As the eyes of many NBA fans shift towards the postseason, some front office executives are thinking about how they can improve the fates of their franchises that are not currently vying for postseason play. The pre-draft process is filled with tons of scouting, evaluation periods, internal discussion and workouts for some of the hopeful rookies that want a spot in the NBA.
Taking the drafting needs and picks into consideration, financial considerations can paint the biggest picture to what decisions will be made beyond the draft. Trading some players, utilizing cap space for taking on others, and preparing for free agency all are highly informed by the team's salary situations – after all, the NBA is a business.
Both teams in the Big Apple are in the midst of formative periods for their rebuilds. On one hand the Brooklyn Nets, who are turning the corner soon from a painful period in the failed superteam era, will see the summer of 2018 as their last without their own first-round pick. The New York Knicks, on the other hand, have more salary on their books to handle, a coaching vacancy and their best player perhaps missing most of next season with a torn ACL.
2017-18 Record: 28-54
2018 Draft Picks: 29th (from TOR), 40th (from LAL), 45th (from IND)
Restricted Free Agents: SG Nik Stauskas
Unrestricted Free Agents: SG Joe Harris, F Dante Cunningham, F Quincy Acy, C Jahlil Okafor
Other Players of Note: G Isaiah Whitehead (non-guaranteed contract)
Committed Salary: $84,319,551
Cap Space: $16.68m
The Nets have five free agents coming off the books, and will have at least $16.7 million to re-sign them or replace them with. Chief among those players is Joe Harris, an unrestricted free agent that shot 40 percent from deep this season. He thrived under Kenny Atkinson in a role similar to Kyle Korver with the Atlanta Hawks, albeit a minor version. Also playing well for Brooklyn was Dante Cunningham, whom the Nets acquired at the trade deadline for next to nothing. The veteran Cunningham may look to move onto a win-now environment, but he'd be welcomed back in Barclays thanks to his frontcourt versatility.
Beyond those two, the Nets have some questions to answer with the rest of their free agents. Jahlil Okafor was somewhat underwhelming in Brooklyn, and with Jarrett Allen playing so well for the Nets it's not a guarantee that he comes back. The same goes for Nik Stauskas, a restricted free agent unlikely to get a ton of traction elsewhere. Quincy Acy, who does a lot of the dirty work for the Nets, may be a veteran that moves onto greener pastures as well – and a guy the Nets don't want to break their cap space and flexibility to retain.
Order of Operations:
1. Draft Day: Take a High-Upside Player
Brooklyn holds three draft selections between 29 and 45, an area where they can grab some decent depth or a European draft-and-stash prospect. Look for the Nets to take one swing-for-the-fences prospect as well as one that can score the ball and projects as an offensive weapon.
2. Establish timelines with 2019 marquee free agents
The summer of 2019 will be crucial for the Nets, who finally will hold their own draft pick and could have north of $60 mill in cap space. They have three key free agents that summer: restricted free agents Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and D'Angelo Russell, and unrestricted free agent Spencer Dinwiddie. Russell and RHJ are extension-eligible this summer, but if the Nets want to keep their space and flexibility for next summer to chase some big-name free agents. If one is extended, it's likely it is Hollis-Jefferson to around $10.5 million per year.
Dinwiddie is a bit of a different story. He'll be extension eligible on December 9th, where the max deal Brooklyn can offer him would be a four-year, $45 million deal. But Dinwiddie will have a small cap hold on the books for next summer as an unrestricted free agent, so while he's the best player of the Nets' own 2019 free agents, he's also the one who would be least advantageous for the organization to extend.
Marks and company don't want to chase big fish next summer and lose some of the youth development they've put into these three guys, but do need to at least maintain their flexibility for next season. They don't need to rush any extensions right now, but if they have plans in place with agents and open dialogues for when to explore those deals (extensions for Russell and RHJ can be signed any date through October)
3. Find a new home for Jeremy Lin
The emergence of Spencer Dinwiddie created a good problem for the Nets organization, albeit a problem nonetheless. Lin is coming off a season-ending injury suffered in December, and is signed to $12.52 million for next season, coming off the books in 2019. While the Nets want to preserve their 2019 cap space, they could easily find a home for Lin around the league from teams that need a backup point guard.
4. Maximize Cap Space
Hand-in-hand with the Lin trade would be utilizing the team's cap space expertly. Part of that could mean retaining Joe Harris and eating into the approximately $15m likely remaining after the draft. The other part of the equation is keeping space open long-term, and while Lin is an expiring contract, Marks should be weary of eating back additional years and salary unless getting other forms of compensation.
The Nets will finagle their finances with cap holds to operate as a de facto over-the-cap team – that will afford them the full MLE exception ($8.8 million) instead of just the room exception ($4.54 million). This would include keeping the holds on all their players and extending a qualifying offer to Stauskas – valued at around $5.1 million. They only have until July 11th to pull that offer though, so the Nets would have to act quick to operate as an over-the-cap team and take that full MLE into consideration.
Brooklyn is one of the few teams this summer with actual cap space, and they'll be foolish not to leverage it to their strengths somehow. However, because that space is so rare around the league, their asking price for long-term money absorption should be pretty high. Expect Marks to keep that space open as long as he can in July just to find the best ways to utilize it, and if he can't do so this summer, he may elect to keep flexibility until the trade deadline in February.
