Ranking Brooklyn Nets' Most Believable 2014 NBA Offseason Possibilities
Free agency is upon us! And perhaps the only thing more fun than watching the big deals get made is speculating about which star will end up on which team.
It's important to weed out the realistic possibilities from the baseless conjecture. The Brooklyn Nets are right in the middle of the free-agency swirl and are therefore the subject of many hypotheses.
Here are five of the more believable possibilities surrounding the Nets, ordered from least likely to occur to most.
All statistics from Basketball-Reference.com.
5. The Nets Will Trade Deron Williams or Brook Lopez
Brook Lopez and Deron Williams haven't really lived up to their massive contracts in the past three seasons. Lopez has suffered two major injuries which have cost him 142 games. He played only 5 games in 2011-12 and only 17 in 2013-14.
Williams has managed to stay on the court for the most part, but his health is still a concern. Williams had surgery on both ankles after the Nets were eliminated from the playoffs in May, and he's hardly the playmaker he used to be.
Lopez is still very productive when not nursing an injury—the big man averaged 20.7 points per game in limited action last season. But one has to be concerned about the chance that his foot problems will return, a legitimate possibility for a player of his size.
All of these problems add up to a desire to trade one of the two. This outcome is unlikely for a variety of reasons.
First of all, the value of either star is probably at the lowest it's ever been. The Nets can't ask for equivalent talent in return because of the injury histories associated with both Lopez and Williams. The two are owed a combined $73 million over the next two seasons, meaning any team willing to take a risk on one of them would be committing their short-term future to a player with a history of missed games and mediocre records.
Plus, what exactly would the Nets get in return? They aren't looking to take on another giant contract and therefore won't reel in players of the caliber of Lopez or Williams. They'd love some future draft picks since they've traded so many of their own away, but it's difficult to predict which teams will have lottery spots to give up months and years in advance.
And finally, the Nets still believe in this duo. Lopez is perhaps the best offensive center in the entire league when healthy, and if Williams' ankles can hold up, he can play like a top-10 point guard. In the watered-down East, that's enough talent to compete, especially with Joe Johnson contributing 15 to 20 points a night.
If there was a time when this type of trade was possible for the Nets, it was a few weeks ago. But with the NBA draft having come and gone, don't expect Lopez and Williams to be anywhere but Brooklyn next season.
4. The Nets Will Trade Marcus Thornton
Brooklyn does not have that many desirable assets on its roster. The team is composed almost entirely of aging veterans or overpaid stars on the decline. Marcus Thornton is, however, a chip that the team could look to swap in the coming weeks.
Thornton is inherently an interesting prospect for any team simply due to his offensive ability. He's not a notable defender, and he can fall prey to inconsistency. But few players in this league can score like Thornton when he gets a hot hand. Not only can Thornton shoot from the perimeter, but he finds ways to get to the basket despite his limited stature.
Bench scoring is a huge part of the title calculation for NBA teams. The Spurs won the championship this past season because their bench, led by confident shooters like Patty Mills, torched the Heat's stumbling second unit. Thornton could easily slide into a contender's rotation and provide 15 to 20 solid minutes off the pine.
The other side of Thornton's value is his contract, which expires after the upcoming season. There are a bevy of big-name superstars hitting free agency next summer, and teams looking to buy during that period will happily eat Thornton's owed $8.7 million next season for the chance to dump salary in exchange.
Plus, the Nets won't be players in the big-name free-agency game until the following summer, making them a good candidate to take on a smaller but slightly longer contract. Thus, seeing the Nets swap Thornton for someone owed less money on a per-year basis for the next two seasons (such as Jarrett Jack) would not be a surprise.
3. Paul Pierce Will Leave the Nets for a Western Power
In the past week, Paul Pierce has been linked to a trio of quality Western Conference teams. According to Stein (h/t Darren Hartwell of NESN.com), the Houston Rockets are interested in scooping up Pierce, along with the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks.
About a week ago, it seemed as if Pierce was destined to re-sign with the Nets. Conditions change quickly during the NBA offseason, though, and several recent developments may push Pierce out of Brooklyn. First of all, Shaun Livingston, Pierce's comrade in last season's starting five, signed with the Golden State Warriors, leaving Brooklyn with a less desirable returning squad.
