Nets general manager Sean Marks has talked for more than three years about the importance of making strategic moves, and the ones he made in the 2019 NBA Draft underlined that philosophy as he positioned the Nets to clear up to $71 million of cap space that it would take to go after Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Before the draft, he traded the No. 17 pick to the Hawks as part of a salary dump to clear cap space, and Marks doubled down Thursday night by trading the No. 27 first-round pick obtained from Denver to the Los Angeles Clippers to clear just enough cap space to ensure that the Nets have room to sign two max- contract free agents.
Landing Durant and Irving would require combined first-year salaries totaling $70.9 million. Durant, who suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals and will be out all next season, is eligible for a $38.2 million starting salary and a four-year deal worth $164 million. Irving, who commands a first-year salary of $32.7 million on a four-year deal worth $141 million, recently indicated his preference for the Nets.
League rules permitted Marks to address the trade he made Monday to send the No. 27 pick to the Los Angeles Clippers for their second-round pick this year and a first-round pick via Philadelphia next year. But he can’t comment on the earlier trade that sent Allen Crabbe and his $18.5 million salary to Atlanta in exchange for third-year forward Taurean Prince and a second-round pick in 2020.
If the Nets, who have $46 million in cap space, allow restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell, who has a cap hold of $21.1 million, to walk and waive Treveon Graham and Shabazz Napier, they would fall just short, but by trading out of the No. 27 spot and a guaranteed $1.9 million in salary for that spot, they can make the room for Durant and Irving.
Asked if the Nets now have a path to $71 million in cap space, Marks did not answer directly. “I don’t know that we’re necessarily focused on creating cap space alone,” he said. “This has always been about pivoting and taking different paths along the way. Of course, some of that leads to cap space, some of it leads to picks and collecting various different assets along the way.”
At the same time, it was suggested the Nets now are in a position to make a quantum leap forward if they land a pair of the biggest free agents in the market. “I hate to be vague, but it’s how you continue to build,” Marks said. “Sometimes teams are able to make those quantum leaps. Other times, you’ve got to not skip steps and take the slow road and continue to build. We’ll make those judgments in a couple weeks' time.”
The Nets did exercise the first pick of the second round obtained from the Knicks via Philadelphia, choosing Georgia center Nic Claxton. With the No. 56 overall pick, they obtained from the Clippers on Thursday night, the Nets chose point guard Jaylen Hands of UCLA.
Marks said he’s excited about the possibilities in free agency, which opens on June 30, and his actions make it clear he intends to start at the top. He believes the Nets’ winning record last season and youthful core make them a desirable destination.
“I don’t know what they’re going to be interested in, but when they look at Brooklyn from afar, we’ve got to give them some credit because the guys that are free agents, all of them have spent the last year or two surveying the league,” Marks said. “They know where they want to go and what they want to be a part of. I think our young guys have done a nice job to put themselves in that position.”
Given the Nets’ needs, a free agent who might be a great fit is 76ers power forward Tobias Harris, a Dix Hills native who played exceptionally well in the 76ers’ first-round playoff victory over the Nets. An NBA source close to Harris told Newsday he definitely plans to meet with the Nets and two other teams after the free-agent market opens on June 30.
The Harris family is well acquainted with Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, whose brother Steve coached Harris’ younger brother Terry at Half Hollow Hills West High School. If there is one thing Atkinson needs to enhance his system, it’s a stretch four who can shoot from three-point range the way Harris can.