The Nets season appears all but lost. Their best player – Caris LeVert – went down with a dislocated right foot on November 12. Since then, they are 2-10.
Overall, the Nets are 8-18, good for 11th in the Eastern Conference – four games out of the eighth seed. They’ve dropped eight games this season that they’ve led by double digits. Remember, this is a team that was off to its best start since 2012-13 through 11 games. So, the season is a lost cause now, right? Not exactly.
The Nets’ playoff hopes may be fading (quickly), but those were probably pipe dreams, anyway. And yes, LeVert’s injury was a setback. But the remainder of the 2018-19 season carries a good deal of importance to the Nets’ future, and should be approached with care.
Much like their neighbors to the west, the Nets have a point guard dilemma to solve. While a majority of their young core is under contract for at least next year, neither of their up-and-coming points guards are.
D’Angelo Russell was a presumed lottery bust when the Nets took him off the Lakers hands prior to last season. Well, the joke is on LA, because Russell has stepped up nicely this season. Through 25 games, Russell has posted career highs in scoring, (18.0) assists (5.8), rebounds (4.0) and minutes (29.1). His effective field goal percentage is near a career high, too, with a better three-point percentage on more three-pointers than he’s ever hoisted. Virtually every advanced statistic is up, too (VORP, +/-, defensive +/-, offensive +/-, PER, etc.). And most importantly, he’s turning the ball over fewer times per game than he has since his rookie season. To summarize, Russell is having somewhat of a breakout year.
But there’s a second point guard on the Nets roster turning heads this season, too – Spencer Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie’s play has improved each year since he’s been in the league. He, too, is posting career bests in points (15.7), shooting percentage (two-point field goals, three-point field goals and effective field goal percentage), as well as PER.
Both point guards have looked even better since LeVert’s injury. Dinwiddie has averaged 17.8 points and 5.5 assists per game in that time, while Russell’s averages have increased to 19.4 points and 6.3 assists per game.
On the surface, that seems like good news. But the downside is that both can sign elsewhere this offseason, and end either or both will come at a cost.
Russell will carry a cap hold of $9.16 million, — his the qualifying offer – until he is either signed by the Nets, signed by another team as a restricted free agent or renounced. If the Nets do sign him to a longer-term deal, he carries a cap hit of as much as $21.059 million. They could renounce him and hope that few suitors come calling, but that’s unlikely.
Dinwiddie’s future with the Nets is equally undefined, although it could be decided upon more quickly. Dinwiddie has been vocal about what he expects. According to Keith Smith of Yahoo! Sports, Dinwiddie wants all of the $47.5 million over four years for which he can sign (as he should), which translates to $10.65 million in 2019-20.
Given that Dinwiddie’s contract allows him to re-sign two years after the date of his first contract, the Nets can lock him up as early as December 15. If they don’t make that offer to Dinwiddie, he, too, hits unrestricted free agency in July, which will carry the same implications that they do for Russell.
The team would probably prefer to keep both players; after all, two good points guards is better than one. Furthermore, the fact that they can co-exist on the floor simultaneously makes re-signing both doubly enticing.
Russell and Dinwiddie have been on the court in three of the team’s 11 lineups of which they’ve outscored opponents.
The Nets can create between $50 and $70 million in cap space come the summer of 2019. While they’ll most likely re-sign either Dinwiddie or Russell, it appears unlikely that both are re-signed given the cap space they would consume. And while neither will be cheap, the Nets had better ensure that at least one of them is back with the club for the 2019-20 season.
Good point guards are difficult to come by, and there are a number of teams who would love to pry them away from Brooklyn.
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