More important, though, was head coach Jason Kidd's bizarre power push and subsequent departure to the Milwaukee Bucks. This unexpected turn probably irks Pierce for several reasons. He and Kidd are from the same generation of NBA superstars and appeared to get along well last season. Now, Pierce must mesh with a new coach with whom he is probably less familiar. Pierce and Kidd also share the same agent, who very well could be planting seeds of disapproval in Pierce's ear behind closed doors.
One of the reasons why many figured Pierce would return to the Nets is Brooklyn's ability to pay him upwards of a max contract despite already being over the salary cap. Such spending flexibility was assumed to be Brooklyn's ace in the hole.
But at this point, Pierce, who has made over $180 million in his career, can't be wooed with just a fat paycheck. Pierce wants another ring, and teams like the Rockets and Clippers, each of which boast two bonafide superstars already, may give him a better chance at that dream than the Nets.
2. The Nets Won't Bring Back Andray Blatche
Brooklyn is in a tricky situation as far as its frontcourt depth chart goes. On one hand, the Nets have three solid players all capable of playing center.
Brook Lopez will start, assuming he is healthy, and be one of the focal points of the offense. Kevin Garnett will play both power forward and center, and he'll contribute as much as he can at the age of 38, which will probably boil down to tepid offense but intelligent defense. Finally, Mason Plumlee will provide an athletic spark off the bench.
But the Nets still might need another piece to fit into that rotation. Lopez is coming off an injury, and Garnett hasn't even confirmed that he will return yet. Even if KG does come back, it's not certain that he'll be able to provide more than a handful of minutes per night. That would leave Mason Plumlee to inherit a large responsibility in his sophomore season.
Andray Blatche would seemingly be the answer to this problem. Blatche played well for Brooklyn last season, dropping 11.2 points in 22.2 minutes per game. He's not an old-school center who will power his way to the rim, and his rebounding and shot-blocking skills are mediocre. But he's an inventive scorer and one who helps keep the Nets offense churning.
Brooklyn may be out of the Blatche sweepstakes, though. The most that the Nets can offer him is a four-year deal worth around $26 million, which might not cut it in a market that seems to favor free agents at the moment. With whispers of the Cleveland Cavaliers preparing a max deal for the likes of Gordon Hayward, via ESPN's Brian Windhorst, Blatche may find a pile of money somewhere outside of Brooklyn.
Plus, it seems that both sides aren't terribly interested in prolonging their relationship. Blatche posted an odd Instagram picture to his account that would appear to indicate his departure, via NetsDaily. Meanwhile, general manager Billy King admitted that the team hasn't contacted Blatche about his free agency yet, according to Rod Boone of New York Newsday (h/t James Herbert of CBS Sports). All this adds up to Blatche playing in a different uniform next year.
1. The Nets Will Sign Bojan Bogdanovic
The Nets have owned the rights to Bojan Bogdanovic since the team acquired the Turkish sharpshooter on draft day in 2011. Bogdanovic has yet to play a minute in the NBA, however, as the Nets have chosen in summers past to avoid the necessary buyout from Bogdanovic's Euroleague team.
This month may finally mark the summer in which Bogdanovic, aged 25, crosses the Atlantic Ocean and joins the Brooklyn Nets. Bogdanovic averaged almost 15 points per game in the Euroleague last year and looks ready to take on the heightened challenge of the NBA. Even though he had a down season from beyond the arc, he's proved in years past that he's a quality shooter from the perimeter.
Despite Bogdanovic's talents, his arrival will have more to do with the Nets' other free-agent business than his own play. Brooklyn's original plan was to use their mini mid-level exception on Shaun Livingston, which would allow them to pay Livingston a little over $10 million for three years of service. But Livingston is gone, leaving the Nets without function for their mini mid-level exception.
Moreover, Paul Pierce may choose to sign elsewhere, which would leave a major hole in the Nets' scoring attack. What to do when one stretch power forward with three-point range leaves? Pick up another, which is where Bogdanovic comes in.
Now, it's possible that by the fall, Bogdanovic is still playing overseas. He would have to agree to the Nets' offer, and he may very well enjoy his position in Europe at the moment. But as far as rumors go, this is very believable.