As each NBA team is eliminated from the 2016-17 title chase, The Washington Post will look ahead to what it has in store for this offseason. The series begins with the Brooklyn Nets, who were the first team officially eliminated from having an opportunity to make the playoffs earlier this month.
2017 draft picks
First round: Boston’s first-round pick and Washington’s first-round pick.
Second round: Boston’s second-round pick, if it lands between 46 and 60; Indiana’s second-round pick, if it lands between 31 at 44.
2017-18 salary cap space (with projected $102 million cap)
$34.5 million. (Eight players with $57.5 million in guaranteed contracts, Two draft picks worth $3.8 million, two roster charges worth $815,615 and an annual stretch payment to Deron Williams worth $5,474,787 million). Doesn’t include a $3.4 million team option on the contract of K.J. McDaniels or non-guaranteed deals for Joe Harris, Sean Kilpatrick, Spencer Dinwiddie or Quincy Acy. (Nets roster)
2017 free agent
SG Randy Foye
Five questions to answer
1. When will this team realistically be competitive again?
The Nets are still haunted by the 2013 draft-night trade in which they shipped out total control over their next five first round picks to acquire aging veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. Brooklyn gave up completely unprotected picks in 2014, ’16 and ’18, plus the right to swap them in 2015 and ’17 to avoid violating the Ted Stepien Rule, which prevents dealing first-round picks in consecutive seasons.
All three players were gone less than two years later, as was the team’s coach at the time of the trade, Jason Kidd. The combination of that lack of draft-pick assets, the departure of Kidd and the core pieces of that initial team (Williams, Joe Johnson, Pierce and Garnett) and the team’s Russian ownership retrenching and spending less money has led to the Nets having a barren roster with few ways to improve in the short or medium term.
Because of this year’s pick swap, the Nets will go from having a guaranteed top-four pick in what is said to be a loaded NBA draft to having a pick in the mid-20s, where getting a rotation player is more of a hope than an expectation. And, they won’t even have their first rounder next season. That makes it hard for the Nets to truly begin a long-term rebuild until 2019, when they finally have control of their picks again (that is, unless they can convince multiple stars to come to play for them in 2018, when they currently are on pace to have less than $20 million in committed salaries on their books). Given the lack of incentive for stars to come play in Brooklyn, as well as the methodical approach being implemented by General Manager Sean Marks and Coach Kenny Atkinson, it seems unlikely any kind of quick fix will be attempted.
That makes the timeline for being competitive for a playoff spot more in the range of, say, 2021 — making the Nets the NBA’s equivalent of a desert without an oasis for the next several seasons.
2. How many current players fit into that version of the team?
With a potential five-year rebuilding plan in mind, how many current players will even be around to see the end of it? Part of the issue for Nets is that arguably only one player — rookie Caris LeVert — fits into this category.
LeVert, the No. 20 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, has impressed at times this season, and appears capable of being part of the eventual solution in Brooklyn. But there were plenty of rumblings leading up to the NBA’s trade deadline last month that 2015 first-round pick Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (who, it should be noted, was drafted by the prior regime) was available in trade talks, and 2016 second-round pick Isaiah Whitehead still needs to prove he can be a long-term solution as even a backup point guard.
The Nets will have at least three picks in this year’s draft — two picks in the mid-20s from the Celtics and Washington Wizards, plus Boston’s second-rounder and, if Indiana misses the playoffs, the Pacers’ second-rounder, as well. That should help replenish the roster somewhat. But off the current roster, it’s possible only LeVert will be here five years from now.
3. Will the Nets finally move on from Brook Lopez?
If anyone holds the NBA record for being rumored to be in trades without ever actually being moved, it must be Lopez. He’s been involved in trade talks on an annual basis since the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, when he spent months being linked to possible Dwight Howard trades. Ever since, he’s either been rumored to be on the block or healing from various issues with his right foot.
Lopez has strung together multiple healthy seasons in a row, however, and remains one of the most versatile and effective offensive centers in the entire NBA. The problem for the Nets, though — who would benefit from moving Lopez for multiple young assets or picks to accelerate their rebuild — is that virtually every NBA team already has a center.
That surplus of big men will make it tough for the Nets to move Lopez and get equal value for him in return. And, with Lopez actually being the rare player who wants to stay with the Nets, unless Brooklyn can get a significant return in a trade, it’s hard to justify moving him at a discount just for the sake of doing so.
4. Should the Nets consider trading Jeremy Lin?
Along the same lines as Lopez, it could potentially be time for the Nets to consider moving on from Lin, as well. The Nets have been respectable when Lin has played this season, going 6-14 with him and 6-37 without him, including Sunday’s 120-112 win against the Knicks — a sign of how Marks and the front office made a significant error by only bringing in Greivis Vasquez, who wound up being essentially a non-factor because of ongoing issues with his ankle, as a backup to Lin at the point.
Still, it’s not like the Nets are going to be good next season, and Lin has a $12.5 million player option he’s likely to decline for 2018-19. If the Nets could move on from him and get some young players and/or picks in exchange, it’s something they should consider doing — even if it leads to another season of painful suffering without him.
5. Can the Nets convince anyone to sign with them?
The Nets are going to have plenty of cap space for a second straight summer. But after signing Lin to one of the better deals of the offseason last year, they went heavily into the restricted free agent pool this summer, trying to sign guards Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe in July and then going after forward Donatas Motiejunas in November, before all three offer sheets were matched by their teams.
It won’t be surprising to see the Nets go that route again this summer, but as last summer proved, it’s also unlikely that path will work.
One path the Nets should pursue is one they did in giving up Bojan Bogdanovic to the Washington Wizards at the trade deadline: taking back the bad contract of Andrew Nicholson in exchange for a first-round pick. If the Nets could park some money and get another pick or two in exchange, it’s a no-brainer: they have to do it.