Targets for each of the Nets salary-cap exceptions as NBA free agency opens – The Mercury News



We’ve made it: 2022 Brooklyn Nets free agency, also known as the most important offseason in (relocated) franchise history.

The Nets have already made their biggest decision: Holding firm in negotiations with Kyrie Irving to force the All-Star guard to return to the team on what functions as a one-year deal worth $37 million. The Brooklyn Big 3 of Irving, Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons has been set. Now, it’s time to build the roster.

As of the hours leading up to free agency, which kicks off at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Joe Harris, Seth Curry, Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe are the only other players with guaranteed contracts on the Nets’ roster. Sixth man Patty Mills met with Sean Marks in Brooklyn hours before Irving opted into his player option, according to a source, and ultimately declined the player option on the second year of his contract.

The issue, of course, is the Nets have no real cap space to sign free agents and thus must display creative use of their salary cap exceptions to build a roster deep and talented enough to emerge from the stacked Eastern Conference and compete for a championship. They have a handful of exceptions that will allow them to add players to the roster: the taxpayer mid-level exception ($6M) and two noteworthy trade exceptions ($11.6M and $6.3M)

TRADE EXCEPTION NO. 1: $11.6M

The Nets created an $11.6M trade exception as part of the James Harden deal. A trade exception functions like store credit: The Nets can go to any team with a player who makes no more than the amount of their exception and agree to a deal without having to send out a matching salary.

The issue, however, is that teams don’t just give an $11M player away for nothing, let alone to a team like Brooklyn, which might be a player away from winning a championship. The Nets have to sweeten the pot with one or more of their tradable assets.

Those assets include the recently acquired 76ers’ first-rounders (unprotected in 2023, top-8 protected in 2026), Brooklyn’s own first-rounder in 2029, swap rights to its own first-rounder in 2028, and four second-round picks, including one (top-37 protected) from Miami in 2025.

Trade Exception No. 1 Targets

1. Royce O’Neale: forward, Utah Jazz

2. Jae Crowder: forward, Phoenix Suns

3. Terrence Ross: forward, Orlando Magic

4. Cedi Osman: forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

5. Alex Caruso: guard, Chicago Bulls

Durant said it best — it’s a wing’s league — and the Nets don’t have enough depth on the wings.

Hoopshype’s Michael Scotto reported the Nets kicked the tires on a O’Neale trade last season. The Jazz declined as they were in the middle of what they hoped was a championship push, but in hiring Celtics assistant Will Hardy to replace Quin Snyder as head coach, the Jazz reportedly know they are years away from competing for a title.

They are searching for a first-round pick to trade any player not named Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert, and O’Neale has garnered trade interest from several teams across the league, according to Bleacher Report.

O’Neale would be a trade exception acquisition made in Nets basketball heaven: He can defend multiple positions, run in transition, shoot threes and finish at the rim. A deal including Brooklyn’s largest trade exception and Philly’s 2027 protected first-rounder (or a pair of second-rounders) should make for an offer competitive enough to be considered.

The Jazz are also projected to have a Top-10 payroll with guaranteed contracts exceeding $150M. That’s a stiff tax bill for a team widely considered outside the championship picture.

That’s how the Nets are going to have to navigate this offseason. Which teams might be selling players for low, or which teams are cost-cutting? The Suns have reportedly been making calls to see how teams value their veteran forward Jae Crowder. That’s another match made in Nets basketball heaven: Crowder is an aggressive three-point shooter who brings toughness and defense.

TRADE EXCEPTION NO. 2: $6.3M

The Nets created a smaller trade exception from the DeAndre Jordan trade to the Detroit Pistons. Here are some players they can pursue with that exception and another trade asset:

Justin Holiday: Sacramento Kings, F

Cameron Johnson: Phoenix Suns, F

Nickeil Alexander-Walker: tah Jazz, G/F

Cam Reddish: Knicks, F

Matisse Thybulle: Philadelphia 76ers, F

P.J. Washington: Charlotte Hornets, F

The Nets have made it clear they want to prioritize versatility, players who can impact the game in a number of ways. But their first-round sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics, plus the trend shown by teams like Milwaukee, Miami, Philadelphia and Boston, paints a clear picture.

The Nets need to get bigger and stronger, and they need to do it fast.

That means no more lineups with three players who are shorter than 6-4 and more lineups with Irving as the shortest player on the floor. The Knicks seem to be a good trade partner here because they want to outright shed Reddish’s salary to create more cap space to sign Jalen Brunson.

TAXPAYER’S MID-LEVEL EXCEPTION: 3 years, $20M

Aside from trade exceptions, the mid-level exception is the only avenue the Nets can use to sign a free agent to a deal larger than a minimum contract. It is worth about $20M over three years, starting at about $6M in Year 1.

Bobby Portis: Milwaukee Bucks, F

Portis’ breath of life and ferocity was a driving factor in Milwaukee’s 2021 NBA championship run. Now he’s a free agent set to command a pay raise. A return to the Bucks makes all the sense in the world, but so does a deal with the Nets as a three-and-D frontcourt threat on a team that needs more of both.

P.J. Tucker: Miami Heat, F

Tucker spends years hounding his good friend Kevin Durant, then joins him in pursuit of an NBA title. The headlines would write themselves, and there isn’t a better fit for the Nets using this exception. The issue, however, is that the 76ers are offering Tucker three years worth $30M, and Tucker has yet to see a contract that pays $10M annually in his career.

Joe Ingles: Portland Trail Blazers, F

Ingles is coming off a torn ACL at age 34, but Durant fully recovered from a far more significant torn Achilles in his early 30s, as well. Ingles’ game doesn’t revolve around athleticism. It stands on toughness and three-point dexterity. The Nets could use some of both, though the front office made it clear they want players who will be around full-time.

Jalen Smith: Indiana Pacers, C

Smith could find his way to Brooklyn by sheer willpower of the Nets’ fanbase, which aptly (and incessantly) points out that the Indiana Pacers cannot offer their young, budding center a deal that pays more than $10M over the next two years. Smith can shoot the three and both protect and finish at the rim. If the Nets aren’t sold as Nic Claxton as the center of the future, Smith also has a versatile skill set, though at 215 pounds, he also needs to put on some weight.

Otto Porter Jr: Golden State Warriors, F

Porter proved he can still shoot it and averaged 22 minutes per game on a Warriors team that went on to win a championship last season. The Nets helped Porter get paid by offering him a four-year, $106M contract that the Bulls ultimately matched to keep him in Chicago. Does everything come full circle? Porter to the Nets makes sense all these years later.

Victor Oladipo: Miami Heat, G

Oladipo has a strong relationship with Durant given both are from the DC-Maryland-Virginia area. The two also played together for a season on the Oklahoma City Thunder. With Malik Monk likely leaving the Lakers, Oladipo seems like a better fit out West, but Oladipo would add depth on the wing and another capable playmaker.

Gary Payton Jr: Golden State Warriors, G

Payton averaged 1.4 steals in just 18 minutes per game and proved to be a valuable piece on a championship Warriors team. The Nets need that kind of perimeter defense, especially if they aren’t going to retain Bruce Brown this summer.

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