One thing is certain, the artist formerly known as the New Jersey Nets is headed to its new home in Brooklyn, the brand new Barclays Center, sporting a new attitude along with a fresh new look.
What is uncertain is who will be wearing the new attire when the team opens the 2012-2013 NBA season.
With Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace expected to opt out out of their contracts to test free agency, the Nets are left with only four players under contract (five if Jordan Farmar exercises his player option). The team could extend a qualifying offer to Brook Lopez, which would keep him under contract for one more season, before becoming an unrestricted free agent next year.
Williams and Wallace opting out is a scary predicament, with the threat of losing the teams most prolific players to the open market. However, the financial flexibility the team gains when the players opt out could help bring in new players, while still being able to retain the Williams/Wallace combo.
The Nets will have close to $40 million in cap space to spend this offseason, plenty of cash to try and retain the team’s core while adding new and important pieces. The team’s main priority is to sign Williams, whose new contract would take up about half of the team’s cap space. The other $20 million could go to resigning Wallace and Kris Humphries (who averaged a double-double for the second straight season) to new deals. However, long-term deals for Wallace and Humphries would soak up most of the remaining cap space, leaving the team with little wiggle room for the next few seasons.
I think the best offseason scenario for the Nets would be to resign Williams to a long-term deal, while keeping Wallace and Humphries under one-year contracts. The team would retain its superstar and its formidable supporting cast, while not committing long-term to anyone minus Williams. This way the Nets could be major players in the 2013 offseason, when the free agent class includes behemoths Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Al Jefferson and many more.
The ideal situation may be just a pipe dream though. Humphries, who played under a qualifying offer this past season, will most likely be looking for long-term security. Wallace is more likely to take a one-year deal, but don’t be surprised if another team throws a large sum of money at the versatile forward. If that’s the case, the team will have to find value in a relatively weak free agent class or explore trade options to fill in the holes for its first season in Brooklyn.
The Nets will most likely be without its lottery pick in this year’s draft (top three protected), so expect guys like Gerald Green and Sundiata Gaines to get one-year contracts to fill out the roster. If Humphries and Wallace don’t resign, the Nets could find value in a guy like Carl Landry or Antawn Jamison for a relatively fair price. Dominic McGuire, who had a solid season with the Golden State Warriors, is another name the Nets could go after if the price is buyer-friendly.
I think a realistic and positive outcome for the Nets would be resigning Williams and grabbing value players to fill out the roster. A team composed of Williams, a healthy Lopez, emerging youngsters MarShon Brooks and Damion James, plus a few solid role players, could compete in the erratic Atlantic Division.
Come 2013, the Nets would have a boatload of cash to spend and could easily lure some big names to Brooklyn.