5. Fill out the rest of the roster
Brooklyn shouldn't push their timetable forward too much after a 28-win season. They aren't a team that should chase veterans on the market, nor match high offers for guys like Acy, Cunningham and even Harris. The two players acquired from Philadelphia this winter, Jah Okafor and Nik Stauskas, could come back on minimum contracts. The Nets can also cut Isaiah Whitehead and save a few hundred-thousand dollars if they find a more useful way to add depth.
New York Knicks
2017-18 Record: 29-53
2018 Draft Picks: 9th, 37th (from Chicago)
Restricted Free Agents: none
Unrestricted Free Agents: F Michael Beasley, PG Jarrett Jack
Other Players of Note: C Enes Kanter ($18.6m player option), C Kyle O'Quinn ($4.25m player option), SG Ron Baker ($4.54m player option)
Committed Salary: $101,517,056
Cap Space: -$517k
New York is in full-on rebuild mode, as a young team that's struggled over the last few years finally received the seal of approval from owner James Dolan to blow things up a bit. That assurance likely came after franchise star Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL this February, meaning he'll likely miss a large chunk of next season as well.
The Knicks aren't afforded a great deal of cap space either, with a few players eating into it a great deal. The large contracts of Joakim Noah, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter, in combination with an impending maximum extension for Porzingis, limit the Knicks ability to make many moves beyond finding veteran retreads looking for another shot to prove they're NBA-caliber players.
Order of Operations
1. Find a new head coach
Whoever the Knicks hire will have to understand there's a great deal of patience needed to finish the job. New York's market probably dictates they don't take a very small name or even a first-time coach that doesn't have inroads to the Big Apple. But there are plenty of quality names out there for the Knicks to grab. Frankly, David Blatt would be the perfect fit here, as he has the time to put in his type of system with a younger team and be a great offense-builder around the uniquely talented Porzingis.
2. Nail the draft
The Knicks have a top-ten selection, a need to find another high-impact player and few resources to move up and make a splash higher in the lottery. This draft has a fairly clear top ten guys or so, and the Knicks will be drafting on the lower end of that spectrum. That could mean only big guys fall to them there – at which point the organization must figure out what they can do to unload Enes Kanter and Joakim Noah (we'll get to that later).
Villanova wing Mikal Bridges, Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr. and Oklahoma guard Trae Young are all drastically different types of player that could slide down to the Knicks and change the way they rebuild their roster to a certain extent. One thing is certain though: the Knicks have to get this pick right if they want their rebuild to go smoothly and quickly.
3. Sell low, if need be, on Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah
The Knicks have some key decisions to make with their two most expensive veterans on their books for next year. Starting with Noah, he and the team have been at odds all year long and want to part ways, but cannot agree on a buyout number. The Knicks won't waive and stretch Noah's contract, as it is simply too much dead weight to carry (he's guaranteed $37.8 million the next two seasons, and stretching that would add around $6.5 million to the cap sheet).
Noah could look around as if he were a free agent this summer, and once he finds a new deal he likes accept a lower buyout from the Knicks. If the Knicks can find a way to orchestrate some sort of trade or buyout though, they should do so as long as the cap number beyond this year is significantly below that $6.5 million mark.
Courtney Lee on the other hand is coming off a fantastic season and has a lot of value around the league. But others are calling New York's bluff on Lee, who have held a high asking price since the early parts of the winter for the 3-and-D veteran. He's owed $25 million over the next two campaigns, a high mark for a bench role player to most playoff teams. The Knicks may have to eat a little more salary than they'd like in order to get Lee off the books, but there are appropriate deals out there for the Knicks to get rid of both and drastically change their long-term cap projections.
4. Deal with Enes Kanter & Kyle O'Quinn fallout
Further complicating the relationship with Joakim Noah and draft prospects is the possibility that the Knicks could be without a center on next year's roster. Kanter has been thought of as a player that would opt-in, as he wouldn't get $18.6 million elsewhere on the market for next year. However, he thoroughly enjoyed his year in New York, where he had perhaps the most productive season of his professional career. Should Kanter opt-out and look for a long-term deal, the Knicks might be forced to retain him due to his Bird rights and the trade doors it opens down the line.
O'Quinn is a 50-50 player to return, as his player option amount is roughly similar to what he'd command on the market. With Porzingis out, my guess is that he returns and hopes to cash in on the lack of frontcourt depth the Knicks have and parlay that into more money in a more robust 2019 market. Of course, the Knicks drafting a big would throw a wrench in those plans, and with both having until June 29th to make decisions on their options, the Knicks will be guessing until free agency opens.
5. Find the retread free agents
Michael Beasley and Trey Burke quietly had awesome campaigns for the Knicks on minimum contracts, and have proven themselves to be decent fits with the organization moving forward. New York needs to thrive on this type of find this summer, and that could mean retaining Beasley. The team won't have a lot of free agents to replace no matter what happens, but should look to find guys coming off their rookie contracts with something to prove on one-year, minimum deals to fill out the roster.
From across the city in Brooklyn, Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas fit that profile, as do Kevon Looney, Alex Len, Josh Huestis, Pat Connaughton, Wade Baldwin IV, and Glenn Robinson III.
Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD).