You can’t say Nets general manager Sean Marks doesn’t have a sense of irony. Thanks to the ill-fated 2013 trade with the Celtics, he never got to exercise the Nets' original first-round pick in his first three drafts.
So what did Marks do in his fourth draft? After trading the Nets’ No. 17 first-round pick to Atlanta last week as part of a salary dump to clear cap space, Marks doubled down by trading the No. 27 first-round pick obtained from Denver to the Los Angeles Clippers to clear just enough cap space to ensure the Nets have room to sign two max contract free agents.
It was a move that seemed to reinforce all the reports of the Nets going all out in pursuit of free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who would command combined first-year salaries totaling $70.9 million. If the Nets 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.
The Nets did exercise the first pick of the second round obtained from the Knicks via Philadelphia, choosing Georgia center Nic Claxton. By trading the No. 27 pick, they received a protected first-round pick via Philadelphia in the 2020 draft plus the No. 56 overall pick Thursday night.
Marks previously sent the Nets’ original No. 17 pick plus their lottery-protected first-round pick in 2020 to Atlanta along with Allen Crabbe in exchange for third-year forward Taurean Prince and a second-round pick in 2020. By moving Crabbe’s $18.5 million salary, Marks positioned the Nets to have $46 million in salary-cap space in the free-agent market this summer.
The question entering Thursday night’s draft was how the Nets’ free-agent prospects might affect their draft-day decisions. The biggest holes in the Nets’ lineup entering the draft were at power forward and backup center, where veteran Ed Davis might leave as a free agent.
Most of the free-agency buzz has centered on Irving making it clear that he wants to sign with the Nets. If Marks believes that signing Irving might also allow the Nets to sign Durant, then he likely would do that and renounce the rights to restricted free agent point guard Russell. But if Durant chooses another route, there’s no guarantee Marks will pursue Irving.
There has been season-long speculation that Durant and Irving were headed to the Knicks as a package deal. But that evaporated when 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.
Durant, of course, suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals and will be out all next season. But it might be worth the gamble to pay the $38.2 million starting salary it would take to sign him to a four-year deal worth $164 million even if he misses one year.