Top 5 Offseason Moves for the Brooklyn Nets After Playoff Elimination
The Brooklyn Nets turbo-charged their offense to take down any defense in their path.
But they couldn't guard themselves against the injury bug, which pestered them throughout the season and helped bring about their playoff demise.
Once the curtain finally closed on their campaign Saturday night, Irving watched from the sideline because of a sprained right ankle, James Harden hobbled on a right hamstring he has battled off and on for three months and Kevin Durant was trying to summon his super powers in his first season back from a torn Achilles. If anyone needs a summer of rest, recovery and as much relaxation as possible, it's these three.
But this can't be a sleepy summer for general manager Sean Marks and this front office. The Nets need to keep capable contributors around their stars with a host of players heading to free agency and limited flexibility to work with. Brooklyn's Big Three is owed a combined $114.8 million next season, and another $26.4 million is tied up between Joe Harris and DeAndre Jordan.
This won't be easy, so we're here to provide a helpful five-step guide to the Nets' offseason.
1. Re-Sign Bruce Brown
If Bruce Brown can't score an endorsement with Elmer's, he might need new representation.
Star-studded rosters—a description that fits this Brooklyn team like few before it—need glue guys to properly function, and Brown is basically a human adhesive. He's a 6'4", 202-pounder who is listed as a guard but often functions as a screen-setting "big" on offense and checks just about anyone on defense.
"It's been fun to watch him develop into this role, this version of a Swiss Army knife for us," Nets coach Steve Nash said, per Boston.com's Tom Westerholm. "We all recognize his value."
Speaking of that value, it's about to increase dramatically. In economic terms, at least.
Restricted free agency awaits the 24-year-old, which means a mountain of cash is headed his way.
All winning teams can use a player like him, which isn't something you can say about many modern guards with shooting limitations (career 29.8 percent from deep). But his defensive intensity, fully revved motor, rim attacks, flexibility as a ball-handler and playmaker and willingness to play an all-guts, little-glory role combine to form quite the on-court asset.
The Nets need to treat him as such when they sit down at the negotiating table.
2. Explore Sign-and-Trade Options with Spencer Dinwiddie
Spencer Dinwiddie has a $12.3 million player option for next season. When he's healthy, which he hasn't been since suffering a partial ACL tear in his right knee in late December, he's better than a $12.3 million player.
And he knows it.
"$12 million isn't market value for a starting point guard," Dinwiddie told Forbes' Shlomo Sprung. "It's probably about half, 20-25. So obviously it's pretty concrete that I'm gonna opt out."
It's fair for Dinwiddie to compare his value to that of a starting point, because he's been productive in that role before. Just last season, he was one of only 13 players to average 20 points and six assists.
But there's an obvious catch here—the Nets already have a starting point guard. They basically have two, and they're both established All-Stars in Harden and Irving.
That's as good of an indication as any Dinwiddie is ready to take his talents elsewhere. That's probably just as well, since the Nets are one of the few teams that don't need his offense. He suited up three times all season, and they still produced 118.3 offensive rating, the most efficient attack in NBA history.
Assuming Dinwiddie is walking out the door, Brooklyn needs to try working with him to try setting up a sign-and-trade that brings back something in return. Even if the biggest asset is just a trade exception, that could be a big get for a club with limited flexibility.
3. Spend the Mid-Level Exception on a Stopper
The Nets didn't have this season's worst defense. They ranked 22nd overall on the game's less glamorous end.
But that was the second-worst mark among all playoff participants (including the clubs that didn't escape the play-in tourney) and felt at least in the ballpark of a fatal flaw. The Nets were so absurdly explosive offense they made you think they could overcome their defensive deficiencies, but it sliced down their margin for error considerably.
Their options were so limited they entrusted Blake Griffin—a wobbly defender during his prime—as the primary matchup for Giannis Antetokounmpo, the MVP of the past two seasons.
Brooklyn's roster basically reads like a direct challenge to the cliche that defense wins championships. The Nets seemingly placed a wager that their firepower was enough to sink any opponent four times in a seven-game series. Had they stayed healthy, maybe they would've been proven right.
Still, one would assume some level of investment will be made in this defense, and the Nets have the taxpayer mid-level exception to go sign a stopper.
Last offseason, that would have been enough to ink Garrett Temple, Avery Bradley, Maurice Harkless, James Ennis III, Kris Dunn or Josh Jackson. A player of this ilk wouldn't transform Brooklyn's defense, but it would give the Nets more options to put in front of opposing incendiary scorers.
4. Try to Keep the Vets
Jeff Green joined the Nets on a veteran's minimum pact in November. Blake Griffin arrived in March after being bought out by the Detroit Pistons.
Both subsequently became essential parts of the rotation. Going into Game 7, Green and Griffin ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, in playoff points and minutes per game.
They hold significant spots in Nash's circle of trust, and it would help next season's squad if that's still true on the other side of each player's venture into free agency.
But this probably comes down to economics.
Brooklyn is so invested in its stars—plus Jordan, for some reason (it really is all about who you know, folks)—it only has so much to spread among the supporting cast. Splurging on Griffin and Green, who don't help the defensive woes and aren't major needle-movers on offense anymore, doesn't make sense.
What could, though, is a reunion at a reasonable (see: cheap) rate that allows the ring-less 30-somethings to help the Nets chase the crown again next season.
5. Find at Least One Rotation Player on Draft Night
At one point, Marks was forced to make do without any draft assets.
Those days are behind Brooklyn.
The Nets have their own first-round pick, which landed 27th overall. They also hold three second-round picks from different deals: Nos. 44, 49 and 59. That's enough draft ammunition to find at least one player who fits in next season's rotation, be that a rookie pulled from one of these selections spots (or higher if the Nets package several to move up) or an established player acquired for some combination of the picks.
Assuming Brooklyn stands pat at No. 27, it might target experience, readiness and either defense, shooting or both. Michigan State's Aaron Henry, Baylor's Jared Butler, Gonzaga's Joel Ayayi, Illinois' Ayo Dosunmu, Villnova's Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Virginia's Trey Murphy III all fit the mold of an early contributor.
The Nets don't have room for four rookies, so look for Marks to put at least some of these picks in play. If Brooklyn left draft night with an upperclassman prospect and a player with NBA experience, that would be close to a best-case scenario. Add a future draft pick to the haul, and you're probably talking about an A-plus kind of night for the Nets.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.