It’s Brooklyn Nets trade rumor season. On a related note, the sun rose in the East, water is wet, and renting in Brooklyn will cost you half your salary before taxes.
Yesterday, a report from ESPN’s Marc Stein indicated that the Nets were fielding calls about backup center Mason Plumlee. Earlier reports indicated the Nets were interested in dealing Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson. There has been Deron Williams chatter since December, though it’s more muted as of late.
For the billionth consecutive year, the Nets project to be bullish on the trade market. After an uninspiring 38-44 season, it’s not hard to see why: looking up and down the roster, do you see an “untouchable” player? The closest thing the Nets have to an untradeable asset is their 2020 first-round pick, and the players most likely to return unscathed are Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, who are their free agents.[note]And hey, the Nets could even explore a sign-and-trade option for either of them.[/note]
The reason why is simple: the Nets want to get competitive and get under the luxury tax line.[note]The NBA provided estimates to all 30 teams back in April that estimated the luxury tax line at $81.6 million. If the Nets are over that tax line, they’ll be in “repeater tax” territory for the next two years.[/note] There is no way that they can do that AND keep Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, and Thaddeus Young. It’s just not going to happen. You can trust me on that, or you can read this note for the details.[note]Williams & Johnson will make close to $46 million combined next season; Lopez is in line for a max contract (which starts a little under $19 million), and though Young’s contract status is up in the air, he’s likely earned a contract starting somewhere in the $12 million range. Those four add up to about $76.8 million alone. Even if you assume the extreme — the Nets clear out everyone else and sign a bunch of players to rookie minimum deals — they’ll be over the tax. And that doesn’t factor in that they’ve still got Jarrett Jack ($6.3 million), Bojan Bogdanovic ($3.4 million), the 29th overall pick ($1.1 million), Mirza Teletovic, and possibly the mid-level exception.[/note]
The Nets have won fewer regular season games in each of the last three years, have been in cost-cutting mode, and aren’t trending upwards. Just remember what Joe Johnson said after the Nets were eliminated from the playoffs: “I don’t see us coming back as the same team. This is my third year here. I could see if we were getting better each year, but it’s kind of been the opposite. … I don’t think anybody is (off the market).”
Or that Billy King agreed. “Joe may have summed it up best: it may be the group, just together, maybe it’s time to split it up.”
Make no mistake: the Nets will field calls for everyone. We discussed a few potential Nets trades here, and all of the ones that didn’t come from that weird place in Benny’s brain where the unicorns live achieve the same goal: help the Nets save money, or give them smaller pieces that are easier to flip. Even adding some salary beyond this offseason isn’t unpalatable, since the NBA salary cap is set to spike next year.
The Nets tested out this core over a three-year period, and have one playoff series win to show for it. This is not a team hopeful that they’ll come back, this is a team ready to move on.