This is the second offseason of the Sean Marks Era in Brooklyn. Last time out the Nets were clever, they resisted throwing dumb money at players to come play for a 20-win team and instead picked up Jeremy Lin and invested in a couple younger project players. Nothing that’ll turn you into Golden State 2.0 but some smart, honest, low-risk rebuilding there. But that doesn’t mean they played it safe, either.
The Brooklyn Nets’ real splash came with big plays at restricted free agents Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson. Two young players with big potential but limited production so far. Both skilled players who can shoot, both guys who would struggle to get similar contracts on the open market. Exactly the type of dudes who might consider a move to Brookie.
However the thing about restricted free agents is that their current team can match any offer and that’s what happened to the Nets. The Trail Blazers matched on Allen Crabbe and the Heat matched on Tyler Johnson. In the end the Nets came away with neither.
So… what have the Brooklyn Nets been doing this time around? Well, aside from using their copious cap room to trade for D’Angelo Russell and also picking up the odd curious draft prospect… pretty much the same as last year, actually. Sean Marks took a look around, picked out the most appealing restricted free agent and gave him an offer sheet.
Otto Porter Jr. of the Washington Wizards, a player coming off a breakthrough season, despite every indication being that the Wiz will match any offer he’s given. But that’s where you get tricky with these things.
The contract they gave Porter was for four years and $106.5m. It included a player option and a trade kicker. In other words, he’s gonna cost heaps of money and that fourth year is entirely up to him to take, meanwhile he can reject any trade he’s included in over the next season. Plus, curiously, half of his yearly salary has to be paid in a bulk advance before each season. The Nets have to be creative to attract a dude like this and in their situation they can roll with a killer contract like that better than the Wizards – who are already stretched for cap space – will be able to, especially into the future. Match this one and the Wizards will be paying the luxury tax for the first time ever. Marksy, you sly dog.
Of course, these kinds of dealings won’t make you many friends. Business though it all may be the Wizards can have their revenge here by dragging the whole process out. The offer sheet, signed a couple days back, wasn’t official until the moratorium ended and even then the Wiz still had two further days to conduct a medical and another couple to announce the results of said medical before they’ve officially matched it: which means they can waste the majority of the next week before making it official, thus tying up the Nets’ salary room the whole time and heavily handcuffing their backup free agency movings. The old “sources say” are already confirming it’s gonna happen, no surprises there, they renounced their rights to Bojan Bogdanovic to clear the space. Porter will become the Wiz’s top paid player this season but if they use the full four days it won’t be official until Wednesday night, US time.
If they'd let Brookie off the hook the sooner they might have gone and done the same thing to Detroit and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. These Nets RFA offer sheets can be poison to swallow and another fringe Eastern Conference team having to force one down wouldn’t be the worst thing to see from Washington’s POV now. The Pistons must've known what was coming though, they renounced him the day the Wizards sources leaked they were matching the Porter offer. And the Nets, with all their cap space, have other ways to stock up their wing depth anyway...
The Miami Heat know all about this trouble. Matching for Tyler Johnson a year ago has left them a little buggered thanks to all the booby traps that Marks and the Nets planted in that deal. The Heat went hard at Gordon Hayward and missed out so now they’re doing their best to re-sign the blokes that had such a brilliant second half of a season for them last time. Dion Waiters is coming back. James Johnson is coming back. They cleared some room with Chris Bosh’s medical retirement but then gave big money to Kelly Olynyk too.
All of which has left the Heat scrambling for space to fit everyone in, especially since Waiters and Johnson are effectively playing in the same position. Both should be valuable parts of the rotation but Johnson’s salary takes a big leap next season (he’ll earn $19m in the last two years of that deal) and as tough as it’s proving to fit ‘em all in now that’s only gonna get tougher in 2018 when TJ sucks the last remaining dregs of their cap space down.
Could they trade him? Sure… but his trade kicker means they’d owe him $6.5m to do so and while he’s been good, there aren’t too many teams willing to take on a salary next season equal to what Paul George is getting this season for what he brings. Although a year is up now so the Nets can technically trade for him again…
As for the Trail Blazers, what have they been doing this offseason? Nothing because they’re nearly $40m over the salary cap. They have a decent team there built around Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Evan Turner and the likes. Jusuf Nurkic came in via trade last season too. This is a relatively young squad but it’s also a completely inflexible one. Allen Crabbe is a handy sixth man who just shot 44.4% from deep in 16-17. But, like… for $18.5m you’d want more than 10.7 ppg. They’re packed too tight to move now and unless they dump mass salary they can’t really do anything next year either. At this stage they’re just hoping there’s another cap spike coming in two summers because this is all too much to be paying a team that won 41 games and were swept in the first round last season (albeit by the Warriors).
The only team who managed to resist the temptation was Houston who back in December threatened to match a 4-year/$37m offer for Donatas Motiejunas. The Rockets only had to match the base terms of the Nets offer so theirs was worth six mill less and Mot, preferring the additional dineros, wagged his physical. After some more haggling he was released and signed with the New Orleans Pelicans instead where he averaged 4.4 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
The salary cap took a major peak last offseason, leaving pretty much everyone with money to spend. It was expected to rise slightly this time again but that didn’t happen – it actually dropped and now teams are working with less money than planned for. That’s been a slap in the face to some free agents out there struggling to drive up a market for their services but for the Brooklyn Nets, a team with vast paddocks of cap space, that unexpected tweak has strengthened their one bargaining tool even further. It was their ability to absorb the bloated contract of Timmy Mozgov that allowed them to deal Brook Lopez’s expiring for D’Angelo Russell’s rookie contract and with teams like Miami and Portland struggling with the dilemmas that the Nets stuck them with… guess who they might have to come calling to now for a little breathing room?
Sean Marks back in April: “It’s definitely a tool that we have in our toolbox here. The fact that we have cap space and the cards have fallen the way they have, we’ll obviously continue to try and be as aggressive and creative as we can in building this team; and if that means going through restricted free agency, that’ll be the path we go through.”
By the way, as a player Sean Marks featured on a bunch of teams. Amongst them were the Miami Heat who let him walk as a free agent in 2003, the Portland Trail Blazers who traded him after four months in 2011 and the Washington Wizards who waived him in the 2010 preseason.
When they whiffed on RFAs last time, the Nets pivoted by grabbing a couple low-risk veterans to fill things out. It’ll likely be a similar story again after the Wizards predictably match for Otto Porter but Marks and the team are doing what they have to do here and they’re smart enough to know they have time on their hands. They don’t need to win 50 games this season, this rebuild will take patience. Even if they end up with nothing else of relevance here their biggest offseason move was sorted before the draft in acquiring Russell.
They’re also sending five NBA roster players to Las Vegas with their Summer League side – which will be coached by Kenny Atkinson again despite pretty much every other team sending assistants to do that gig. All about that team culture, baby.
And when the Wizards do match on Porter’s contract they’ll be completely cramped for cash while the Nets will still have their cap space to flirtatiously poke a leg out with.
Be a champ and smack an ad, it’s the easiest way to let us you that you dig what the Nichey Niche is serving up. It’s just like making your free throws.