Cam Johnson of the Brooklyn Nets is a restricted free agent...

Cam Johnson of the Brooklyn Nets is a restricted free agent this offseason. Credit: Jim McIsaac

When NBA free agency begins Friday at 6 p.m., don’t expect the Nets to chase big names - or even medium names.

With 13 of 15 roster spots filled, including their two first-round picks, and an approximately $152 million payroll, the Nets don’t have the cap space to sign most free agents. Their focus is on retaining Cam Johnson, who’ll be a restricted free agent.

Re-signing Johnson, whose expected salary could be between $21-25 million per year, will move the team above the projected $165 million luxury tax, and the first “tax apron,” at $172 million.

It’s a cost they've paid before, and are fine doing again.

The Nets are limited in who they can target this offseason based on their plans to re-sign Cam Johnson. With only a $5 million mid-level exception, they're likely to attract veterans looking for one last pay day or a reserve looking to remain a key contributor.

Here are four names the Nets could go after in free agency.

Eric Gordon
Gordon was waived by the Clippers earlier this week but was still productive in his 15th season (12.4 points, 37.1% 3-point shooting in 69 games). It was also his healthiest season in four years. It’s a low-risk move for a proven veteran who can bring scoring off the bench.

JaMychal Green
Green shot 54% from the floor as a reserve for the Warriors last season. The Nets need more size off the bench and Green could add more experience behind Nic Claxton as Day’Ron Sharpe continues to develop.

Georges Niang
Niang’s made at least 40% of his 3-point attempts in each of the last five seasons, including 40.1% last season with the 76ers. He’s carved out a solid niche as a reserve forward with good size (6-foot-7) who can space the floor well.

Damion Lee
Lee averaged 8.2 points and 3.0 rebounds last season for the Suns and won a championship with the Warriors in 2022. The six-year veteran's also a capable shooter from distance. He shot a career-high 44.5% on 3-pointers last season and averaged 36.6% on threes in four seasons with Golden State.

“Our objective here is to compete, and that's been the objective from day one,” general manager Sean Marks said in April. “I don't think (coach Jacque Vaughn) is of the cloth of wanting to be mediocre. I certainly am not either and I don't think (owner) Joe (Tsai) is. At the same time, we want to do something special in Brooklyn and, if it costs tax, he’s been willing to pay it.”

So what options do the Nets have in free agency? Just the $5 million mid-level exception. If the Nets were to let Johnson sign with another team, that increases to $12.4 million.

Marks has been clear that the Nets want Johnson back. He averaged 16.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and shot 37.2% on 3-pointers in 25 games with the Nets and has been close with Mikal Bridges throughout his four-year career.

That means the Nets could use that smaller mid-level exception on a veteran who’ll help as a role player that could come off the bench. The Nets still need more rebounding and shooting, along with more ball-handling.

It’s more likely that the Nets’ biggest move could come in the trade market. That’s the path guard Spencer Dinwiddie figured the front office could take when asked to assess the team’s direction.

“I think you're looking at a team that kind of mirrors Milwaukee without Giannis (Antetokounmpo). So if you think you can go get a Giannis, then are you probably a very, very good team at that point? Likely,” Dinwiddie said. “If you don't, you do have a bevy of draft picks and probably several guys that could net you more draft picks. So, I mean, they really can go either route. And, they could also choose to stand pat and roll the dice.”

Multiple reports indicated the team entertained trade offers for Royce O’Neale and Dorian Finney-Smith heading into the draft. Yahoo Sports reported the Nets were seeking a first-round pick for O’Neale and a draft pick plus a player for Finney-Smith.

The Nets currently don’t have a pick in next year’s draft, which factors into whatever deal they could seek. O’Neale’s contract becomes guaranteed for $9.5 million on July 10 and he’s also one of six Nets with deals that expire next season.

That means the Nets could be more sellers than buyers in the trade market. But it also means they can be patient, as Marks said he’s willing to do with a core that spent just two months together.
That approach carried over into the draft.  Both first-round picks Noah Clowney and Dariq Whitehead will be 19 years old next season and will need time to develop. Whitehead is also recovering from foot surgery in June that could keep him out until training camp.

Adding a free agent takes pressure off Clowney and Whitehead to perform immediately. Yet, if any potential help arrives this offseason, it’ll likely come via trade rather than free agency.

It might mean a less exciting offseason for the Nets. But they’re hoping it’ll pay off later, instead of needing to make another big splash right now.

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