End of the line
Nets need to cut ties with Carter as part of makeover
Posted: Monday May 21, 2007 11:55AM; Updated: Monday May 21, 2007 6:07PM
Though their results may not always be pretty, the New Jersey Nets are a pretty admirable lot most of the time. Most of that reverence is aimed at Jason Kidd, 34, who played nearly as well this season as he did while taking the Nets to the NBA Finals in 2002 and '03. Franchise stalwarts Lawrence Frank and Richard Jefferson also are worthy of praise. Frank nearly always molds a strong defensive squad out of whatever ingredients he's given, and Jefferson gets props for playing through a series of nagging injuries.
But this run, in which the Nets limped to a .500 record in a watered-down East, beat an injured Raptors team in the first round and lost to the Cavaliers in the conference semifinals -- this has to be it. If anyone sees any upside with this roster, they're deluding themselves. Major roster overhaul doesn't usually take place with teams that at least threaten a conference finals appearance, but the Nets would be doing themselves a major disservice by sustaining the status quo this summer -- and that includes Vince Carter.
The main reason -- beyond a roster that hardly screams "50 wins" -- becomes clear when you look over the team's salary structure. This is a top-heavy club in terms of talent and cash dispersal, and the Nets are in danger of paying luxury-tax-level money for a team that might not get out of the first round next season.
The 50-win idea is worth batting around, because some observers wonder why this team can't make a big leap in 2007-08. They point out that Jefferson battled an ankle injury all season and that the Nets lost sweet-shooting big man Nenad Krstic to a torn ACL in late December. Even if Kidd falls off slightly, the argument goes, wouldn't the team reap the rewards of a full season from those young talents, mixed with improvement from rookies Marcus Williams and Josh Boone?
I'm not buying it. Every team in the East playoff bracket is likely to improve next year, save for Detroit, which should still remain the conference favorites. In the Atlantic Division alone, Boston and New York should see a solid spike in wins, while Philadelphia, which has three first-round picks in the June 28 draft, will be no easy out. And though Krstic's and Jefferson's particular injuries aren't chronic, banking on everything going right just to win enough to secure a second- or third-round appearance in the playoffs (with Kidd at 35), is that worth paying the luxury tax and having your future cap flexibility shot to hell?
That's not even taking into consideration free-agent-to-be Mikki Moore, who could earn a significant chunk of the mid-level exception. Keeping this current roster intact will probably push the Nets well over the $70 million mark for 2007-08 payroll, and that's just too much money for a team that will top out at 45 wins. The best way to avoid that sort of commitment to a slightly better than mediocre group would be to take a pass on the team's biggest free agent.
Carter will likely opt out of the final year of his contract ($16.4 million), but it's also likely he'd prefer to make more money signing a max deal with the Nets than take a little less to head to Orlando to join the Magic. The Nets just can't afford to give Carter the money he wants.
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