The Brooklyn Nets will enter this offseason with a lot of salary cap space and stars expected to be available in what shapes up as a seller’s market. Making a play for Kristaps Porzingis could be the Nets’ best chance at a star addition.
In what could be a franchise-shaping offseason, the Brooklyn Nets have the potential to possess a ton of space under the salary cap and yet have no star players with which to allocate it to.
The market is expected to include needle-movers such as two-time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors, two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard of the Toronto Raptors and a former Rookie of the Year with an All-NBA selection on his resume in Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics.
Those three, along with Jimmy Butler of the Philadelphia 76ers, are the top potential names in free agency, all holding player options they are expected to decline in order to seek new deals on the open market.
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Four potential stars available and lots of cap space: That seems like a perfect equation for the Nets to land their superstar, right?
It’s just not that simple.
According to Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights, Brooklyn could have a maximum of $53.8 million available under the cap this summer.
That makes them just one of 10 teams that could have $40 million or more available, so it’s going to be a seller’s market. In October, Irving said he planned on re-signing with the Celtics, so that scratches one likely name off the list.
The next tier of unrestricted free agents includes Warriors guard Klay Thompson and Charlotte Hornets go-to guy Kemba Walker, along with big man DeMarcus Cousins of Golden State, Long Island native Tobias Harris from the LA Clippers and Orlando Magic big Nikola Vucevic.
Those with player options who could also be on the market include wing Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks, centers Al Horford of the Celtics and Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies and young big Julius Randle of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Many of those players would look good in, say, a black jersey with Brooklyn camo trim.
But the Clippers are among the teams expected to have big cap space available, up to $58.38 million. The Los Angeles Lakers didn’t quite make the $40 million-plus club, but they could have up to $39.6 million to use.
The Nets may not even have the most available space in their own city, as the New York Knicks project to have up to $55.62 million.
And that’s not even getting into the other clubs with lots of potential cap room such as the Atlanta Hawks ($51.7 million max), Chicago Bulls ($52.5 million), Dallas Mavericks ($54.17 million), Indiana Pacers ($47.35 million), Sacramento Kings ($60.81 million) or Utah Jazz ($40.71 million).
Brooklyn has a promising young core, but at this point lack the star-caliber talent to put them over the top. Since Caris LeVert was injured in November, point guards D’Angelo Russell — a restricted free agent come July 1 — and Spencer Dinwiddie, just re-signed to a three-year, $34.3 million extension, have emerged as options 1A and 1B.
Behind them, Joe Harris is the second option. Between the three, they are averaging a little more than 49 points per game this season. Nice players, but not household names — outside of their own households, at any rate.
But there is another restricted free agent that will be hitting the market July 1, a young big man with shooting range galore and an All-Star selection already on his resume.
Marks has a bit of a history as a GM who will wave large piles of cash in front of restricted free agents, as evidenced by his 2016 spree that had Allen Crabbe, Tyler Johnson and Otto Porter all signing offer sheets with the Nets before those deals were matched by their original teams.
Why wouldn’t Marks be high on Porzingis? He’s the stretchiest of stretch 4s for the team’s pace-and-space approach.
Bondy’s thinking wasn’t unrealistic:
"If the Nets find themselves out of the running for the top unrestricteds this summer, a smart move would be to throw everything at Porzingis — a max contract with a trade kicker and no protections — while hoping he signs it as quickly as possible.The Knicks would then have 48 hours to match, but at the point, they’d have to contemplate whether a sign-and-trade is the better course. The Clippers will also have the cap space to make a play."
Risky play, sure. But if the big names are already off the market, it becomes a “what do we have to lose” question.
Porzingis will be 24 in August and he averaged 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 32.4 minutes per game for the Knicks last season, shooting 39.5 percent from 3-point range at 7-foot-3.
(And here comes the inevitable “but” …)
But Porzingis hasn’t played since tearing his left ACL 11 months ago, Feb. 6 to be precise, and New York doesn’t plan on re-evaluating Porzingis’ progress toward a potential return until mid-February.
The Knicks are 9-29, the third-worst record in the NBA, and have lost eight straight games, 13 of their last 14 and 15 of their last 17. If that rumbling noise coming from Madison Square Garden isn’t the sound of a tank, you’ve fooled me.
Bringing back Porzingis to … whatever it is the Knicks are doing right now … doesn’t make sense from the standpoint of
attempting to maximize their draft position.
But it also puts potential suitors of Porzingis in the position of having to commit to a significant contract offer — his max salary for 2019-20 is roughly $27 million and would escalate from there.
Bondy’s report indicated the Knicks are wanting injury protections in a potential deal.
If Brooklyn (or any other team) wanted to provide an inducement to Porzingis, it would be to remove those strings, make a max offer — either for the maximum of four years, or maybe something along the lines of three years with a player option in Year 3.
But doing so if Porzingis doesn’t return to the court this season means you’re taking a leap of faith that the kid will be 100 percent healthy.
Yes, that’s the risk with every free agent deal, but for a guy who — by the time he hits free agency — could be 17 months removed from his last game action goes above and beyond those normal risk parameters.
It’s an intriguing idea — thoughts of Porzingis and Jarrett Allen teaming up to block everything within six feet of the rim are pleasant and the idea of Porzingis filling that gaping hole at the stretch 4 spot is downright enticing.
But if Marks actually gets the big Latvian’s name on an offer sheet, the end result will likely be to back the Knicks into a corner until they blink — and match.
Because it’s just hard to imagine New York letting the guy they’ve been selling as the centerpiece to their rebuild cross the Brooklyn Bridge and get nothing in return.