Jul 4, 2012, 2:19 AM EDT
The Brooklyn Nets are a much better team right now than they were 72 hours ago.
They will walk onto the court at the Barclays Center with an entertaining lineup, a team with offensive firepower, something you couldn’t really say about the squad last seen in New Jersey (they move to Brooklyn this fall). They should be a team on the second tier in the East along with Indy, Boston and the Knicks. They won the battle to keep the face of the franchise in point guard Deron Williams. They should be popping champagne at the Nets headquarters tonight.
But they are not title contenders, not unless guys who have never been good at it suddenly learn to defend and board. And the way this team is built — with massive contracts for some players seeming past their prime — the moves of the last 72 hours will come back to haunt them in a couple years.
And Dwight Howard is not going to be bailing them out — all these bold moves make it nearly impossible for the Nets to trade for Howard (and there is no way they can sign him as a free agent next summer now). Howard still wants to land in Brooklyn, but it is going to take a Houdini-like escape from the confines of the CBA to find a way to free up salary to pull it off.
Nets GM Billy King was clearly under orders from owner Mikhail Prokhorov to get a team together that could open a new building, one that could compete in the nation’s largest market with the much more established Knicks. Something the Nets could sell.
Deron Williams is an Olympian and arguably the second best point guard walking the face of the earth. He’s also taken to living in New York City and will be a great ambassador for the team.
They added Joe Johnson and while we can all agree his contract is ridiculously large — $89 million over four more years — the guy is an All-Star and he can play. Johnson averaged 18.5 points per game last year, shot 38 percent from three and had a PER of 18.5.
The Nets also have Gerald Wallace, a guy who averaged 15.2 points a game, is an efficient shooter and can defend. Somehow the Nets held on to MarShon Brooks, the impressive rookie that a lot of teams coveted. They added Mirza Teletović, a quality stretch four from Europe. Reggie Evans will be a fan favorite but drive coach Avery Johnson crazy.
There are some pieces to like. This Nets roster should put up points. If Avery Johnson can get them to defend as a unit they could be better than just good.
But they are still looking up at Miami (as is everyone) and a healthy Chicago. And getting more quality pieces to change that will be nearly impossible. As you read this, the Nets have $54 million committed to six players (via Zach Lowe at Sports Illustrated who did the math). The salary cap is $58 million, and what is more by using the full $5 million mid-level exception on Teletović the Nets have locked themselves in with essentially a hard cap of $74 million they cannot exceed.
Bottom line is the Nets have $20 million to round out the roster and we haven’t talked about re-signing Brook Lopez or Kris Humphries yet. And they want to keep Lopez for sure, ideally both. Very quickly the Nets are going to be looking and inexpensive veteran minimum deals because they will be running out of space below the $74 million apron (as it is called in the CBA).
Which comes back to the dream of trading for Howard. First off, the Magic have consistently rejected an offer of Lopez, Brooks and picks for Howard and that is not suddenly going to change. The Magic have all summer or longer to make a move, they are not the ones that take the PR hit for how they handled the situation. They are more than happy to let Howard twist in the wind. And they sure as heck don’t care where he wants to go, they want the best deal for themselves.
More than that, Howard (set to make $19.5 million next year) along with Johnson, Williams, Wallace and the other couple guys already under contract but not shipped out would be owed nearly $70 million. So that leaves $4 million to get seven more guys. You’re not getting quality for that.
There are scenarios you can create where the Nets get some third party to help them out, taking on salary and opening the door for them to get Howard. But not realistic ones. And you can bet no GM in the East is going to help the Nets create another Super Team in their conference.
No, what you see with the Nets is pretty much what you get. They will be good. They will be fun. They will compete with the Nets and the fans in Brooklyn will love them. Jay-Z will love them.
But in a few years the real cost of opening the Barclays Center the right way will come home to roost.