other options the Nets can take a look at, but the pickings slim. Julius Randle is not going anywhere, unless the Lakers deal for Paul George; same goes for Brandon Ingram. Ivica Zubac is a solid young player, but Magic Johnson seems to be enamored with him. Tariq Black has not shown much development the past few years, so while he is an option if the Lakers decline their team option on him, he is not exactly a Plan A. Corey Brewer is a theoretical salary dump candidate, but since Magic does not want to spend this summer, and he expires after the coming season, the Lakers have no reason to dump assets just to deal him. Nick Young is simply not a fit in Brooklyn; nor are Thomas Robinson and Ron Artest. Tyler Ennis showed some flashes as a Laker but still has barely developed through four seasons. The Lakers seemed happy with David Nwaba and I would expect they bring him back.