Brooklyn is officially in that most unpredictable period of any team’s season — the off-season — sooner than any of us expected after a disappointing second-round exit, thanks to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Nets plate is full. Decisions, big and small, needed to prepare for a second run at the NBA championship in the 2021-2022 season are coming up fast. Extensions for its “Big Three” of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden are on the table. The front office must decide which of the team’s nine free agents — Spencer Dinwiddie, Bruce Brown, Jeff Green, and Blake Griffin in particular — it wants to bring back. The roster must be improved on the fringes either via trades or with one of the remaining roster spots and an available free agent.
Not to mention the draft!
“Inevitably, there’s going to be change, here. That’s the tough thing with pro sports. You love continuity throughout and so forth, but there’s going to have to be changes. They may not all be because of the decisions that we decide to make. Our players have to make these decisions too. We have multiple players that have whether it’s options on their contract, their free-agent status is up, and so forth,” said Sean Marks. “We’ll come together as a collective group and the opportunity for them and the opportunity for us is to go up there and put the best Brooklyn Nets team forward to start training camp next season.”
Here’s an overview of what was said during the exit pressers from Nets head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks and what to expect during the coming months ahead of teambuilding.
Extensions for the Big Three
The biggest decision of Brooklyn’s summer comes down to its “Big Three.” According to HoopsHype’s Yossi Gozlan, each member of Brooklyn’s superstar troika is eligible for an extension that runs through the 2025-2026 NBA season.
As detailed by Gozlan, Durant is eligible for a four-year, $192.5 million extension; Irving is eligible for a four-year, $181.6 million extension; and Harden is eligible for a three-year, $161.1 million maximum extension. Presenting each of the superstars with that option to extend with the team will be the top-of-the-line responsibility for Sean Marks and the front office.
“It’s probably too early to start discussing what their futures are. Obviously, we’re committed to them,” said Marks. “They play a big role in how we’re going to continue to build this, how we’re going to drive our culture and the identity of our team. I think what you see out there is that when they were healthy, that’s a very, very elite unit and I don’t see any shortage of people wanting to play with them, people wanting to play alongside them.”
Marks astutely noted that the pressure is on the front office to “create an environment” that will entice the “Big Three” into re-signing. Much of that will come down to how Marks handles Brooklyn’s upcoming free agents and core players, which we will touch on momentarily. However, should Brooklyn succeed at extending the Big Three, the Nets suddenly become the go-to destination for quality veterans and high-player role players — and perhaps even future superstars.
“It’s going to be up to us to continue to make Brooklyn an environment where not only do they wanna re-sign, but our free agents want to return to us and future people think, ‘Hey, there’s a heck of an opportunity for me in Brooklyn to play alongside and play along with those high caliber players,’” concluded Marks.
Extending Brooklyn’s trio would put the Nets in range of one of the largest luxury tax payments in NBA history, per Gozlan. However, with an owner willing to spend and the opportunity to count chips with three superstars on long-term deals, that hefty tax bill is more than worth it.
The Future of Joe Harris
Outside of Kevin Durant, there wasn’t a Net that got more spotlight than Joe Harris, though not for a good reason.
Harris ended the regular season shooting a career-high 50.5 percent from the field and a career-high and franchise-record 47.5 percent from three, putting together averages of 14.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game in a career-high 31.0 minutes per game.
Harris had a career year across multiple categories individually and he put his name to multiple Nets franchise records including maybe the biggest accolade in this injury-scarred season. He was Brooklyn’s most durable player (a team-high 69 games played), Still, Harris didn’t come close to meeting expectations in the postseason.
The Nets sharpshooter — who Steve Nash called “a perfect complement to Brooklyn’s “Big Three” — struggled in the postseason and was neutralized when the team needed him most. Harris averaged only 11.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists in the 12 postseason games and his shooting woes in the biggest games have translated to uncertainty involving his future … at least among some fans.
“Obviously I’m disappointed. I wish I’d played better,” said Harris after the season-ending 115-111 Game 7 loss to the Bucks. “There’s a lot of things where you can go back, be a tough critic on yourself, be judgmental. But at the same time, you’ve got to bring more to the table than just one thing. Overall, I wish I would’ve shot more efficiently, help alleviate some of the pressure that other guys were facing.
“But this is the situation that we’re in, and you know, frankly, had I played better, we might be in a little bit of a different spot. So it’s definitely going to be a motivating factor for me in this offseason going forward, just because like a lot of us were talking about in the locker room, this thing is far from over for us.”
Marks spoke on Harris’ struggles in the postseason when taking questions from reporters during Monday’s end-of-season media availability. Marks — the man who inked Harris to a four-year, $75 million contract ($72 million guaranteed) last offseason — is disappointed in Harris’ lack of production in the short-lived postseason but is confident he’ll return to his usual self and be one of the top three-point shooters in the league.
“I think we have to be careful at ‘what you have done for me lately?’ Joe has been a stronghold here for the entire time I’ve been here. I’ve watched him grow. I’ve watched him develop. He’s a huge part of this culture and driving it. We owe a lot of that to who Joe is as a person both on and off the court,” said Marks. “Yes, am I disappointed, for sure but I can not be more disappointed in Joe than he’s already in himself. I know that. He’s taking this tough and difficult and hard and I know he’ll be back to being Joe and shooting lights out that he’s always has been for us.”
The Nets GM said there’s really “no comment” on Harris’ future with the team while backing that up with support for the longest-tenured Net.
“In terms of his future on the team, there’s really no comment on that. Joe is a Brooklyn Net and until otherwise whether that’s his decision or mine, we want to focus on that. We 100 percent support Joe and we’ll be here for him. I expect Joe to bounce back and be the elite three-point shooter that he’s shown for a long time.”
The Future of Spencer Dinwiddie
After suffering a partially torn ACL in the third game of the season, Spencer Dinwiddie never returned to the Nets and remained in California to focus on his rehab despite persistent rumors that he’d join the team in the postseason, at the very least as a spectator.
Shortly following the conclusion of Brooklyn’s postseason, it was reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that the Nets 27-year-old guard is expected to decline his $12.3 million player option this summer, making him an unrestricted free agent as expected.
Dinwiddie is expected to be ready for the start of the 2021-22 season. With demand high for scoring point guards in this offseason’s free agency, Dinwiddie is a proven commodity. One question is whether his ACL injury, his second in seven years will hurt his negotiating position.
Brooklyn has multiple pathways to work with Dinwiddie depending on where the guard wants to end up, as Gozlan from HoopsHype broke it down.
He proved himself of being a starting point guard in the NBA which makes his future in Brooklyn questionable. The Nets may not want to pay Dinwiddie like a starter when he will most likely come off the bench for them when the team is fully healthy. They could look to re-sign him with the plan of trading him later, but that will be very costly for a team already headed towards luxury tax hell.
If Dinwiddie wants to join an over-the-cap team while earning market value, that would require the Nets to cooperate in a sign-and-trade. This could allow Brooklyn to generate a trade exception and potentially get a veteran, young player, or first-round pick. After having such a great experience together these past five seasons, it would be a nice gesture to participate in good business that allows both sides to achieve their goals.
When Marks was asked if Dinwiddie opted out and if a sign-and -trade could be forthcoming, he said he’d deal with that question at some point.
“We’ll deal with Spencer when the time comes. Obviously, Spencer has put himself in a position to secure his future long-term. We’d love to play a role in that whether that’s here or we can help him, but we’ll focus on that at a later date,” said Marks on Dinwiddie.
Brooklyn is no stranger to signing and trading talented point guards. The Nets completed a sign-and-trade that sent D’Angelo Russell to Golden State on a four-year, $117 million deal with the help of Kevin Durant and his camp back in July of 2019 while delivering Treveon Graham, Shabazz Napier, and cash to Minnesota.
The Free Agency Cases of Blake Griffin, Bruce Brown and Jeff Green
The Nets have lots of free agency decisions to make to touch up the edges around the Big Three. Outside of recruiting talent across the league, three valuable role players — Blake Griffin, Bruce Brown and Jeff Green — are all free agents come August.
“Whether they spend a month here or whether they spend years here, it’s always about giving the players everything they possibly can in order to have success on and off the court,” said Marks. “Their families had an enjoyable experience and they look back on their time and say ‘Wow, what a time I had with Brooklyn. What an opportunity. I developed, I grew, and such forth. I’d hope that those three specifically look at this last year and say ‘wow, we fell short but man, what a great experience I had there. I was around some pretty special people. I learned a lot’ and you already heard them in the media saying their time here was special and they enjoyed it.”
“Like us, they are going to have decisions to make and I would love to say the continuity of our group, bring back the whole group. That’ll be great and let’s see if we can stay healthy and go for it again, but I also know that’s unrealistic at this juncture. For us, we’ll have to continue to recruit and hope these guys would like to come back and if the moment is upon us, it’ll be great. We’ll go from there,” Marks added on Griffin, Brown and Green.
Blake Griffin arrived with many questions hovering over him about whether he could still be a valuable player even if the six-time NBA All-Star had already surpassed his peak. One thing is for certain, Griffin made the most of his opportunity in his limited run with the Nets.
“I’m still happy with my decision [to come to Brooklyn]. The game ended an hour ago so I have not even thought about that,” said Griffin following the Nets Game 7 defeat to the Bucks.
