The move from New Jersey to Brooklyn resulted in a successful regular season spearheaded by stars Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. The trio overcame the firing of head coach Avery Johnson to prove that the franchise is not only relevant, but poised to contend in the future.
A continued climb amid the Eastern Conference is a possibility in the coming years—only if the front office proceeds wisely in the 2013 offseason.
Entering the summer, the Nets have a couple key needs, but it will be tricky to address them due to their tight salary-cap constraints.
Most of the squad is re-signed through 2014 or 2015, and we're not talking about cheap commitments here. Brooklyn's projected payroll in 2013-14 is $85 million, which puts them well over the luxury-tax threshold of $70 million.
Owner Mikhail Prokhorov is a man with bottomless pockets, but he's not going to lavishly spend anymore than he already has.
Elsewhere, the head coaching position is up in the air. The franchise never removed the "interim" label from P.J. Carlesimo after he took over for Avery Johnson, and a hard-fought first-round exit leaves a huge gray area encircling his future.
Brooklyn is slated to make a mid-to-late first-round selection in the 2013 NBA draft, and it's a critical pick because the club needs cheap help.
The Nets don't need star power or gigantic production from this pick. Plus, they already have lots of size and defense on the roster.
Look for them to target a shooter of some type. D-Will's supporting cast struggled to consistently stretch the floor and connect on triples. Acquiring a role-playing shooter would help improve ball movement and increase overall efficiency.
Don't be surprised if they grab someone like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Dario Saric. Both can score from anywhere when called upon, and they have a good grasp of offensive spacing and execution.
The top five highest-paid Nets (Johnson, Williams, Lopez, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace) all have nearly untradeable contracts. Only a miracle deal could involve them.
MarShon Brooks, Mirza Teletovic and C.J. Watson have the most tradeable deals. Of the three, Brooks is likely the biggest target for willing teams. According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, Brooklyn offered him aggressively as part of a potential midseason trade for Josh Smith.
Any summer swap would have to be a financially sound one, as there is absolutely no wiggle room on the current payroll.
Brooklyn has four unrestricted free agents:
- Andray Blatche: He's probably a target for re-signing, as his combination of size and skills are hard to come by.
- Keith Bogans: A peripheral role player in 2012-13, the Nets can live without him.
- Jerry Stackhouse: The 38-year-old veteran is unlikely to re-sign due to age.
- C.J. Watson (player option for 2013-14): His decent shooting numbers make him an attractive pickup for any team, including the Nets.
Keep an eye on these three free-agent targets who could fit nicely:
- Andray Blatche: As previously mentioned, Blatche is a versatile big who can start or come off the bench. He would be fairly affordable.
- Ronnie Brewer: Another reasonably-priced pickup who can bury open jumpers and play defense.
- Matt Barnes: He might be a long shot to switch teams again, but his multipurpose skills would mesh well with D-Will and Brook Lopez.
Biggest Question Going Forward
Chief among the Nets' concerns is whether they can surround the Big Three with enough tools to advance in the 2014 playoffs and beyond.
Too often in 2012-13, Brooklyn relied heavily on Williams, Johnson and Lopez to carry the team. The reality is they're not up to par with the Miami Heat trio, and therefore don't have the firepower alone to contend for a championship.
They don't need a ton of help, just a couple key additions to help things run smoother. Can general manager Billy King make it happen?
Considering the nucleus of the team, the ceiling of this franchise could be at a championship level within the next couple years, provided the right pieces run the best system.
Projected Power Ranking Entering 2013-14
With just one draft slot in June's draft and a bloated payroll already in place, the Nets are unlikely to take gigantic strides this summer.
When the 2013-14 campaign arrives, Brooklyn will find itself in around the same spot on the NBA food chain. It's not a bad place, but far from legitimate title positioning.
Look for them to be power-ranked ninth as the season tips off.
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