EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Despite lacking cap space and valuable assets, Billy King believes the Nets can still effectively retool their roster this offseason and he plans on examining all avenues.
But first thing's first: Bringing back Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, who each hold player options, is high atop the checklist of the Nets general manager because he wants to build around them.
"Internally the next big step is to keep Brook and Thaddeus here," King said Wednesday. "They both have shown indications they want to be here in their exit interviews, and we want them here. So, it's incumbent on us to get that done."
Lopez, whose option is for $16.7 million, could be seeking a hefty payday after a relatively injury-free campaign. The foot problems that derailed him in parts of the previous five seasons never surfaced. He averaged 19.7 points after the All-Star break and finished strongly in the Nets' first-round playoff loss to the Hawks.
Young holds a $9.97-million option and said Lopez's decision may affect his. He said the expected increase in the salary cap in 2016 could also be a determining factor. Nevertheless, King believes the Nets have something working in their favor regarding Lopez and Young.
"We can pay them more than anyone else, so they can't make more money," he said. "But I think the challenge is negotiations. You have to negotiate a contract with both of them. But they've expressed a desire to be here, we've expressed a desire, so that's a positive. That's the first step, that you have two parties that want to be here and we want them here."
Armed with only the $3.3-million taxpayer midlevel and the 29th and 41st selections in next month's draft, King will have to get creative in reshaping the Nets and bridging the gap to the summer of 2016. That's when the Nets are currently projected to have about $60 million in cap space if some of the anticipated big-name free agents hit the market.
In order for the Nets to truly reconstruct the roster in the meantime, King may have to break up the core of Lopez, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson he assembled in 2012. Looking for a potential new home for Williams and Johnson, two pieces that were available before the February trade deadline, isn't anything new. "We could have moved them," King said.
Williams is owed $21 million next season and has a $22.3-million player option for 2016-17. Johnson's massive contract has one year at $24.8 million, so finding a taker for either without adding additional payroll may be difficult.
"With Deron, I know everyone talks about the Big Three, Deron, Joe and Brook, who is going to be back?" King said. "We're going to explore all options, as we have. Will there be a trade? There could be, but I'm not sure. But we're going to look at every option to get better."
King said it's imperative for the Nets to improve from within. He's placing the onus on the team's younger players to take a leap forward. He said the Nets should benefit from having the same coach in place for a second straight season, a rarity in his five-year tenure with the franchise. He met with coach Lionel Hollins for five hours Monday and they discussed areas they needed to upgrade.
They want to re-sign swingman Alan Anderson, who's expected to decline his player option for next season, and King said he will extend a qualifying offer to restricted free-agent forward Mirza Teletovic. But there's no quick fix for the Nets, who backed into the playoffs as the eighth seed on the last day of the season, and re-signing Lopez and Young is a necessity.
"What I'm saying is we have to start internally building with them, adding pieces that complement them and continue to grow," King said. "We can't keep turning over the roster every year thinking, OK, we're going to find it outside. Sometimes you just have to build within."
King reportedly is entering the final year of his deal and with Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov praising him as recently as last month, it appears his job is safe. As for those who have criticized some of his moves -- the Nets don't control their own first-round pick until 2019 -- King is unfazed.
"Just keep working, that's all you can do," he said. "There's no reason to run and hide.
"You've got a job to do and you keep doing it. When you choose to be in these kinds of positions, whether it's a player in the NBA or a GM or a coach, you're going to get criticized and that's part of the job . . . I chose this profession. If I didn't and if I wanted to do something where they don't criticize you publicly, then I would have. But this is the profession I've chosen."