3. Summer cap gymnastics will be a challenge
The Brooklyn Nets have gained the attention of premier free agents around the NBA. That’s the good news.
But according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, so have several other organizations.
It’s nice to be in that group, but it doesn’t guarantee the Nets will land one of those high-profile players.
As mentioned earlier, the Nets can open up a max of $51.41 million under the cap.
But they have five players on expiring contracts, potentially six. Those players, and their cap holds, include:
- Allen Crabbe (player option/unrestricted, cap hold $27.75 million if option declined)
- DeMarre Carroll (unrestricted, cap hold $23.1 million)
- D’Angelo Russell (restricted, cap hold $21.06 million)
- Jared Dudley (unrestricted, cap hold $14.3 million)
- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (restricted, cap hold $7.41 million)
- Ed Davis (unrestricted, no Bird rights, cap hold $5.34 million)
Here’s where it gets complicated. With cap holds, Brooklyn would be $24.38 million over the cap entering the summer.
By renouncing Bird rights to Crabbe, Carroll, Russell, Dudley and/or Hollis-Jefferson, the amount of their cap holds would be added to the available cap space.
But renouncing those rights would mean that re-signing any of those players — particularly Russell — would have to be done by using cap space rather than Bird rights.
In other words, the Nets can’t open up the $21.06 million cap hold for Russell by renouncing his rights and use his Bird rights to re-sign him over the cap, as the Nets did with Joe Harris last summer.
It’s one or the other.
Despite how productive he’s been, it’s hard to imagine the Nets holding onto Carroll’s Bird rights, because freeing up that $23.1 million would, by itself, almost get Brooklyn at least to the estimated cap of $109 million for next season.
The Nets also have two non-guaranteed salaries on next season’s cap sheet: the $1.85 million for Shabazz Napier and the $1.65 million for Treveon Graham. Those salaries become guaranteed if they are not waived by July 10.
Renouncing Dudley gets Brooklyn under the cap by $13.02 million, far from what is needed to get a max player. Renouncing Hollis-Jefferson and Davis doesn’t get them there either.
It is possible Crabbe’s $18.5 million player option — which he is almost certain to exercise unless he comes to some sort of an agreement with the front office to decline the option and come back at a more reasonable price — could be traded as an expiring contract with some sort of future pick or picks attached as a sweetener to a rebuilding team with cap space.
But even that’s not a slam dunk (pardon the metaphor), because almost every team in the NBA will have cap space next summer and nearly half of the players in the league will either become free agents or will have the option to do so.
So it could be 2016 redux — everyone with money to spend and lots of guys upon which to spend it.
For as often as the Nets have been linked to the premier pieces in the free agent class — Kawhi Leonard and Tobias Harris primarily among those — the cap manipulation isn’t going to be as simple as “the Nets have enough for almost two max free agents.”
Marks acknowledged the fluidity of the situation when he addressed the media on Friday, per NBA.com:
"“The players have decisions to make, we have decisions to make. So, it’s going to be an interesting three months, but I give our players a heck of a lot of credit for how they’ve handled over half the season. It’s really been led by them. “They took the reins of this thing and they’ve been pushing and believing. I think you guys have commented on the camaraderie they’ve shown on the bench. It’s been terrific. Again, it’s contagious. “When guys have a belief — and it hasn’t come from [coach Kenny Atkinson] or I or anybody else having to sit down with them and say this is the trajectory of the team — it’s been led by the players.”"
For a fan base that endured 177 losses over the last three seasons, 2018-19 has been an unexpected, inexplicable fun ride.
But even with all of this above, this doesn’t address Caris LeVert’s situation. LeVert becomes eligible for a rookie-scale extension next season, with a deadline of the day before the regular-season begins. Just like Russell last summer and fall.
Russell played himself into the Nets’ long-term outlook. LeVert was already there.
But a potential LeVert extension plays into the 2020-21 cap situation and 2019-20 is going to be a big bear to wrestle.
There is the potential for a very bright future as well. But, well, it’s complicated.
Welcome to the 21st century NBA.