Deron Williams picked the Brooklyn-bound Nets over his hometown Mavericks. (John W. McDonough/SI)
This wasn’t the most elegant process for the Nets. They sacrificed what turned out to be the sixth pick in the draft to acquire Gerald Wallace in March and agreed to trade for the player with the league’s most onerous contract, Joe Johnson, on Monday. But the end result is that they’ve managed to persuade Deron Williams — the league’s preeminent free agent and one of the three or four best point guards alive — to re-sign, after gambling to get him in February 2011 by surrendering promising big man Derrick Favors, two first-round picks and point guard Devin Harris.
Williams is a Net, for the cool price of $98.8 million over five years. The Mavericks, Williams’ hometown suitor, could offer “only” about $74 million over four years, though he could have made up much of the $25 million difference on his next theoretical contract in Dallas. Regardless of the machinations that got us to this point, Brooklyn’s having an elite point guard locked up for his prime years is a very good thing.
The key questions, going forward:
• What is Brooklyn’s payroll situation, and how does the team fill the roster?
The Nets now have about $54 million committed to six players, though we won’t know the precise salary figures until after July 11. The six players are Williams, Wallace, Johnson, shooting guard MarShon Brooks (still here!) and two other acquisitions from Tuesday: power forward Reggie Evans, who was acquired in a sign-and-trade from the Clippers, and Mirza Teletovic, a jump-shooting power forward from Bosnia whom the Nets have agreed to sign.
The Nets are over the cap because charges linked to their remaining free agents — mainly center Brook Lopez and power forward Kris Humphries — are still on the books, rocketing them over the $58 million salary ceiling. And because the Nets have apparently agreed to use the full mid-level exception on Teletovic, the new collective bargaining agreement bans them from spending more than $74.3 million in total payroll as they fill their roster via signing their own free agents and other permitted spending tricks. (That $74.3 million figure represents the so-called “apron,” set $4 million above the actual tax line, which teams cannot cross if they use the full mid-level. It is meant to discourage spending at the high end.)
That leaves $20 million to fill six spots. It is not ridiculous to suggest that Lopez and Humphries would get that much, or more, combined on the open market. That leaves the Nets in a tricky spot. The Nets could retain both by persuading one to take less than he might believe he’s worth, and then fill the rest of the roster through minimum-salary contracts. They could sign-and-trade Lopez or Humphries for a player who makes less, freeing up more money for the end of the rotation. But if Teletovic is really getting the full mid-level, they can’t cross that $74 million barrier no matter what they do.
• Can they trade for Dwight Howard?
Unless there is some cap magic of which I am unaware, it would be borderline impossible, at least without sending one of their new, high-salaried acquisitions to Orlando or a third team. All reported versions of a Howard/Nets deal over the past 24 hours have involved Lopez, Humphries, Brooks and draft picks, and not any of these new acquisitions, some of whom cannot be traded alone or together for several months under league rules.
Howard is set to earn $19.5 million next season. Combine that amount with the money earmarked for Williams, Johnson, Wallace and Teletovic, and you end up at $70.5 million for five players. That does not include Evans or Brooks, both of whom would be easy to move if need be. But that $70.5 million figure puts the Nets so close to the $74 million hard cap that the only way to fill a roster would be to sign seven players to contracts at the rookie minimum salary level. That is doable in theory, but not as much in reality. The Howard ship appears to have sailed, and with the Nets now capped out next summer, the notion of Brooklyn’s hoarding future cap space for the star center also looks moot.