Offseason preview: Brooklyn Nets hope to return to contention after disappointing season

The Brooklyn Nets entered the training camp last offseason with the hope of making the next step in the NBA playoffs and winning the West after falling to the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2021 postseason.

Their hopes and dreams for winning the first title in the history of the franchise failed early as they never got to find much-needed chemistry during the season. Kyrie Irving vaccination status undermined the team’s star power.

James Harden was unhappy in Brooklyn and got traded to Philadelphia in the February deadline. At the same time, Kevin Durant explosive start to the season that led Brooklyn to a top-4 seed was stopped by an injury that kept him out for weeks.

The Nets deal with a lot of off-court drama starting with Kyrie and finishing with shipping James Harden to the Sixers for Ben Simmons, who never played a game in the season after sitting out in Philadelphia and having injury issues in Brooklyn.

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Harden dealt with conditioning and hamstring issues, and reportedly became frustrated by Irving’s inconsistent availability. Health issues also impacted sharpshooter Joe Harris, who was limited to just 14 appearances due to a troublesome ankle injury.

Brooklyn ended up with a 44-38 record and won their first and only play-in game vs Cleveland, but they never really looked like a team capable of winning a championship throughout the season.

Steve Nash dealt with a lot of adversity and the Nets used a huge amount of different lineups, suffering from inconsistency in both ends of the floor. Their defense fell apart this year and their bench lacked reliable role players for a large chunk of it.

This offseason, they will have to add more defense around their stars and secure that Kyrie Irving (if he re-signs or opt in) and Ben Simmons will be available for the most of the next season after playing sporadically or not at all last year.

Cap Situation in Offseason

General Manager Sean Marks will have a lot of work to do this summer with six players being under contract for the next season. Things start for the Nets with Kyrie Irving this summer.

The star guard has a $36.9 million option in his current deal, per Spotrac. If he opts out, the Nets does not have the money to replace Irving minus a sign and trade deal. The only thing they can do is offer a max deal and hope that he will be available.

Irving is not expected to face any issues with vaccination status from now on. However, he has been injury prone the last couple of years, and he’s gradually entering the latter part of his career at 30 years old.

Still, the Nets do not have the cap to sign a player like Irving in the free agency with the contracts of Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons, who combined for $78.2 million in the Nets’ salary cap next season.

Seth Curry, Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, Day’Ron Sharpe, Ben Simmons, Cameron Thomas will be the six players under contract next season. Veteran guard Patrick Mills and Irving have to make a decision on a player option this offseason.

Brooklyn will have the Taxpayer MLE. Last year, that got them a productive player in Patty Mills. They probably look to take an aggressive approach, as the Nets can offer a rotation spot, in addition to the $6.4 million MLE.

The Nets also have two trade exceptions from James Harden trade ($11,306,904) and DeAndre Jordan ($6,267,918), while they have the 23rd pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. The 2022 pick will be deferred to the Philadelphia 76ers, as Brooklyn decided earlier this offseason.

Potential Free Agents, Trade Candidates

The Nets will seed 10 players entering the free agent market this offseason if Patty Mills and Kyrie Irving opt out from their last year of their deals. Brooklyn has some big free agent decisions to make.

Bruce Brown Jr. played out last season on the qualifying offer and he‚Äôs now an unrestricted free agent. Brown was the best defender in the Brooklyn’s roster last season and a cheap replacement of what he offers in the both ends of the floor.

Nic Claxton falls in the same category, as he’s the best big in the roster and an improving player in a roster that has limited cap space to add a good replacement. Andre Drummond will probably demand more than the MLE taxpayer after a good season as back-up.

The Nets can match any offer for Claxton, but, Drummond will be free to join the team that will pay him more. Both Claxton and Brown re-signings will add a huge amount of money in the¬† Brooklyn’s already skyrocketing salary situation.

A way to create space for both Claxton and Brown will be parting ways with sharpshooter Joe Harris, who the Nets had under contract on two years and $38.5 million. With Seth Curry in the team, the Harris’ contract becomes a luxury for the Nets.

As far as which team could be interested in acquiring a piece like Harris, his value is on an all-time low, but it’s a gamble that can pay off if for a contending teams if healthy. Curry has one more year on his contract worth half the value of Harris’ deal.

Kyrie Irving will likely be the biggest story of the offseason for the Nets. If the right sign-and-trade opportunity arises, perhaps Irving and the Nets would be open to pursuing it. However, Kyrie has given no indication he wants to leave.

More important, Durant chose to play for the Nets in the summer of 2019 because of Kyrie’s willingness to join Brooklyn. In any case, it will be difficult to pursue a deal for Irving if Durant believes and he and the mercurial point guard can win together.

Brooklyn does not have the flexibility to replace the value of Kyrie, so maybe this is the right time for Irving to enter negotiations for a new contract by opting out of the last year of his current deal.

Epilogue

The Nets will hope to enter the conversation for a championship next season. However, they will need consistent play from Irving and maybe Simmons, who can address many of the team’s struggles in the defensive end.

Irving and Simmons will need to play on a high standard and avoid off court drama with Kevin Durant alongside them. The Nets will have to decide whether their current crop of free agents (Brown, Claxton, Mills (if opts out)) can help the team in order to keep them.

More importantly, the rest Eastern Conference teams will likely remain at the same level roster-wise as the Celtics, Bucks and Heat have the core locked for the next few seasons. Sean Marks will likely have a tough time if the Nets do not improve dramatically.

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