Leading up to the NBA Draft, I will be writing an offseason plan of attack for each of the 30 NBA teams, in reverse order of final record. The first installment will be on the team with the worst record in the NBA this past year, the Brooklyn Nets.
Be Aggressive In Free Agency
With the Boston Celtics having the right to swap picks with Brooklyn due to the disastrous Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade, the Nets will miss out on the top-tier prospects in a very deep 2017 NBA draft. The salary cap for next season is currently projected at $102 million, and the Nets could have as little as $63 million in salary committed (which includes not picking up any options, as well as Deron Williams’ buyout using the stretch provision). Even with picking up the options on guys like Isaiah Whitehead, Sean Kilpatrick and Joe Harris, the Nets would still have just 10 players under contract for the 2017-2018 season.
The Nets swung big at restricted free agent guards Allen Crabbe (4 years, $75 million) and Tyler Johnson (4 years, $50 million), but both offers were matched by their respective teams. With a crop of restricted free agents that includes Detroit SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Atlanta’s Tim Hardaway Jr and San Antonio’s Jonathon Simmons, the Nets should again be aggressive in pursuing restricted free agents. Caldwell-Pope, in particular, should be a hot commodity this offseason. While his numbers don’t pop off the page (13.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists), he has a solid stroke from 3 (35% on 5.8 attempts/game), and is a solid perimeter defender. Detroit’s inability to sign KCP to an extension this past summer seemingly gives Brooklyn a chance at a young, talented player.
Trade Brook Lopez
Lopez, 29, has been the focal point of the Nets’ offense for the vast majority of his career. While his rebounding numbers are have fluctuated from average to sub-par, Lopez is still one of the better jump shooters among big men in the league, and above-average at shot-blocking and passing for centers.
Lopez will be in the final year of his contract this coming season, and with general manager Sean Marks seemingly committed to rebuilding, it may be time for the Nets to trade Lopez. While the return likely won’t be equal value, the team is in desperate need of young assets for their rebuild, and, at 29, Lopez’s time in his prime could be running out.
If the Nets can receive a mid-1st round pick in this draft, the team should seriously consider moving on from their top player.
The likelihood that Brooklyn can sign a top-tier free agent this offseason is pretty slim, as the team is clearly rebuilding, but don’t have any exciting young players to entice a superstar like Steph Curry or Blake Griffin are slim to none. Another way for the team to improve is through absorbing contracts into their cap space.
While general manager Sean Marks should obviously explore every avenue possible to improve the team through free agency, if those options dry up, then utilizing their cap space to take on a contract should be seriously considered.
The Phoenix Suns, another team looking to rebuild, could be looking to unload either Brandon Knight or Eric Bledsoe this offseason, as 2nd year shooting guard Devin Booker and rookie point guard Tyler Ulis performed admirably this past season. Moving one of those two would solidify talent for Phoenix, while simultaneously opening up cap space. It may require the Nets take on the contract of either Jared Dudley (2 years, $19.5 million) or Tyson Chandler (2 years, $26.5 million) to get it done.
The Nets are seemingly set at small forward with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, but could use help at almost every other spot on the floor, unless they decide to hold onto Brook Lopez through next season. With the Nets’ picks coming at #22 (from Washington) and #27 (from Boston), the odds of finding a franchise player are fairly thin. That doesn’t mean you can’t find a couple of rotation players, or even a potential All Star.
One guy I really like Purdue PF/C Caleb Swanigan – Swanigan will probably be among the least explosive players at the NBA Draft Combine testing, but don’t let his lack of explosion fool you. Swanigan is a skilled scorer, as he combines a deft touch around the rim with either hand with a jump shot that is effective to 3-point range (44.7% on 2.8 attempts/game this past year). He also has a nose for the ball, and uses his wide base and lower center of gravity to hold his position when fighting for rebounds. Swanigan reminds me of a physically stronger version of Zach Randolph, and while he likely won’t be quite as good as Z-Bo, finding a skilled big man this late in the draft would be a boon for the Nets.
Others who would be a good fit for Brooklyn include Florida State wing Dwayne Bacon, Duke center Harry Giles, Louisville shooting guard Donovan Mitchell and South Carolina guard PJ Dozier.