The Brooklyn Nets took the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Atlanta Hawks to six games in the first round.
And while that may be encouraging for most franchises, the season was still deemed as a disappointment for a team that had high hopes of contending in a watered-down conference. Simply put, their 38-44 third-place finish in the Atlantic Division wasn’t good enough.
Things may not look much better in the near future either as Brooklyn owns a stagnant roster and does not have many options to improve. There are 13 players under contract for next season, but there are many decisions to make. Mirza Teletovic, who signed a three-year deal for the mid-level exception in 2012, will hit the free-agent market. If the Nets tender him a qualifying offer – likely a one-year offer sheet worth a little over $4 million -- Teletovic will become a restricted free agent, meaning the Nets have the right to match any offer Teletovic signs. But if they don’t, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent and go to the highest bidder.
The Nets, however, are cash-strapped, as they are currently a league-high $9.269 million over the projected salary cap.
That could prove to be a huge problem, not just for offering Teletovic a decent deal, but for the handling of their star center Brook Lopez. The former All-Star is still mulling whether or not to opt out of his current contract, or opt-in on his $16.7 million deal and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. The latter may be the better play for the center, because next summer is when the new $24 billion NBA-media rights deal goes into effect (as the cap will set to significantly raise to a reported $90 million).
If he opts-out this summer, Lopez would join a talented field of unrestricted free agent centers, including Memphis’ Marc Gasol, the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, his twin brother Robin from Portland, Dallas’ Tyson Chandler, the Pelicans’ Omer Asik, and the oft-traded but talented Brandan Wright of the Suns. Smart money says Lopez opts-in – because walking away from guaranteed money and being as injury prone as Lopez is, doesn’t sound prudent. Besides, the 2016 free-agent crop isn’t as star-studded, meaning Lopez would be the crown jewel of the big-man class.
The one impetus in Lopez’s immediate Nets future could be the activity of the Milwaukee Bucks, who reportedly intend to pursue him this summer – should he opt-out. There are ties with the Bucks, as Lopez’s former head coach, Jason Kidd, is the Bucks’ head coach and decision maker.
Nets general manager Billy King has said many times that retaining Lopez is his No. 1 priority this offseason. The Nets can ill-afford to lose Lopez because they don’t have the salary-cap means to replace him in free agency.
Solid backup center Mason Plumlee could also be on the move, as reports have the Nets willing to depart with him in order to move up the draft. Rim protectors still have value in the uptempo guard-oriented NBA, and Plumlee presents a rookie-scale contract option with upside, despite the fact he fell out of favor in Lionel Hollins’s playoff rotation by averaging only nine minutes per game.
Metro’s most recent mock draft had Andrew Harrison slotted for Brooklyn. But should either or both of the Nets centers depart, the front office will have to strongly consider drafting a big to fill the void.
Either way, it’s set to be an interesting offseason for a franchise that once guaranteed to win an NBA championship within five years or less – five seasons ago.
-Currently, the Nets’ average salary for players under contract is a whopping 3.3 years/$29.1 million per player – a recipe for disaster if a team is trying to win now and build for the future.