Coming off an extremely disappointing season, the Brooklyn Nets apparently have decided to go into rebuilding mode and maybe, more importantly, try to save some of owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s money.
The Nets finished last season with a 38-44 record and, as a result of owning the tie-breaker, snuck into the playoffs. The Nets, who lost four of their last seven regular season games, fell to the Atlanta Hawks (4-2) in the opening round of the playoffs. It was the second time in the last three years that the Nets have failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs, despite having the highest payroll in the NBA.
The Nets haven’t really fared that well since Prokhorov — a Russian billionaire — started throwing big money into the team. Since Prokhorov officially took over the team in 2010, the Nets have posted a 177-217 record and have made three playoffs appearances. Brooklyn has finished no higher than second place in the Atlantic Division in the last five years.
The Nets, who have paid significant luxury tax money the past two consecutive seasons, according to Bleacher Report, may be taking a different approach this offseason. Brooklyn is reportedly still looking to ship starting point guard Deron Williams and starting small forward Joe Johnson — the team’s two highest paid players — out-of-town. The team attempted to trade both players before February’s trade deadline, but found no takers.
Johnson is in the final year of his contract and is set to make $24.89 million. Known for his scoring ability, the 33-year old’s play has steadily declined since joining the Nets in 2012. Johnson averaged just 14.4 points — his lowest points per game since 2002-03 — to go along with 4.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists last season.
Williams, 31, has been hampered by injuries since the team moved across the river from New Jersey. He posted his lowest per-game scoring average (13) since his rookie season and the lowest field goal percentage (38.7) of his career last season. Williams is owed $43.37 million over the last two years of his deal.
So, with two of the Nets’ Big 3 on the trading block and the “other,” Brook Lopez, a free agent, where do the Nets go from here?
The New York Postis reporting that Brooklyn general manager Billy King, and CEO Brett Yormark, told season ticket holders in a letter that the team plans to re-sign Lopez and veteran Thaddeus Young. Both players are in control of their immediate future, as Lopez and Young have the ability to stay with the team one more year or opt-out of their contract.
Lopez, who has a player option, had a fabulous first round playoff series. The 27-year-old averaged 19.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks, while shooting 49.4 percent from the floor against the Hawks. He also had a solid second half of the season, after seeing his minutes limited early in the season due to injuries. Overall, Lopez averaged 19.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks last season while shooting 51.3 percent from the field.
If Lopez does opt out of $16.8 million player option, he will surely have a lot of options. One team that the oft-injured center may have some interest in is Milwaukee due to his relationship with Bucks coach Jason Kidd, the Racine Journal-Times reports.
Young has an early termination option at a value of $9.7 million. The 26-year-old was terrific during the regular season after coming to Brooklyn from Minnesota. He averaged 13.8 points and 5.9 rebounds in 29 games with the Nets, but more importantly, shot the ball very well. Young shot 49.5 percent from the field, and a career-best 38 percent from beyond the arc while with the Nets.
The letter to the Nets’ season ticket holders also mentioned the team wanted to build around their “young emerging core” of Mason Plumlee, Bojan Bogdanovic, Markel Brown, and Sergey Karasev. This despite ESPN’s Mark Stein recently report that teams are inquiring about Plumlee’s availability in trades.
Brooklyn currently has $58.6 million in guaranteed money soaked up in six players’ contracts. The salary cap is projected to be about $67 million, meaning that the Nets have around $8 million in salary space. The $58.6 million does not include the salaries that Lopez or Young will get if they don’t opt out.
The Nets also have three other players who could be free agents when July 1 rolls around. Alan Anderson has a player option, while Mirza Teletovic and Jerome Jordan could be restricted free agents. Brooklyn has two picks, the No. 29 selection and No. 41 selection, in the upcoming draft. They are said to be looking to add another pick prior to the draft.
Analysis: Williams and Johnson’s contracts severely hamper the Nets plan to shed salary and rebuild immediately. It is highly unlikely the Nets will be able to rid themselves of both Williams and Johnson.
If Williams comes back next year, it wouldn’t be the worst thing, as he is still is a quality point guard — just not elite. While injuries have hampered his mobility, Williams is still a tremendous passer with great court vision. It would be in the Nets’ best interest to deal Johnson, though they likely won’t get a dollar-for dollar deal.
The Nets will likely try to make a plethora of moves in order to shed salary and start the rebuilding process by getting younger. Their first order of business should be to keep Lopez and Young in town. Another sensible move would be for the Nets to move backup point guard Jarrett Jack.
As far as their pending free agents, the Nets should at least tender Jordan a qualifying offer for $1.14 million. He is a serviceable 12th man who who is an excellent rebounder. Teletovic is a deadly long-range shooter, but he is 29-years-old and his over-$4 million qualifying offer is high. Anderson, who underwent ankle surgery, is expected to test the free agent market this offseason.
Also, expect Earl Clark and Cory Jefferson to be back with the team. Darius Miles shouldn’t be with the team next year unless it is just to fill the 15-man roster.
[Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images]