Blockbuster Kevin Durant Trade Predicted to Have Costly Consequences for Nets

Brooklyn Nets

Getty Head coach Jacque Vaughn of the Brooklyn Nets.

The buy now, pay later method of asset acquisition has been the downfall of many in the past and could be setting the Brooklyn Nets up for a rude awakening.

“The Nets are heading into the offseason roughly $11 million below the luxury tax with nearly a full roster,” explains HoopsHype NBA salary cap specialist, Yossi Gozlan. “However, that doesn’t factor in a new contract for restricted free agent Cameron Johnson, which would likely put them over the tax. Look for the Nets to make a subsequent cost-cutting move to accommodate a new deal for Johnson while avoiding the repeater tax, such as trading Joe Harris, Royce O’Neal, or Patty Mills.”

Brooklyn’s trades of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving shed over $95 million from their luxury tax bill, dropping it from $108 million to $12.4 million, per Lev Akabas of Sportico – who called them “big winners” of the frenetic trade deadline – and Spotrac.

But, since they would be on pace to pay the luxury tax for the third year in a row were they to sign Johnson to a new deal, they fall victim to the repeater tax. That would take their current tax bill of $12.4 million – which does not factor in new money for Johnson – and double it to $24.8 million, per league rules.

For reference, the Golden State Warriors have the highest luxury tax bill at over $162 million this season due to their consistent presence above the threshold.

Their bill is projected to be upwards of $235 million next season.

The rest of the top nine (only nine teams are paying the tax this season) is full of title hopefuls and/or contenders with whatever this version of the Nets is bringing up the rear. That does not seem to be a position a non-title-contending team wants to be in.

“The Phoenix Suns discussed a contract extension spanning four years between $66 and $72 million with forward Cameron Johnson at different points before the start of the season, reported Michael Scotto, Gozlan’s HoopsHype colleague, in November. “However, with the salary cap expected to rise significantly, and given Johnson’s prominent role on a championship contender, some around the league believe he can surpass those figures with a good season.”

Scotto also noted that league circles believe Phoenix was hesitant to approach the four-year, $90 million deal Johnson’s fellow former Sun, Mikal Bridges, got last October.

Johnson’s season was interrupted by a meniscus injury that cost him 38 games following surgery. He is averaging 13.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 2.0 steals in his two games since the trade but has only gone 4-for-14 from beyond the arc.

The 6-foot-8 forward had a 13.9/3.8/1.5 line with Phoenix.

It’s a small sample size, for sure. But, if he can maintain the additional rebounding and coming up with takeaways, while also getting back to normal from deep, he will get that payday.

The Cap Casualty Candidates

Sharpshooting swingman Harris, 31, is the most costly of the trio Gozlan named as potential trade candidates this summer. He is in the third year of a four-year, $75 million contract that will pay him nearly $20 million next season. He struggled early in the season but has hit 50.5% of his triples over the last 17 games.

Perhaps that improvement, likely spurred by his continued recovery from reconstructive ankle surgery less than one year ago, plus being an expiring contract makes him more palatable. At the very least, he is the salary-matching fodder to land that next disgruntled superstar.

It was a surprise to see the Nets trade for O’Neale last offseason amid possibly trading Durant and Irving and it was equally as surprising to see them retain the 29-year-old.

He’s averaging 9.2 points and shooting 39.9% from deep this season while providing defense.

The final season (2023-24) of O’Neal’s deal is only partially guaranteed for $2.5 million of the $9.5 million he is owed until January of 2024 potentially making him an even more attractive option to fold into a trade before then.

Mills, 34, was recently on record talking up this new hodgepodge group.

“It’s kind of like you just play the hand that you’re dealt,” Mills said of all the changes to the roster in the last week, per Ian Begley of SportsNet New York. “This train has gotta keep moving, it can’t stop. I’m very happy with who we have in our locker room now. We’ll just go out and go play together.”

The former NBA Champion is averaging 5.3 points, 1.3 assists, and 1.0 rebounds in a role that has fluctuated from starting (albeit one game) to completely out of the rotation.

Mills is in the first year of a two-year, $13.2 million contract.

The Nets’ Simplest Solution

All three of Harris, Mills, and O’Neale can be mixed, matched, and combined to satiate the NBA’s trade rules. But the easiest solution would be to find a way to move Ben Simmons and the remaining two years and $78 million of his deal.

The Nets attempted to do that at the deadline. Nothing materialized but they are expected to explore their options again in the offseason so add Simmons’ name to the list as well.

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