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What Moves Can the Nets Make this Offseason?

May 1, 2024 sutton56 11 min read

What Moves Can the Nets Make this Offseason?

May 1, 2024 Ross Sutton 11 min read

By: Ross Sutton

After a disappointing season in which the team learned a lot about its current roster, the Brooklyn Nets front office has an extremely important summer ahead of them. General Manager Sean Marks and the team’s newly-hired head coach Jordi Fernandez have both recently stated that re-signing unrestricted free agent Nic Claxton is the team’s number one priority this offseason. Claxton himself has expressed his desire to re-sign with Brooklyn in the past as well, so I am very hopeful that the team will re-sign the young and talented center in the coming months. Other players from last season’s roster that will be free agents this offseason include Dennis Smith Jr., Lonnie Walker, and Trendon Watford. All three of these players had good moments this season, but only Watford played meaningful minutes towards the end of the year, as Smith Jr. and Walker missed games with injuries. Therefore, I don’t think it is very likely that the team re-signs Smith Jr. or Walker, but Trendon Watford will be a restricted free agent if the Nets extend him a Qualifying Offer, which would give the team the right to match any offer sheet that Watford agrees to with another team. Watford has an intriguing skillset and is only 23, so I could see the Nets potentially re-signing him.

The team is over the salary cap entering the offseason, so the only way the Nets can sign free agents is if they use the Mid-Level Exception, the Bi-Annual Exception, or sign players to veteran minimum contracts. Of those three ways of signing players as a team over the cap, the most valuable is the Mid-Level Exception, which will be worth slightly less than $13M if the Nets are below the luxury tax, which they project to be. Therefore, it appears that targeting the trade market is the best way for the Nets to shake up their roster this offseason.

Despite not having their own first round pick until 2028, the Nets acquired several draft picks from trading away Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden. Most of their stockpile of picks are from the Durant trade with the Phoenix Suns, and those picks are seemingly getting more valuable by the day, as the Suns have little to no flexibility with their expensive roster due to new CBA restrictions that prevent teams above the second apron from using the Mid-Level Exception or aggregating salaries in trades. The Suns have their own first round pick this year, but overall, there are few ways that the team can improve a roster that doesn’t appear very close to being a legitimate title contender, as they were just swept in the first round of the playoffs. Of course, the Nets could either hold onto those picks and draft players with them, or they could use those valuable picks in trades to bring in high quality players.

Trades Prioritizing Short-Term Success

There is a chance that the landscape of the trade market changes between now and the end of the playoffs as teams are eliminated, but a few star players that people think could be available via trade this summer are Donovan Mitchell, Trae Young, and Dejounte Murray. In my opinion, the Nets biggest need is a point guard that can facilitate the offense while also being a legitimate scoring threat. Dennis Schroder is a good player and played well for the Nets after they acquired him at the trade deadline, but he is turning 31 soon and is in the final year of his contract, so it is unlikely that he is the point guard of the future for the Nets. The Nets also need to decide whether they view Cam Thomas as a focal point of the team moving forward, as he is extension eligible this summer as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. Thomas is a key factor in how the Nets might view the trade market because the team might have to include Thomas in a trade for a star. Additionally, if the Nets were to trade for Donovan Mitchell for example, Thomas would probably be included in the deal based on the fact that he and Mitchell play the same position and have somewhat similar skillsets as effective scorers with the ball in their hands.

Mitchell is the better player than Thomas right now, but I don’t think adding Mitchell and losing Thomas does much for the Nets, as the difference between the two players does not make them a title contender. Mitchell is also about to turn 28, whereas Thomas is entering his age 23 season. The Nets would still have a number of valuable picks to offer other teams for a different star after any hypothetical Donovan Mitchell for Cam Thomas trade, but I just don’t love the idea of trading a player like Thomas, who has shown that he has the potential so be a team’s number one scoring option and also greatly improved his defense and passing this season. However, if the Nets did decide to make a big move like trading Ben Simmons (to match salaries), Cam Thomas, and draft picks for Donovan Mitchell, I think they should go after another star with remaining draft picks, because I don’t think a duo of Mitchell and Bridges would take them very far in the playoffs.

