The Brooklyn Nets scored 111 points in their Game 7 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, but not one of those points came from the bench. It was an appropriate ending to an injury-plagued season. The Nets accumulated perhaps more offensive talent than any roster in the history of basketball… but only saw five players score in a season-ending defeat.
The what-if's are endless. The Nets probably would have won this series with a healthy James Harden or Kyrie Irving. Spencer Dinwiddie would have made a difference, and LaMarcus Aldridge might have if a heart ailment hadn't forced him to retire in April. Even a healthy Jeff Green might have swung the series towards Brooklyn. The Nets lost Game 3 in Milwaukee by three points without him. He scored 27 in Game 5.
The condensed offseason didn't help matters. Some of those players have better track records than others. But luck is an undeniable component of every NBA championship. The Nets didn't have it this season, but if this offseason goes as well for them as it could, they might not even need it. The Nets have accumulated more than enough talent to win a championship with the right breaks, and this offseason, they're probably going to get better.
Consider the Clippers, who have two starters playing on minimum deals right now. Reggie Jackson and Nic Batum seemingly chose the Clippers based on championship potential and market appeal, two selling points the Nets have in spades. Jackson and Batums don't grow on trees, but Brooklyn's appeal as a destination has already been proven. Green came for the minimum last offseason. Aldridge and Blake Griffin joined him through midseason buyouts. The Nets will likely have their pick of ring-chasing veterans this offseason.
Through the taxpayer mid-level exception, they'll also have the ability to sign a free agent for roughly $6 million. That's meaningful spending power for a team as appealing as Brooklyn, and it's the easiest path to solving their rim-protection issues. Nerlens Noel just anchored the No. 4 defense in basketball and was paid only $5 million to do it. Pulling him across the Brooklyn Bridge would do wonders for the Nets. There are half a dozen other worthwhile center candidates for them to choose from as well. Big men couldn't ask for much more than catching lobs from Harden on a possible juggernaut.
The Harden deal offers the Nets one more avenue toward improvement. Sean Marks cleverly structured the deal to send picks to Houston in even-numbered years and swap rights to the Rockets in odd-numbered years. That means the Nets will have a first-round pick in 2027, even if it originally belonged to Houston. That is critical because of the Stepien Rule, which prevents teams from being without first-round picks in consecutive seasons. In other words, the fact that the Nets have a 2027 first-round pick means they can trade their 2028 selection.
That pick holds significant value. Durant will turn 40 in 2028. Harden and Irving won't be far behind. They aren't going to be leading the Nets to titles at that stage of their career, and the fact that the Nets have so little leftover draft capital means that they will likely struggle to replenish their roster once Durant, Harden and Irving leave it. A GM would need plenty of job security to trade for that pick, but to the right team, it would surely be valuable enough to part with a significant veteran.
If anything, matching salaries appears to be Brooklyn's biggest obstacle from a trade perspective. It won't be for long. Bruce Brown is due a hefty raise through restricted free agency. Dinwiddie has a player option, and if he exercises it, he'll be on the books for $12.3 million next season. If he leaves, expect the Nets to at least attempt to follow the recent trend of structuring the deal as a sign-and-trade to create a trade exception. DeAndre Jordan's $10 million salary is steep, but with only two years remaining, it's likely now tradable.
The Nets are going to lose some free agents. If Dinwiddie opts in, they'll owe over $166 million to their players before factoring in new deals for Brown, Griffin or Green. Landry Shamet is extension-eligible as well. Joe Tsai is one of the wealthiest owners in basketball, but even he has limits. He didn't spend the taxpayer mid-level exception last offseason, and he let Garrett Temple go despite his team-friendly $5 million option. The Nets will draw the line somewhere, even if "somewhere" means one of the most expensive payrolls in NBA.
In all likelihood, it will. Brooklyn's spending power should terrify the NBA, but even if it isn't fully exerted, the Nets' front office has so much optionality that it can essentially put whatever kind of role players it wants around its three superstars now. The Nets have feasible paths to adding meaningful players through both free agency and trade.
We don't yet know who those players will be, but the fact that Brooklyn has this sort of flexibility at all given its star-level talent should make the Nets heavy favorites next season. No matter whom the Nets ultimately have, odds are, they are going to have more than five players capable of putting the ball through the hoop when they play their final game next season.