There will come a time when the Brooklyn Nets are finally free from the onerous, self-inflicted financial burden that’s slowed the franchise’s pace to a crawl in recent years.
In the summer of 2016, the Nets could essentially have nothing on the books.
Deron Williams and newly signed forward Bojan Bogdanovic could be the only players under contract. D-Will has an early termination clause that could wipe out his $22 million salary and allow him to hit free agency, but he’d be out of his mind to turn down that money at the age of 32.
But that's it.
Think of the Nets’ looming financial freedom as a shiny star on a clear, cloudless summer night. It seems so close, yet so far away.
A look at Brooklyn's current roster
The Nets have to fill their roster somehow. Plumlee, for example, will be a player Brooklyn would be wise to keep around the borough for the long haul.
But general manager Billy King seems to have the 2016-17 offseason in sight as the starting point for the team’s next chapter. There will be a ton of free agents available, including Kevin Durant, and the big-market Nets would presumably stand a good chance at landing at least one superstar.
But for now, they're stuck in the mud.
Kevin Garnett will rake in $12 million next season, which is an absolutely ridiculous number.
KG could have a bounce-back year following Paul Pierce’s bolt to the Washington Wizards. After all, the 38-year-old veteran is coming off a career-worst 6.5 points per game and the lowest rebounding numbers (6.6 a night) since his rookie year. It’d be hard for a 15-time All-Star to be that bad again.
D-Will and Lopez are both looking for strong seasons after spending their summers recovering from injuries. If Williams’ ankles and Lopez’s feet can hold up upwards of 65 games—but more importantly, be ready for the postseason—the Nets could possibly win a playoff series.
Brooklyn’s highest-paid player will be its best next season, just as he was in 2013-14. Johnson is going to earn about $23 million next year, though that’s probably more than he’s worth. However, he’ll earn most of that money by shouldering the team’s offense.
As reported by ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst, the Nets paid an NBA-record $90.57 million in luxury taxes for a 2013-14 campaign in which they greatly underachieved and were bounced in the second round.
Next year probably won’t be a whole lot different. There will be tons of money floating around (plus taxes) with not much hope for a playoff run.
The light at the end of the tunnel
Fast forward two years, and here we are—financial paradise in Brooklyn.
King, assuming he’s still in place as the team’s GM, will be free to approach the 2016 offseason in a variety of ways.
Here are two free agents whom Nets could conceivably land that summer.
Conley is a hardworking, lockdown defender with crafty scoring and distributing abilities. He won't fetch an enormous price, but he can do it all at the 1-spot.
Here are some glowing words from Hollins in the press after Conley missed a 2012-13 contest with the flu:
I've got to give a shoutout to Mike Conley and all the haters of Mike Conley. He's one of the most valuable players we have on this team. He's not a flashy guy, not a big scorer, not a big name, but he helps makes us go and we missed him big time. Jerryd [Bayless] did an admirable job. … (But) you limit what you can do when you don't have a guy that knows all of the nuances of what you're trying to do.
Conley, who will be 28 two years from now, could replace Williams as Brooklyn’s next franchise point guard when No. 8's deal expires.
Last season, Williams did well in a dual point guard system alongside Shaun Livingston. He and Conley could play together for a year before Brooklyn hands the reigns over to the younger, more athletic of the two.
Nothing is definite, but just to be safe, prepare yourself for Dwightmare: Part 2 in a couple years.
He then signed a four-year, $88 million deal with the Houston Rockets. His contract with Houston includes an opt-out clause that would allow him to hit free agency in the summer of 2016.
Toward the end of his time with Orlando, ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard reported that Howard demanded a trade to the Nets. This was, according to Broussard, the second time that the 7-footer requested a move to Brooklyn—“before the lockout-shortened [2011-2012] season began, he asked Orlando to deal him to the Nets.”
