What 2016’s Crazy Cap Increase Means For The Nets

Could we finally see Dwight Howard in a Brooklyn Nets uniform? (AP)
Could we finally see Dwight Howard in a Brooklyn Nets uniform? (AP)

Unrestricted free agents

Plan A: Kevin Durant (28 in 2016)
Durant is everyone’s Plan A. Like many other teams, the Nets can offer him a max deal, but they will not offer him the best supporting cast. He could choose to re-up with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who can offer him the most money. The Wizards will have just $32 million in committed salary in 2016[note]Plus any extension they give Bradley Beal[/note], and they’ll have enough room to give him a max contract. Would Durant rather spend four years of his prime with Bradley Beal and John Wall in his hometown, or Mason Plumlee and a 32-year-old Deron Williams?

Plan B(ig): Al Horford (30), Joakim Noah (31), Dwight Howard (31).[note]Howard has a $23.282 million player option for 2016-2017.[/note]

Noah grew up in New York and went to Poly Prep in Brooklyn; perhaps he’d be open to leaving Chicago, especially if the Bulls fire Tom Thibodeau. Horford, the consummate team player, has given no indication he is unhappy in Atlanta. We all know how Howard feels about Brooklyn. But any of the three might be an unwise investment: all have had significant injury issues and will be on the wrong side of 30. They are unlikely to live up to $100 million-plus contracts.

Plan C: Mike Conley (29)

A reunion with Lionel Hollins, who Conley called a “second father figure,” may appeal to Conley. But it would take a large contract to lure Conley from Memphis, and such a deal would almost certainly come back to haunt the Nets. Only six point guards are over the age of 28 have started at least 40 games this season[note]The list: Rajon Rondo, Goran Dragic, Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, and Jose Calderon. If you lower the bar to 30 games, Mario Chalmers, Mo Williams, and Deron Williams join the list.[/note], and Conley will be 29 in the first year of his new deal. The Nets need only look to Deron Williams to see the danger of handing a max deal to a point guard pushing 30.

Plan D: Lance Stephenson (26)[note]Charlotte has a $9.405 million team option for Stephenson in 2016-17.[/note]

Stephenson was not shy about his desire to come to Brooklyn, but Billy King seemed uninterested in taking on the troubled guard. If King still has his job in 2016, he may pass again.

Other notable unrestricted free agents include: Brandon Jennings (27), DeMar DeRozan (27), Kent Bazemore (27), Danilo Gallinari (28), Nicolas Batum (28), Chandler Parsons (28), Ryan Anderson (28), and Shaun Livingston (31), Roy Hibbert (29), Jeff Green (30).

Restricted Free Agents

The Nets could also play the restricted free agent (RFA) market. Bonafide superstars like Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard, and players with superstar upside like Bradley Beal and Andre Drummond, are mortal locks to have any offer sheet matched. But the Nets could ink a less established player to a big offer sheet, and force his current team into a tough decision.

Tony Wroten (23)
Dion Waiters (25)

Wroten and Waiters are both on teams that prefer players on rookie contracts. But the 76ers and the Thunder are not in the habit of letting players walk for nothing – if they do not plan to keep Wroten and Waiters, they will probably trade the guards to teams that do.

Harrison Barnes (AP)
Harrison Barnes (AP)
Harrison Barnes (24)
The Warriors already have $50 million on the books for 2016-17, and that does not account for Draymond Green’s upcoming megadeal. They will have to re-sign Stephen Curry, who will command a max deal, in 2017. If the Nets give Barnes a high-eight-figure offer, the Warriors may not be able to stomach matching.

Maurice Harkless (23)
Harkless has been buried on the bench for the Magic. He is from Forest Hills, Queens, and played college ball at St. John’s. He’ll also just be just 23 in 2016. Harkless could find a role under the Magic’s new coach next season, but if not, the Nets could pry him away with a competitive offer.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (23)
Kidd-Gilchrist has continued to develop in his third season. It is difficult to envision Charlotte, which has just $12 million committed in 2016, letting him walk, but they might think twice about giving him a deal close to the max.

Terrence Ross (25), Jonas Valanciunas (24)
Neither Ross nor Valanciunas seems to be a favorite of coach Dwane Casey. General manager Masai Ujiri has shunned max contracts, preferring to lock up role players on reasonable deals. If the Nets pay Ross or Valanciunas like a franchise cornerstone, the Raptors may not match the offer.

Donatas Motiejunas (26), Terrence Jones (25)
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tends to maximize his assets, but if he does not think a player is capable of being an integral part of a championship contender, he won’t pay him like one. Last summer, the Rockets declined to match the Mavericks’ max offer to Chandler Parsons for that very reason. The Nets may be able to steal Jones or Motiejunas with an offer too rich for the Rockets’ taste.

The Bad News

There’s a downside to the coming cap increase: every team will now have an extra $20+ million in cap room. In fact, it may be easier to talk about which teams will not have the flexibility to be major players in 2016, a list that will likely include: the Warriors (if they re-sign Draymond Green), the Blazers (if they re-sign Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Nicolas Batum, and extend Damian Lillard), the Clippers (if they re-sign DeAndre Jordan), the Cavaliers (if they re-sign LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson), and pending any deals this summer… that’s it.

The Nets have two primary selling points: first-class facilities, including a $45 million new practice facility at Industry City, and the largest media market in the world. But that may not be enough to lure top-tier free agents to Brooklyn, as the Nets will probably not be the most enticing option of the big-market teams.

Depending on what the Knicks do this summer, the Nets won’t be the only free agent player in their own market, and the Knicks’ roster will feature their upcoming top-five pick and Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers, another marquee team, have just $5 million on their cap sheet in 2016, including young big man Julius Randle and this year’s likely top-five pick on the roster[note]The pick will go to the 76ers if it’s not in the top five[/note]. The Heat, always a free agent draw, could have Goran Dragic, Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside, and enough cap room to offer a max deal.

The Nets will also be up against teams who have young cores already under contract. The Wizards are a desirable landing spot for Durant and other free agents. The Boston Celtics are a prestigious franchise with an ascendant head coach, significant flexibility, intriguing young building blocks, and a trove of draft picks. The Bucks, Timberwolves, and Jazz, while not traditional free agent draws, have talented rosters locked up on reasonable contracts and can afford to overpay for the right free agent.

The Nets will be desperate to add as much talent as possible to the roster in 2016: they do not own their own first-round pick in 2017 or 2018, so they have no incentive to tank. We all remember the last time the Nets went shopping, struck out on Plans A through Y, and went for an ill-advised Plan Z. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again.

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