Where Do the Nets Go From Here?
LeBron James? No.
Dwight Howard? No.
The Nets’ dream of arriving in Brooklyn with a big-name free agent under their arm is nearly dead. Up until Howard decided to remain with the Orlando Magic right before the trade deadline, the team seemingly had its prize. They would pick up Howard on their way from New Jersey to Brookyn’s Barclays Center this offseason, and in doing so, entice point guard Deron Williams to remain with the franchise.
But Howard didn’t opt for free agency, instead deciding to remain in Orlando for another year (considering his recent back injury, that might be a blessing for the Nets). However, league sources have repeatedly told HOOPSWORLD that retaining Williams was never contingent on adding Howard. Rather, general manager Billy King needs to put together a competitive roster or Williams will assuredly sign elsewhere after declining his player option this summer.
Of course, injuries prevented the Nets from fielding a competitive team this season (for those who are critical of the franchise, remember that last year’s leading scorer, Brook Lopez, barely played) and King may have compounded the problems by dealing the team’s first pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for Gerald Wallace. Now, the pick is top-three protected, but Wallace has his own player option.
That means the chances of keeping Wallace and Williams are better if they end up retaining that pick. In other words, the NBA Draft Lottery could be King’s last chance at bringing a winner into Brooklyn.
Only Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, MarShon Brooks and Jordan Williams are signed through next season. As previously mentioned, Deron Williams and Wallace have player options—as does Jordan Farmar—and Brook Lopez will be a restricted free agent.
Now that Howard is staying in Orlando, it seems the Nets will bring back Lopez (they can match any offer) and obviously they’ll hope to retain Wallace and Deron Williams.
Beyond that, the priority will be re-signing Gerald Green—who has averaged 13.1 points per game on 48.8 percent field goal shooting after being signed out of the D-League—and possibly Sundiata Gaines and Kris Humphries as well. Gaines is good insurance at point guard—and he’s friends with Williams—while Humphries would only be signed in the event the team doesn’t add anyone else at power forward.
Armon Johnson was also signed for the remainder of this season, and if there’s a roster spot it’s not impossible for him to return.
Remember, the Nets still have the draft rights to Bojan Bogdanovic, but it’s not clear if he’ll be headed to the NBA in 2012 or 2013. The 6-7 Bosnian forward can hit 3-pointers (41.1 percent in 16 Euroleague games and 34.5 percent in 28 Turkish League games) but struggles on the boards.
As ESPN.com’s Chad Ford reported back in March, the Nets traded the pick with a top-three protection because they’re only enamored with three players in this current draft class: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Thomas Robinson.
If the two Kentucky Wildcats and the Kansas Jayhawk aren’t available, they were apparently fine with the idea of addressing their needs through free agency and later draft picks.
Remember, the Nets have the Rockets’ top-14 protected pick and the Miami HEAT’s second-round pick, but since Houston has fallen on hard times recently, King might not have any first-round picks to work with.
It goes without saying that the Nets would be overjoyed to pick in the top three (Robinson, Kidd-Gilchrist or Davis would all make great additions) but if they’re able to use Houston’s pick, expect them to try to add depth, most likely at center where UNC’s Tyler Zeller and Illinois’ Meyers Leonard are possibilities. Also, don’t count out Fab Melo of Syracuse.
The Golden State Warriors will receive the Nets’ second-round pick, so that means King will likely be making one of the last selections of the entire draft. So let’s toss out a few shots in the dark here: Dusan Cantekin (7-4 center from Serbia), Ognjen Kuzmic (7-1 Bosnian center) or Tu Holloway (6-0 point guard out of Xavier).
Like everything with the Nets, free agency is largely predicated on what Deron Williams ends up doing. If he leaves, let’s say for the Dallas Mavericks, the team will be forced to look at point guards.
Raymond Felton and Andre Miller would be two good short-term options, but Rockets point guard Goran Dragic is an unrestricted free agent and at only 25 years old, he promises to improve.
Jonny Flynn would be another longer-term option than Felton or Miller.
There’s also the chance restricted free agent such as George Hill, D.J. Augustin or Jerryd Bayless are obtainable. If the Nets are without Williams, those are three options are definitely worth exploring. However, given his defensive ability, decision-making skills and the fact that the Rockets already have Kyle Lowry, Dragic makes the most sense.
The Nets struggled to get production at small forward for most of the year, but once again, if Wallace decides to stay and they can re-sign Green—who has hinted he’d take a discount—King won’t need to address the position. If one or both players leave, J.R. Smith (who has a player option with the Knicks that he’ll likely decline), restricted free agent Nic Batum or even the New York’s Steve Novak are possibilities.
The biggest opportunity lies at power forward. Kevin Garnett and Ersan Ilyasova are unrestricted free agents while Michael Beasley, former Net Ryan Anderson and J.J. Hickson are all restricted. Of course, Humphries could always be brought back as well.
And even if the Nets do retain Lopez, they could look to improve upon Johan Petro as the backup. Robin Lopez, Brook’s brother, will be a restricted free agent while Omer Asik, Semih Erden, Greg Stiemsma, Kyrylo Fesenko and Hasheem Thabeet will all be unrestricted.
In case you haven’t guessed, the Nets are a bit of a blank slate for next year.
It’s impossible to judge Avery Johnson on what he’s been given, which is a roster that’s completely riddled with injuries. He’s still just 47 and he’s compiled a 46-99 record with the team, but he’s also been forced to use a different roster almost every night.
And in over a year of having talents like Lopez and Williams, Johnson has rarely had both players at the same time, and that’s why the team has never come close to reaching its potential.
Making any decision on Johnson’s future would really be unfair, especially for someone who won Coach of the Year in 2005-2006.