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Salary Series: Brooklyn Heights



Welcome back to the Business Casual Basketball "Salary Series."

In these weekly posts, we will take a look at a particular player or team with an interesting salary structure.

For example, certain contracts around the league have with interesting incentives, rare escalating, or declining dollar amounts, or vary significantly from typical market value.

When it comes to teams, there will be a deep dive on their spending habits, how they got to their current position, and what they can do take advantage of their spending power. Conversely, if they are deep into luxury tax territory, we will look at what they can do to mitigate the damage as much as possible, both short-term and long-term.

This week we will be looking at the Brooklyn Nets financial flexibility that has developed due to smart decisions and a quick rise during the 2018-2019 season.

Let's get into it.

Contrary to what you might believe, there is always a way out.

There is a way out of suffering, no matter how deep the void. The Brooklyn Nets are a living testament to the impact that hard work, ingenuity, and a little luck can have on ones upside down fortunes.

See not too long ago, the Nets were all but lost. In 2013, Brooklyn acquired Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White from the Boston Celtics in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans and their unprotected first-round draft picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 via ESPN.com. Players were flying all over the place, honestly. (For more information regarding how the Celtics fared in this trade, please check out the Boston Salary series post here.)

You know the story. Brooklyn rode a high of optimism in their new and hype in their new arena all the way to the second round of the 2014 playoffs, where they met their merciful end at the hands of LeBron and the Miami Heat. They shouldn't feel bad about this loss...many men stronger than over the hill KG and Paul Pierce have tried and failed to best LeBron James in the Eastern Conference playoffs. What is indefensible however, would have to be the trade itself. Billy King shot for the stars when looking for big names to supplement Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.

Let's not forget that Deron Williams and JJ came with a heavy cost as well. The Nets sold off talented young players like Derrick Favors and Devin Harris to acquire the former Jazz guard. Joe was brought on board for the measly price of Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, DeShawn Stevenson, Jordan Williams, their 2017 2nd round pick and 2013 1st round pick. Ok, so it wasn't so measly. Big names don't come cheap. Ever. Did you notice how many picks have been involved to this point? As is the case in any legitimate pursuit of instant gratification, all of the sacrifice came back to collect rent. Similar to buying an expensive item with your fancy credit card, you gotta pay up eventually. And boy did that team PAY UP. At the time, Brookyln faced luxury tax bills that were unprecedented in quantity. Joe Johnson and Deron Williams combined to make around $40 million together. It may not seem like too much today where top tier players are getting $35 million by themselves. But remember the salary cap was significantly lower then. $40 million was over half of the teams' salary cap. Mikhail Prokhorov, the teams owner at the time, was probably breathing through a brown bag when he was delivered the final tax amount by the league office.

The worst part about the Nets situation back then was the success creating by the 'Big 3" had a short shelf live. By the 2015-2016 season, They had already bottomed out at 21 wins. Not exactly a successful gamble. Probably isn't worth giving up your future for a few early playoff exits. Regardless, that is the gamble Brooklyn took and they had to live with the consequences. A dark cloud hovered over the franchise and all hope was lost...for awhile.

These days, the forecasts for Brooklyn are looking quite a bit rosier. Currently, they sit at 6th place in the East with a 28-25 record. FiveThirtyEight's projections estimate them finishing with a playoff birth and a 40-42 record. Truthfully, we have to view that win total as a worst-case scenario. If they maintain their current pace, they should be able to reach 45 wins. The fact that this team has been able to solidify their place in the playoff picture this quickly is nothing short of spectacular. Their odds of reaching the postseason according to FiveThirtyEight: 83%. Very solid. They have not owned their own 1st round pick in several years and the picks they have been able to snag from willing partners have not been of very high quality. Their back was against the wall, so they certainly had to get creative with how they stockpiled young talent. Basically, Brooklyn followed the roadmap of the Process Era Sixers, just much less extreme.

Necessary Baggage

When you are not a free agent destination and you have no draft picks of your own, the only other options are to -

A. acquire unproven players and low 1st round/2nd round picks by taking on negative contracts attached to them or

B. Search for a diamond in the rough by utilizing the G League and working through trades.

Glancing at their cap sheet, the two most expensive players are obviously overpaid.

1. Allen Crabbe - $15,500,000 with a player option for next season for the same value

2. DeMarre Carroll - $15,400,000 expiring contract (He comes off the books this Summer)

Ironically, Brooklyn originally offered Crabbe that contract in 2016, but Portland matched it. *Shrugs*

This contract was a terrible offer on Brooklyn's behalf looking back, but in the last 12 months, they've handed out much more reasonable deals. This is part of the reason they have experiences so much success this season and remain flexible going forward.

Smart Extensions

Joe Harris

"One mans trash is another mans treasure." That's how the saying goes, right? Well Joe has transformed his image in short order. The Cavaliers were in the midst of a legendary run when they drafted Harris and quickly discarded him. They didn't have time for tedious matters like player development. Maybe they should have been a little more patient.

So far this season, Joe has solidified himself as one of the premier shooters in our league. It might as well be the second coming of JJ Redick. He's shooting a scorching 46% on three points on five attempts per game. This isn't likely to be a fluke either. He has improved his accuracy every season going from 38% two years ago to 41% last season. Surprisingly, he is shooting 52% inside the arc, so he is far from a one trick pony- he's not afraid to finish among the trees either. He found his calling card and it grabbed him a nice payday last year. He was awarded a two-year, $16 million contract for his efforts. He is a huge asset on that deal considering his accuracy and consistency. He is already 27, but considering he takes care of his body like his counterpart Redick, he should be plenty effective well into his 30's.

For Brooklyn, this is a huge asset. If a disgruntled player becomes available, he is very tradable on a short term contract that's barely worth the league average. On the other hand, $8.3 million (decreases to $7.6 million next season) is small enough that it won't complicate matters if BKN goes hard after a free agent like Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard in a few months. More on that in a minute.

Spencer Dinwiddie

Oh, Spencer. Started at the bottom and now he's here! This former 2nd round pick started off his career by getting cut by Detroit and Chicago and is now armed with a three-year, $34.4 million deal.

With season averages of 17ppg, 2.5reb, and 5ast, gives you the numbers of a Eric Gordon or a Lou Williams. It's easy to forget that the guy is 6-6. With that elite PG size, he can finish over many players at his position and find passing lanes closed to the average lead guard. At this stage, he is a fine starting guard or backup and can even play off the ball a bit. Very impressive. Brooklyn had the task of re-upping one or both of their guards who have taken huge steps forward in their short time with the team. By extending Dinwiddie, it broadcast to the entire association that they have made their decision. Or did it. We'll have to see about D'Angelo. He is an All-Star for first time this season and making a run for Most Improved Player. If outside offers get too rich in free agency though, Dinwiddie is a fine choice to move forward with.

So remember those "low value" draft picks that were mentioned earlier? Well, they have certainly panned out so far.

Ideal Drafting

Jarrett Allen

Jarett Allen has been making waves in his 2nd NBA season. He is the immovable force that has somehow blocked Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Giannis, and Blake Griffin at the rim at some point. That's quite the hit list. At some point, most likely next year, we'll have to have some serious discussions about what he is due on his next contract, cause it will be substantial and could give the Nets a challenge to deal with money wise if they sign someone big between now and then. Clint Capela type money is in the realm of possibility. For now, the Brooklyn staff can look on and simile without a single worry as the man with the fro continues to lock down the paint. According to Cleaning the Glass, opponents are shooting 3.7% worse at the rim when he is in the game than when he's on the bench. As far as his block rate is concerned, he has ranked in the 80th percentile or higher in both of his seasons so far. In an age where rim protection has become a premium, he will play a critical role in how far his team advances in the future. Rookie deals are already a massive market inequality in the NBA and because Allen was drafted 22nd overall, its an even bigger advantage. For perspective, Markelle Futlz, the number one pick in the 2017 draft is making $8,339,880 this season.

