Aging Brooklyn Nets Will Need Some Reinforcements for Next Year

D.J. FosterContributor IMay 14, 2014

Oct 12, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; From left Brooklyn Nets small forward Paul Pierce and Brooklyn Nets power forward Kevin Garnett and Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams look on against the Detroit Pistons during the second half of the preseason game at Barclays Center. The Pistons won the game 99-88 Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It's no secret that the Brooklyn Nets have an aging roster and that time is decidedly not on their side. With players such as Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Andrei Kirilenko and others all getting a year older, improving organically is going to be extremely difficult to do.

To get the Nets closer to title contention, general manager Billy King will have to do whatever he can to add talent with the limited assets available to him. Because there are so few desirable trade pieces, especially given the injuries of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez over the last few years, making a big move may be extremely difficult to do.

Instead, King will once again have to make smaller additions that infuse some life into an older core. Guys such as Mason Plumlee, Mirza Teletovic, Shaun Livingston and Andray Blatche have proven to be incredibly useful pickups this year for the Nets, playing valuable roles and taking on big responsibilities in the postseason.

MIAMI, FL - May 8: Shaun Livingston #14 of the Brooklyn Nets handles the ball against the Miami Heat in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2014 NBA playoffs at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida on May 8, 2014. NOTE TO USER: U
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The degree of difficulty for King to do that again is going to be even higher this year, however. The Nets don't have a first-round draft pick in 2014, and since they will be over the cap regardless of whether Paul Pierce (expiring) and Kevin Garnett come back, there will be very limited assets available in free agency.

Perhaps more importantly, retaining the talent King already found may be the bigger priority anyhow. Here's Tim Bontemps of the New York Post with more:

The biggest news from King, besides the news about Lopez having a second surgery on his left (other) foot, was King saying Shaun Livingston is 'priority number one' this offseason, when Livingston is a free agent.

There's no question Livingston has been outstanding for the Nets, helping turn their season around as part of the smallball lineup that's reversed the team's fortunes. But keeping Livingston with the team beyond this season isn't going to be an easy task.

The Nets have two avenues to keep Livingston: sign him for 20 percent more than he's making this year, which would be about $1.6 million, or sign him to the mini mid-level exception (because they are far over the luxury tax), which would allow them to give Livingston a three-year deal for a total of about $10.3 million.

Livingston has been the key glue guy for the Nets this season, but retaining him may be difficult. It's not hard to imagine a team offering him something close to the mid-level exception, and given Livingston's injury history, it would be hard to blame him for taking more money elsewhere.

If the Nets can't get Livingston into the taxpayer mini mid-level exception, perhaps overseas prospect Bojan Bogdanovic could be signed into that slot. He's an interesting swingman with size who could add some shooting and ability in isolation, which should fit in nicely with what Brooklyn needs on both ends.

A lot of what the Nets need will depend on the decisions of Pierce and Garnett. Here's Bontemps of the New York Post:

King was asked about his former Celtics — Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett — and was non-committal about the futures of both, saying he hadn't discussed an extension for Pierce, who is going to be a free agent this summer, or Garnett's status for next season, when he's owed $12 million in the final year of his contract.

It seems likely, however, both will be back in Brooklyn. When King said without hesitation that Livingston is 'priority number one,' it was a good indication that Pierce — a client of powerful agent Jeff Schwartz, who also represents Deron Williams, Jason Kidd, Mirza Teletovic and, beginning last summer, Livingston — is expected to be back. The veteran small forward seems to enjoy Brooklyn, where he's playing with Garnett and for a coach in Kidd who he's known for a long time and respects.

If the Nets decide they need to do something bigger other than find valuable players at the veteran's minimum, moving Lopez might be a realistic scenario to explore. The Nets have found some pretty decent success by getting faster in their starting lineup, so perhaps Lopez may be viewed as expendable. Here's Zach Lowe at Grantland:

Trading Lopez could theoretically work in both directions, though it would be painful for an organization that has nurtured his tremendous growth. Such a deal could leave Brooklyn with zero reliable bigs next season, since Kevin Garnett may retire and Andray Blatche has likely played his way into a better contract. Lopez is also dealing with his second major foot injury, which hurts his trade value. But the Nets have found an identity without him, and he's a talented player with just two years left after this one on a fair contract.

The Nets will have options to explore, but again, having such a capped-out roster does present some issues. One potential solution to add talent would be to buy a second-round draft pick from a team that doesn't have available roster spots, which is something we've seen owners with deep pockets do in the past. 

As far as free agents go, players such as Devin Harris, C.J. Miles and James Johnson would all be good veteran additions, although it may be tough to convince any of those three to take a minimum deal to play for Brooklyn.

That being said, the large market and the chance to contend for a title in a weak conference may be appealing to those players and similar talents, and King deserves some credit for being able to identify quality role players.

Jason Kidd also deserves some credit, as King told SB Nation blog Nets Daily:

So now putting a team together, I know which players to add," says King. "That’s something we've been searching for for a while, is getting an identity so now in the offseason, Jason and I have already talked about the type of players he wants and have a feel for. "That's [sic] the key, you have a system. A lot of the credit, the players have played well, but Jason has been amazing.

Whether it's through acquiring draft picks, smart use of the mini mid-level exception, veteran minimum signings or finding a big trade, King will need to add more talent to this aging core to make the Nets a legitimate contender. There are definite limitations because of the salaries being dished out, but this is the task the team knowingly accepted when trading or signing players such as Johnson or Williams.

With a core that's expected to decline due to age, this offseason will be plenty important for the immediate future of the Nets.