The veteran forward provided Brooklyn with hard-nosed grit and physicality — leading the league in charges (22) — while somewhat patching up Brooklyn’s size disadvantage on the boards. His play concluded with averages 15.3 points on 58.1 percent shooting from the field and 43.8 percent from three to go with 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists across 26 games (10 starts) in 21.5 minutes during the regular season.
Michael Scotto of HoopsHype spoke to rival executives around the league regarding Griffin’s value in free agency.
“I think Griffin could be worth a little more than the taxpayer mid-level exception or around $6 million,” one NBA executive told HoopsHype.
Another executive pegged Griffin’s value closer to the $3-5 million range, which is closer in value to the bi-annual exception and the room mid-level exception.
“Blake has a lot of money coming next year,” an executive said. “I’m guessing he prioritizes the situation over money.”
In fact, money may not matter much at all at least for next season. Whatever money he gets will be deducted from what the Pistons owe him, $29.8 million.
Bruce Brown — acquired from Detroit via trade last season — carved out a significant role throughout the regular season and postseason for Brooklyn in his first year as a Net on both ends of the ball. Brown split time as a starter (37 games) and a reserve off the bench, serving as a crafty undersized center. In fact, the Nets went 31-10 when he started and 21-8 when he finished in double-figures.
“I hope I’m here. I know my contract is up, but I hope I’m staying in Brooklyn. I love playing with these guys. They made me better this year,” said Brown, who is set to become a restricted free agent.
Brooklyn found great success with Brown in the high-post and the short-pick-and-roll in their star-studded offense, forming a signature floater at the nail while mixing it up in the paint. On the defensive end, the 6’4” guard didn’t back down from guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter options among other key aspects.
“Bruce is a winner. We love him, and he fights, he’s tireless, great defensively, and a great performance by him all season long,” said Nash of Brown.
“I had so much fun playing with Blake and Bruce [Brown],” said Kevin Durant after the Game 7 defeat. “They make the game so much easier for everybody. Bruce being a 6-foot-4 guard mixing it up in the paint like that and Blake coming off so many injuries, giving us his all, starting for us at center in the playoffs. I’ve got nothing but respect for those guys. It’s a joy and an honor to take the court with them every day.”
There is no question Brown had the best season of his short NBA career in Brooklyn. The 6’4” guard averaged 8.8 points on 55.6 percent shooting from the field and 28.8 percent from three to go with 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 22.3 minutes of play. His breakout play forged career-highs in offensive rating (115.9), defensive rating (112.4), and net rating (3.5).
Scotto also spoke to executives around the league that provided their opinions on Brown’s value heading into his restricted free agency.
According to rival NBA executives, Brown’s value could range anywhere from $4-7 million annually. There’s a belief he’s valued more highly in Brooklyn and may not fit well in a different role elsewhere due to his unique role with the Nets.
“Brown will get less than the taxpayer mid-level exception,” an NBA executive told HoopsHype. “He’s a 6-foot-4 power forward for Brooklyn. Not many teams can use him like that.”
“He’s not a good fit for most teams,” another executive told HoopsHype. “Nash has used him brilliantly.”
“Brown is playing like a $10 million player,” a third executive told HoopsHype. “I don’t think he gets that much. Maybe he gets $5-7 million.”
Would the Nets pay him at the upper end of that scale? It depends. There is a number that would break the deal. Where it is is TBA.
Brooklyn got their best bang for the buck with Jeff Green this season. Green — who played on the veteran’s minimum (1-year deal worth $2,564,753) — served as the Nets glue guy while having an eventful career year. The Nets forward was used as Brooklyn’s primary stretch-five and was the second-most durable player on the roster, playing in 68 out of the 72 regular-season games.
Green had a lot of familiar faces in his corner during the 2020-21 season. From Mike D’Antoni to James Harden and Kevin Durant, the veteran forward shot career-highs from the field (.492) and from three (.412) to go with an offensive rating of 116.1 (career-high), defensive rating of 112.8, and a net rating of 3.3 — that’s without mentioning all of the poster dunks and electrifying slams.
“Everybody knows how much I loved it here. I love the people here. The fans are amazing. The personnel on this team, coaches, trainers, everybody knows how much I love them individually and my time here,” said Green on playing for Brooklyn.
While Green is set to test the free-agent market, Scotto also spoke to executives about what type of money and security the veteran forward could be expecting.
“Green and Griffin probably won’t get more than the bi-annual exception,” one executive projected.
“I think Green will be a tax-payer mid-level exception guy,” another executive countered.
Teams can begin negotiating with free agents on Monday, August 2 at 6:00 PM ET, and singings will begin on Friday, August 6 at 12:01 PM ET.
Before that, the Nets will be working on the Draft. The Nets have four picks, one first and three seconds, the most since Marks joined the team in 2016. What happens with the Draft could very well determine what else the Nets do at the fringes … unless he pulls another Draft Night deal. Marks has not been afraid to trade a pick for vets.