The Atlanta Hawks have been stuck in the middle over the last few years, sometimes making the playoffs with no real chance of winning it all. So to shake things up, many anticipate that they could trade one or both of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray this summer. Trae Young would make a lot of sense for a Nets roster that needs someone to facilitate the offense, and he has proven that he can do that at a high level while also averaging 25 points per game. Similar to Mitchell though, I don’t really see Trae being a great fit next to Cam Thomas, as both are smaller guards that play below average defense and are most valuable on offense with the ball in their hands. As I said before though, Thomas has improved defensively this year and is still very young, so it is possible that he continues to improve that part of his game. If Thomas were to further improve his defense, then I think he and Trae could possibly work well together.

Dejounte Murray is also a very intriguing potential trade target for the Nets, as I think he would fit well alongside Cam Thomas. Murray has succeeded as a primary ball-handler and facilitator of an offense in his career, and plays solid defense. Murray and Young haven’t been a great fit together in Atlanta, which I don’t think is very surprising considering they are both point guards, but in his final year with the Spurs, Murray was an All-Star, averaged 9.2 assists per game, and led the league with 2.0 steals per game, so I think he could be a great fit to play with Cam Thomas, Mikal Bridges, and Nic Claxton. If the Nets were to pursue a trade for Dejounte Murray, Cam Johnson could potentially be the player going to Atlanta, as his salary matches Murray’s, and then the Nets would likely have to include at least one first round pick. Johnson had a disappointing season after re-signing with Brooklyn last summer, so I think the team would be okay with trading him in a deal that got them Dejounte Murray. While I think the core group of Murray, Thomas, Bridges, and Claxton would make the Nets a better team than they were last year, I still don’t think that group would get the Nets passed the second round of the playoffs, so I think if the Nets were to trade for Murray, they would need to trade for one more star to make them legitimate threats in the Eastern Conference.

Trades Prioritizing Long-Term Success

One thing that stood out to me when Jordi Fernandez and Sean Marks spoke during Fernandez’s recent introductory press conference was that they both mentioned the importance of developing young players and having sustained success year after year. To me, that signals a preference to keep the good, young players that are already on the roster like Nic Claxton and Cam Thomas, and build around them. This could also mean that the team has a preference to keep the draft picks they have stockpiled and use them to draft players that they can develop. Additionally, the fact that the Nets decided to hire a young, first-time head coach in Fernandez makes me think that the team prefers this route. As a fan, I would buy in to this strategy, as Sean Marks has done very well in the draft considering he has not had high draft picks. However, if the team were to choose this path, they probably would not be playoff contenders, meaning they should probably trade players like Mikal Bridges or Cam Johnson in order to collect more draft picks.

There were a lot of rumors (that Shams has confirmed as true) that the Rockets were interested in trading for Bridges and that they were willing to offer the Nets Jalen Green and a lot of the draft picks the Nets traded to Houston in the James Harden trade. Since the trade deadline when the Rockets would have discussed that deal with Brooklyn, Jalen Green played extremely well and Bridges did not, so I highly doubt the Rockets would still be willing to offer that same package this summer, but I think they might be willing to trade Dillon Brooks, Tari Eason, and some of those Nets draft picks that they own in exchange for Bridges. The Rockets currently have the Nets 2024 first round pick (projected to be the 9th overall pick), 2026 first round pick, and rights to swap first round picks in 2027. If the Nets decide they don’t want to trade for multiple stars in the next year and were offered those picks with Brooks and Eason for Bridges, I think they should accept it. That trade would give Brooklyn a ridiculous stockpile of draft picks that few teams in the league could rival. Additionally, having their own draft picks back would make entering a rebuilding phase much easier, since the possible lack of short-term success would at least get them good draft picks. The Nets could then target one of the many talented point guards in this year’s draft class with their 2024 first round pick. Dillon Brooks is a very good perimeter defender, is a solid three point shooter, and is known for playing extremely hard, which is a characteristic that Jordi Fernandez has said his team will have. Coincidentally, Brooks played for Fernandez when he was the head coach of Canada’s National Team, and he will play for Fernandez again in the Olympics this summer, so the two already have a rapport, which would likely help Fernandez in his new role as Nets head coach. Tari Eason is another player that is known for good defense, rebounding, playing hard, and shooting efficiently. Eason has two years left on his rookie deal, so he is under cheap team control, and I would think that the Nets would be excited to acquire a young player that has showed promise in the league like Eason has.