Allen is making slightly over $2 million.

Nuff said.

Rodions Kurucs

If you have no clue who this player is, fear not. He has taken 99% of the league by surprise. Kurucs was taken with the 40th pick that Brooklyn owned last Summer. He hails from Latvia, the same home of the recently traded Kristaps Porzingis. With an increased workout that has developed in the face of LeVert's injury, he has averaged 24.8 minutes and started 24 of the last 25 games. It is likely you don't care much about this foreign contributor, so just know this. He is a 6-9 versatile wing with a hilariously small contract worth $1.6 million. That is actually almost identical to Dinwiddie's contract. The Nets have really gotten good at making the most of what they have. If he continues on this encouraging path, Kurucs will be a cheap, useful player for Brooklyn the next three years of his rookie deal.

Caris LeVert

LeVert is currently injured with no timeline to return, but he is worth mentioning here. Prior to the unfortunate setback, LeVert was averaging 18 points per game as its quite possible he would have ended up as the All-Star representative for this team instead of Russell. In an unsurprising development , LeVert was signed to an extremely team friendly deal worth roughly the same as Allen's. His main area of growth this season was his mid-range shooting and finishing. HIs 2 point percentage is up over 6% from last year and he has learned to use his 6-7 frame quite when attacking the basket. Yet another promising player Brooklyn will be employing for the foreseeable future.

Pivotal Offseason

So where does that leave this squad? In a substantially better place than they were four years ago. Let their quest be an inspiration to all the teams who may lose their way now or in the future.

At this moment, Brooklyn only has $77.8 million on the books that puts them way under the salary cap limit of $101,869,000. In reality, it is much less than that. There is another element of a team's cap sheet called "dead money." This is salary that counts towards the cap, but the players who are owed this money are not actually on the roster. This happens as a result of waving and stretching out a players contract. Not too long ago, the Nets realized that it made no sense to have a deteriorating Deron Williams on the roster, so they basically paid him to leave. Seems cruel in some respects, but hey, its a business. Fortunately, they played their cards right when assembling the rest of the roster and still find themselves between the salary cap ceiling and the luxury tax. Good stuff.

Things open up even more for next season. Even if Allen Crabbe opts into his contract for next season (he will), the Nets could be looking at over $30 million in available space to sign free agents. The final number could vary significantly depending on which of their own free agents they decide to keep and which ones they move on from. The biggest piece to this puzzle will be Russell, who could command a near max contract in free agency due to his excellent play as of late. His immense potential has been realized and a few teams seeking PG assistance could see even more growth in his future. At age 22, that is still a real possibility. Not many players hit their peak before their late 20's. At some point, the gamble won't be worth the risk and the Nets will decline to match the offer sheet given by another team. Even if the offers aren't too rich, Russell could become a casualty of big game hunting. Elite free agents like Kyrie Irving would definitely be more appealing than a 4th year guard just now hitting his stride.

The great thing about Brooklyn's situation is that they can't really lose here. Either they strike out on the big names, but maintain a strong core and trade assets, or they sign a impact player and instantly become a dangerous threat in the conference. They will be able to open up one max slot worth around $35 million pretty easily and if they really go to town and shed salary, it could end up being two. They have six expiring contracts and two more that are non-guaranteed. Flexibility is finally on Brooklyn's side. The preferred destinations of stars is often a good measuring stick when attempting to find the teams who building a solid foundation. Jimmy Butler mentioned before he was traded to the Sixers that the Nets appealed to him and he would consider signing there long term. What a compliment!

Boasting not one, but TWO 1st round picks (acquired one from Denver) in the upcoming draft, this team is ready and willing to make a splash in some form. Time will tell exactly what that looks like, but if this management group is willing to learn from past mistakes, this unit will be elevating themselves to legit title contender status very soon.

Sooner than anyone could have imagined.

Coming next week - The Clippers are Ready to Set Sail


 
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