Going into the offseason, fans are often positive about next season. Every team has a chance to win it all before the games start. In that spirit, we’ll be looking at each team’s best case scenario in the offseason. Using salary cap gymnastics that would make Daryl Morey proud, we’re going to look at what is the best vaguely plausible assembly of talent a team can put together this offseason. Plausibility will be looked at in the forms of trades and team decision-making. Whether a particular player will want to go to a destination will largely be ignored, as that is not something a team has much control over and is borderline impossible to predict. With all of that said, our first subject is the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets finished 42-40 and earned the sixth seed in the East Conference. After a strong showing in game one, they were run off the court by the Philadelphia 76ers in the following four games. They’re young and talented, but clearly need more top talent to be a real competitor. Luckily for them, they’ve got lots of cap space in a summer loaded with top-end free agents, and general manager Sean Marks has demonstrated he’s a shrewd creative decision-maker that fans can trust. There’s been a lot of talk about the possibility of the Nets signing two maximum free agents. Let’s get into whether that is possible, and if so, how.
The Nets have $48,875,803 in salaries for next year. Throw in the $5,474,787 on the books for the ghost of Deron Williams (a player who last played for the team May 1, 2015) and they’re at $54,350,590. They also have $78,635,205 in cap hold for their free agents, including $21,059,094 for All-Star D’Angelo Russell, holds for both of their first-round picks and one incomplete roster charge. That puts the Nets at a payroll of $132,031,353 to start the offseason. With the salary cap for next season set at $108 million, the Nets enter the offseason as an over-the-cap team. Now that we’ve got that base math out of the way, on to the fun part.
In a best-case scenario, they will not be resigning any of their free agents — sorry, Russell. Renouncing the holds on their free agents drops the Nets below the salary cap and gives them $48,870,242 in space. A good start, but not enough for the two max free agents we’ve been talking about. To get there, the team will have to move Allen Crabbe. Crabbe has been a huge disappointment and probably the biggest blemish on general manager Sean Marks’ record. Moving his $18.5 million salary would increase the team’s cap space significantly. A draft pick will have to be attached however, but this too will increase cap space by removing the cap hold for that pick. Trading Crabbe and the Nets’ own 17th pick to a team with cap space (such as the Atlanta Hawks), brings the cap space number to $68,526,266. That’s enough for the two max contracts for players with seven to nine years of experience at $32.7 million each. We did it!
This would be great for the Nets if two max caliber players wanted to come, but it is not the best case scenario. The best free agent available does not have seven to nine years of experience. Kevin Wayne Durant has over 10 years of experience, meaning he would command a first-year salary of $38.15 million. He and Kawhi Leonard, the second-best free agent in my mind, will command a combined first year salary of $70.85 million in cap space. Waiving the non-guaranteed contracts for Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham brings the team’s cap space number to $70,239,068. Finally, to get the last $600,000, they’d have to get creative. One path they could take is trading away the Denver Nuggets pick they own (pick 27) for second round picks or a future first. Second-round picks do not count against the cap until they are signed, and a future first obviously wouldn’t count against the team’s cap until the future. With the small number of players on the roster, a trade like the Denver pick for the second-round picks Atlanta owns (picks 35, 41, and 44) makes sense.
Let’s take stock of the roster now. The Nets would have a projected starting lineup of Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Leonard, Durant and Jarrett Allen, with Caris LeVert, Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa off the bench, and the 27th and 31st picks rounding out the roster. To fill out the rest of the roster, they have $4,716,000 in the form of the room mid-level exception as well as minimum salaries. This is powerhouse of a team with a lot of youth that could contend right away. Depth might be a bit of a problem, but veteran players will often take a pay cut to contend for a championship, and to do so in Brooklyn should be very attractive. What if they could add more top-level talent? This is where things get really fun. As I’m sure everyone has heard by now, Anthony Davis is available via trade. In addition, there have been rumors that Karl Anthony Towns will be requesting a trade this offseason. I’d personally prefer Towns since he’s on a five-year deal and is younger, but the mechanics used will be the same, as their salaries are very similar. The Minnesota Timberwolves are in a market that’s struggled for a long time and will probably want to stay competitive. Given that, a trade of Dinwiddie, Harris and Allen as well as the 27th pick, 31st pick and the Nets’ 2021 first-round pick should be enticing. That would give them a starting lineup of Dinwiddie, Harris, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Allen, which is a solid lineup that could compete for the eighth seed out west. For Towns, after years under a coach known for being hard on rookies, being on a team known for their development system could allow his defense to flourish. If that were the case, Towns immediately would become a top-10 player. Pair him with two top-five players in Leonard and Durant, as well as an emerging star in LeVert, and this team becomes one of the most talented ever assembled.
Let’s take a step back and look at where we ended up. The team now has only six players on roster: Durant, Leonard, Towns, LeVert, Kurucs and Musa. The rest of the roster must be built using the room mid-level and minimum contracts. Given this core, it’s clear the team is an immediate contender, if not the favorite. Being in Brooklyn and competing for a championship will undoubtedly attract players who are willing to take a pay cut to compete for a ring. Being arguably the favorite to win the title is certainly a win for this team, but it’s not all short term. The length of contract Durant and Leonard might demand is unknown, but having Towns locked up for five years and LeVert, Rodions Kurucs and Musa all on their rookie deal means this team also has a bright future. This is the best of all case scenarios. Will this happen? No one knows for sure, but it is possible, and that possibility by itself should excite fans.