The Brooklyn Nets are no strangers to signing struggling young players at a bargain price.
Last summer the Nets struck gold when they signed Andray Blatche to a non-guaranteed one-year minimum deal and inked C.J. Watson to a two-year minimum contract with a player option.
But Blatche and Watson performed well for the Nets last season and could conceivably seek more money from another team this offseason. Given their current financial situation, it might be hard for the Nets to convince the two key bench contributors to stick around on a minimum salary.
Now, with his team well over the salary cap and deep in the luxury tax, general manager Billy King will try to find another young talent that he can sign on the cheap.
Some viable free-agent options on the market include center Timofey Mozgov of the Denver Nuggets, power forward Dejuan Blair of the San Antonio Spurs and small forward Chase Budinger of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Because Blatche is still making $16 million from the Washington Wizards over the next two seasons after being amnestied, it’s conceivable he’ll stay in Brooklyn for at least one more year. If he does, the new head coach could decide to use him in a starting role at power forward.
In order for Blatche to start at power forward, the Nets will have to find a backup center in free agency. That player could be Mozgov, who fell out of favor in Denver this season.
The 7’1” Russian has a pending qualifying offer worth roughly $3.9 million for 2013-14, and the Nuggets have until June 30 to exercise that option. League sources told Comcast SportsNet Northwest that Denver plans to tender Mozgov, making him a restricted free agent.
It seems strange, however, that Denver would invest so much in a third-string center. Mozgov played just nine minutes per game behind JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos in 2012-13.
The idea of Denver protecting Mozgov is also puzzling because the team has to worry about re-signing free agents Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer.
Even if Mozgov is offered a tender, King could find a way to dump Kris Humphries’ $12 million contract and put the Nets in a better position to sign the 26-year-old big man.
If the Nets are able to deal Humphries, they could decide to pursue soon-to-be free agent Dejuan Blair.
Blair averaged a career-low 5.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in his fourth NBA season with the Spurs. The 6’7” University of Pittsburgh product played just 14 minutes per game for the Western Conference champions in 2012-13.
Blair hasn’t been given much of a chance with the Spurs, especially with the emergence of Tiago Splitter and the acquisition of Boris Diaw. He’s a tough player who could provide the Nets with a physical interior presence and much-needed frontcourt depth if Humphries is dealt.
Blair isn’t the tallest player, but he brings energy and production in both the scoring and rebounding departments. The 24-year-old averaged 8.3 points and 7.0 rebounds in 2010-11 and 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in 2011-12.
In the series-clinching Game 4 against the Los Angeles Lakers he accounted for 13 points and 5.0 boards in just 19 minutes.
If C.J. Watson decides to try his luck on the open market, the Nets will lose a player that shot 41.1 percent from beyond the arc last season.
In order to fill that void, King could sign free agent Chase Budinger, who missed 59 games during the 2012-13 season with a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee.
Budinger is uncertain if he wants to stay with the Timberwolves. He told the Star Tribune he’d be more likely to stay with the team if Rick Adelman returns as coach, but that’s far from guaranteed at this point.
The 25-year-old small forward has shot 43 percent from three-point range over his four-year NBA career. He could provide the Nets with a pure shooter that has the ability to stretch opposing defenses.
Brooklyn’s salary cap situation leaves them little room to maneuver this offseason. There is always the chance they will use Humphries expiring contract, MarShon Brooks’ rookie-scale deal and future first-round picks to make a trade. But it’s more likely King will try to seek out another pearl like Blatche in free agency.
Mozgov, Blair and Budinger are all conceivable options, but there will be plenty of other free agents for King to choose from this summer.
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