Another player that I think the Nets could trade if they decide to prioritize long-term success is Dorian Finney-Smith, who has been a solid player for the Nets since they acquired him from Dallas in the Kyrie Irving trade. One reason why I think Dorian could be a trade candidate this summer is the Nets drafted Noah Clowney in the first round last year, and he looked very promising when he played towards the end of this season. Clowney and Finney-Smith are both power forwards, and Finney-Smith is 31 years old, so his replacement might already be on the roster. Dorian is a very good defender and solid three point shooter, so he still has value around the league. It was rumored that the Nets were offered two first round picks for him around the trade deadline, but I don’t think they could get that for him now, as Finney-Smith didn’t play that well at the end of the year. One team that I think could be a good fit for Dorian is the Sacramento Kings, who could use another wing defender.

The Kings are a good trade partner for the Nets because of Jordi Fernandez’s recent experience as their assistant coach the last few years, so he likely has a bond with many of their players. The Nets lacked a good point of attack defender last year, and that is Davion Mitchell’s best attribute. The Kings gave a lot of minutes to Keon Ellis down the stretch, and he also proved to be a very good point of attack defender, so the Kings probably already have a replacement for Davion on their roster. Therefore, I think Davion Mitchell could be on the trade block this offseason. Mitchell’s salary is only about half of Finney-Smith’s, so the Kings would have to throw in another player to match salaries, and I think Sasha Vezenkov could be that player. Vezenkov disappointed in his rookie year and did not play much towards the end of the season, so I think the Kings would be fine trading him away. I think Finney-Smith is more valuable than the package of Mitchell and Vezenkov, so hopefully the Nets could obtain a future first round pick in the deal as well.

If the Nets made these two trades with the Rockets and Kings, they would have a number of young, talented players and an enormous stockpile of draft picks, which is the ideal place to be as a rebuilding team. They would also have cap flexibility and other quality veterans that could be traded later on for more draft picks. Here is what their cap sheet and possible lineup would look like if they made these two trades:

I projected contracts for Cam Thomas and Nic Claxton here, and projected the team drafting point guard Isaiah Collier from USC, who I think is a very promising prospect. Although the starting lineup for this team is not particularly impressive, the bench is really good, so I think it would be competitive in the regular season and could possibly even get into the playoffs if Jordi Fernandez can get the most out of the roster. Another aspect of this roster that I like is that it does not rely on Ben Simmons being available and effective, unlike last year’s roster. This roster features a lot of players that are known for their defense and high motors, which appears to be something that coach Fernandez is looking for in a roster. This team is also very young, so Fernandez and the new coaching staff can mold these players for the future. If I had to guess the approach that the Nets will take this offseason, I would say that they will choose to collect more young talent and draft picks, but that can be a difficult decision to make as a General Manager since there is no guarantee you’re still the team’s GM by the time you draft players with the draft picks you trade for.

In case you were wondering what the Nets cap sheets and lineups would look like if they explored some of the short-term success options I discussed earlier in this blog, here they are:

Ross Sutton

University of South Carolina Sport & Entertainment Management and Villanova School of Law graduate.

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