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NBA AM: Time To Break Up The Nets?

The Brooklyn Nets seem poised to cut some costs, could that spell the end of the line for Joe Johnson and Deron Williams?… Is Justise Winslow the NBA player people want him to be?… Did Ricky Rubio demand a trade?

Steve Kyler profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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The Brooklyn Nets Cutting Costs:  The Brooklyn Nets are going to do what no one thought they would do with Mikhail Prokhorov owning the team. They are cutting costs.

Now, that doesn’t mean pending free agents like center Brook Lopez and forward Thaddeus Young are not going to get monstrously overpaid this summer in an attempt to keep the talent in-town, but what they are doing is looking for ways to reduce the red ink the team has been piling on since the move to Brooklyn.

Around mid-season, the Nets were put up for sale, with the hopes that like the Clippers, the shiny new franchise in Brooklyn would command a $2 billion-plus price and the team would get flipped. However, according to sources close to a would-be suitor, the Nets’ books were atrociously bad and while the team and the shiny new venue they play in is attractive, paying $2 billion for the team and then eating roughly $100 million in losses a year with no bright future in front of them was a mountain even the deepest pocketed investors were unwilling to climb.

The Nets have gone through all of their operations and have started to identify areas of overlap and redundancy and are making belt tightening moves all over the place.

On the basketball operations side, the team would love to shed the $24.894 million remaining on Joe Johnson’s final contract year, a deal that’s gets a little easier to move as it approaches its finality.

Point guard Deron Williams has been a dud in Brooklyn since signing his five-year, $98 million deal back in 2012. Williams’ deal has roughly $43.373 million remaining on it, which includes a Player Option for 2016.

There was talk that the Nets might use the “stretch provision” on the final two years. However, that does not remove the expense, it simply stretches it out, so that’s something the Nets are not overly interested in.

There is a sense that the Nets don’t want much of anything in return for Johnson or Williams in trade and given the amount of cap space some teams will have in July, both become interesting trade options, especially if the acquiring teams can swap a slightly smaller contract for one of the whoppers that Brooklyn is holding onto.

Johnson represents the lowest risk, as his deal comes off the books all by itself next summer. So while Brooklyn would love to reduce that expense, they don’t have to do a bad deal on Johnson, but he may represent the best value in terms of what he could return because despite his enormous paycheck, he is a very serviceable player.

Williams, on the other hand, may be a much tougher sell. There was a sense that the Nets might be willing to move Mason Plumlee in a deal to shed Williams, but sources say anything involving Plumlee would have to return a draft pick or a promising young player to get much consideration.

It’s pretty clear the Nets are trying to change their financial outlook and clean up their books – dumping off Johnson and Williams would be a huge step in that direction. The question is, is there really a buyer for either?

The Curious Case Of Justise Winslow:  If you watched a lot of college basketball last season, then you saw a lot of former Duke swingman Justise Winslow. He was a high flying, dunking, shot blocking, game changing machine. In the NCAA Tournament, he only got better and that’s created a lot of hype around Winslow that frankly doesn’t equate to what it should in the NBA and certainly not in the NBA draft process.

Let’s be clear, in terms of NBA potential to be a solid impactful player, Winslow grades out really well.

The problem is that comparing what Winslow did in a single year at Duke sort of skews what his true potential could be. His personal production last year at Duke was on par with what Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did with Charlotte last season, and slightly less in most categories to what Khris Middleton did in Milwaukee. That’s not a bad range for a draft pick.

The problem is are those real production numbers or simply the by-product of being the best defender on a team that was less than stellar defensively, and how does that change when the talent level increases dramatically?

The other wrinkle in the Winslow scenario is, does being the best guy at your position in a draft class  mean you can be the one of the best guys at your position in the NBA?

Sources close to the thought process in New York say Winslow is firmly in the mix with the fourth pick, but not at the top of their board. Winslow is also firmly in the mix with Orlando with the fifth pick, but also not at the top of their board. The Kings are said to be looking at other situations with the sixth pick, which leaves Winslow and his floor being the Denver Nuggets with the seventh pick. Winslow is not expected to get past the Nuggets if he is still there at seven.

In talking with league executives who won’t be anywhere near Winslow’s range, the commentary is pretty much the same. The expectation is Winslow will be a solid and productive NBA player, but when it comes to predicting if he could be a cornerstone guy such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor or even D’Angelo Russell, no one seemed to be willing to put Winslow in that class of players.

There is no doubting that the 2015 NBA draft has an upper tier: Towns, Okafor, Russell and possibly Emmanuel Mudiay. The next tier is a slight step down, and has a wider range of names under consideration: Winslow, Willie Cauley-Stein, Frank Kaminsky, Kristaps Porzingis, Mario Hezonja and Stanley Johnson. Most executives view that next tier as somewhat interchangeable in their overall NBA talent, so it does come down to personal preference and team needs when weighing what each brings to the table.

Winslow was an amazing college player, however when it comes to translating that to the NBA, how frequently has a player in Winslow’s situation gone on to be nearly that kind of guy in the NBA? This is the same knock that Cauley-Stein is facing among executives.

There is no doubting Winslow gets drafted and is a lottery pick, the question is will he really go top five, or is the next tier a more appropriate range?

His individual production is on par with some of the younger small forwards in the NBA, the question is; what is a team truly buying if they draft Winslow?

Trading Rubio?:  There was a rumor being floated around that Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio was asking for a trade this summer. This may seem out of left field, given the new contract Rubio just signed kicks in next season.

Rubio, in a sit down interview with Canal+, said he has no idea where the rumor came from, saying he has not requested a trade and that his agents have not requested a trade and that he has no idea why the rumor was started.

Rubio’s status in Minnesota has been marred by constant rumors and an underlying belief that eventually he’d be somewhere else. However, sources close to both Rubio and the Wolves say that Ricky has been on board with the rebuild. He likes the direction of the team, and with the top overall pick headed to Minnesota, Ricky feels good about where the Wolves are headed next season and beyond.

Rubio’s NBA career hasn’t exactly gone as expected. Injuries and poor shooting have been a problem and there are some that believe dumping Rubio in trade and leaning on Zach LaVine might be better for the long-term, and that may very well end up being the case. What’s coming out of both sides of this rumor is that neither side is actively talking or looking at deals, and that Rubio is expected to be the Day One starter in Minnesota next season.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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