Kristian Winfield: How the Nets can use their salary-cap exceptions to build a championship roster
NEW YORK — It’s time to use the exceptions, and for the Nets, there are many.
The Nets have no cap space to sign free agents, but they must improve an imperfect roster enough to compete for a championship.
Thankfully, Nets GM Sean Marks has a number of salary-cap exceptions he can use to build the roster, and he said in Wednesday’s press conference that he expects team governor Joe Tsai will greenlight the use of the extra funds.
“The objective here is to win. [Tsai has] made it very clear. That’s what we want to do,” Marks said on Wednesday. “And he has never said no, and if the decision is the right one, and we think going forward it doesn’t hamstring us long term, I have no problem going to Joe and saying this is the decision we do, whether it’s trading a player, signing a player, or using an exception such as you pointed out.”
It’s going to be costly given they are repeat tax offenders, but the Nets have several mechanisms at their disposal to add players to their roster other than minimum contracts. Here are some ideas for each of them as the Nets enter the most pivotal offseason in franchise history.
Trade for Josh Richardson
The Nets created an $11.3 million trade exception as part of the James Harden deal. The easiest way to explain a trade exception is comparing it to store credit: The Nets can use that exception to acquire a player without matching his salary.
That, however, would presume a team wants to give that player away for free. The Nets are a team in dire circumstances, and the entire league knows it: No one will be doing them any favors.
Except maybe the San Antonio Spurs, where Marks won one championship as a player and another as an assistant coach before moving up to assistant general manager.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS RECEIVE:
— $11.3M trade exception
— 2027 first-round pick via Philadelphia (Top-8 protected)
— 2029 own second-round pick
— Josh Richardson
For the Nets, sacrificing a first-rounder five years from now is a gamble for a player with one year left on his deal. They would, however, be able to exceed the cap to re-sign Richardson to a longer-term deal if they so choose. Richardson adds wing depth with a 40% 3-point shooter who doubles as a fiesty perimeter defender.
Pry Wendell Carter Jr. (and Terrence Ross) from Orlando
The Nets received a $6.3 million trade exception when they dealt DeAndre Jordan to the Detroit Pistons for Sekou Doumbouya. They can use that exception to build out a significantly larger sign-and-trade scenario with the Orlando Magic.
This deal only works if the Nets don’t believe Nic Claxton is their starting center of the future. It also only works if Claxton, a restricted free agent, doesn’t sign an offer sheet with another team first.
— Nic Claxton (sign-and-trade: 4 year, $40M+)
— Seth Curry
— 2022 first-round pick via Philadelphia (can defer to 2023)
— 2028 first-round pick (lottery protected)
— 2026 own second-round pick
— $6.3M trade exception
— Wendell Carter Jr.
— Terrence Ross
The Nets and Magic would need to break this up into two separate trades because the Nets are only able to trade one player in conjunction with their trade exception.
In this scenario, the Nets would agree to sign Claxton to a four-year deal in the $40-48M ballpark, then package him with Philadelphia’s 2022 first-round pick and their own 2026 second-round pick for sixth man Terrence Ross. Ross is not as lights-out a shooter as Curry but he is a highly-flammable shooter, a highlight-reel dunker, a transition scoring threat and has a 6-6 frame.
The Nets would then package Curry, who makes just under $8.6 million next season, with their $6.3 million trade exception, to acquire big man Wendell Carter Jr., who is a nightly double-double threat, a versatile defender and a 33% 3-point shooter weighing in at 270 pounds at the center position. That alone might not be enough, so the Nets might have to include their only other tradeable first-rounder — in 2028 — though they would be well within their rights to add lottery protections to the pick.
Jump into multi-team deals
The Nets own a smaller $3.3 million trade exception, but it’s rare you see a team acquire a player outright with such a small number. The more likely route here is the Nets keeping themselves open to multi-team trades with teams trying to shed cap space to fit bigger contracts onto the payroll.
The Jazz, Hawks, Pacers, Raptors, Lakers, Knicks and Hornets are among a number of teams open to wheeling and dealing to improve their roster this offseason. The Nets don’t have enough assets to wheel and deal further, but opportunities should arise in the summer when other teams are trying to manipulate their payroll to acquire a player.
Sign Joe Ingles to the mid-level
Want to make Ben Simmons comfortable? Surround him with his countrymen.
It’s no coincidence Simmons only appeared on the court for pregame workouts while Patty Mills was on the floor getting shots up. If Mills opts into Year 2 on his deal, that’s already one Australian friend for Simmons on the roster.
Adding Ingles — despite his season-ending ACL injury — makes a second.
The ACL injury shouldn’t be too much of a concern for Ingles, who has never been a player whose game is heavily reliant on athleticism. He’s a gritty forward who can play both forward positions, defend multiple positions and hit big shots. He is worth the gamble with the mid-level exception worth $6.3 million.
After using the aforementioned exceptions, the Nets can round out their roster with veterans on minimum contracts. Here are a few names to watch: Ben McLemore, Markieff Morris, Danuel House, Isaiah Hartenstein, Bismack Biyombo and Hassan Whiteside.