Here’s how D12 broke it down with Jessica Camerato of Basketball Insiders early last season:
I thought the Brooklyn thing was going to come through at the end of the season. ... It was something that was promised, but it didn’t happen. Once it didn’t happen I figured everything happens for a reason. I just let it go. I was upset for a while, but I just let it go.
Brooklyn will have another chance to snag a 30-year-old Howard in 2016, this time as a free agent. Far and away the best center in the league, Howard and his monster stats—18.3 points, 12.2 boards and 1.8 swats per game last season—could instantly make the Nets a contending team in the Eastern Conference.
Does Brooklyn have a shot at Kevin Durant?
Maybe it’s just a mirage. But according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, Brooklyn plans to pursue one of the NBA’s brightest stars in the summer of 2016: Kevin Durant.
Here’s Bondy on January 29 before the Nets took on the Oklahoma City Thunder last season:
The impending Durant free agency bonanza should start picking up steam next season and will undoubtedly engulf the NBA in the summer of 2016. And make no mistake: the Nets are targeting Durant, the 25-year-old offensive juggernaut, even if it’s too early to predict their odds.
The Nets could be committed to no salary when Durant becomes a free agent, depending on whether Deron Williams picks up his one-year option for the 2016-17 season. Everybody else is off the books.
Durant, who hired former Nets minority owner Jay Z as his agent last year, plays in one of the NBA’s smallest markets, if not the smallest, with a dedicated fan base and an owner who has been intent on avoiding the luxury tax.
Durant commented on the premature free-agency buzz at Team USA’s basketball camp with Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears:
It's being talked about. Everybody is asking me about it every time I go on Instagram or Twitter. All my friends ask me about it. I'm not going to sit here and act like I'm naive to the fact that people think about that stuff.
I tell everybody, 'Look, I'm here in Oklahoma City. I love it here. Who knows what will happen?' I will never close the door on anything, but I like where I'm at right now. ...
I'm going to do what is best for me. It's hard to talk about that right now. I have two years left with Oklahoma City. I'm just focusing on that. I'm not going to make a decision based on what somebody else does.
The Wizards are widely viewed as the front-runner to steal Durant from Oklahoma City. KD, who was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Maryland, emphatically praised LeBron James’ decision to return to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.
"It's bigger than basketball, and I love that,” Durant told Spears. “I love that. So many guys get criticized for making a decision that is best for them instead of what's best for everybody else. And [LeBron’s] a guy who did that. I applauded him."
Under Armour is reportedly set to offer Durant an endorsement deal that will earn him $30 million annually and, according to Frank Isola of the Daily News, that’s great news for Washington. Not so much for the Nets:
A deal with Under Armour could also be beneficial to the Washington Wizards, one of several teams, including the Knicks and Nets, putting themselves in position financially to make a run at Durant in two summers.
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and Under Armour Founder/CEO Kevin Plank, a University of Maryland graduate, have been involved in several philanthropic endeavors in the D.C. area.
A potential Durant deal with Under Armour doesn’t guarantee the Wizards of landing Durant but for the star-crossed franchise any connection to the Maryland/D.C. area doesn’t hurt either.
Durant’s free agency is a long way off, and a lot can happen in two years. Even with the emotional tug of Washington and the allure of spending his career with one team—well, two if you count the former Seattle SuperSonics—Brooklyn might have a shot.
It’s a long one for sure, but perhaps the enormous market and the influence of former Nets minority owner Jay Z, whose Roc Nation Sports agency represents KD, could swing momentum toward the Nets.
Brooklyn would obviously love to sign Durant. Every team in the NBA would.
Even if the Nets swing and miss on KD, the team will be in a good spot two years from now. With Williams on his way out and everyone else off the payroll, Brooklyn could really live off the free-agent market and build its team without dollar signs hanging above every move.
The Nets are likely going to be doomed to mediocrity in 2014-15 and 2015-16. But two summers from now, Brooklyn very well could be reborn.