The version of the Brooklyn Nets that finished the season got roughly 30 games together before jumping into the higher-intensity atmosphere of the postseason. In that time, however, several players showed well and could be targeted by other teams in another potential offseason of change for Brooklyn.
At the top of the list could be forward Cameron Johnson.
“High-ranking targets for Houston include Brook Lopez, Dillon Brooks, and restricted free agents Cam Johnson and Austin Reaves,” wrote Kelly Iko of The Athletic on May 23.
Johnson, 27, is a restricted free agent this offseason and could command up to and even exceed $90 million on his next deal. And Houston is one of the teams who would be utterly unphased by that price tag.
The Rockets will enter the offseason with more than $48 million in cap space, per Spotrac.
That is enough to go after James Harden or another proven lead guard, as Iko says is their “primary objective”, and put the max offer on the table for Johnson right from the get-go, putting the pressure on the Nets to match. As former Nets executive Bobby Marks, now a front office insider for ESPN, says, Johnson would be a big part of a successful offseason for Houston.
For reference, Johnson’s teammate Mikal Bridges – the consensus best player of this Brooklyn group who averaged over 26.0 points with 4.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.0 steals per game after being traded from the Phoenix Suns – is going into Year 2 of a four-year, $90.9 million contract.
Houston is one of several teams expected to pursue Johnson as they look to speed up their rebuild under new head coach and former Nets assistant, Ime Udoka.
Bobby Marks Warns of Overvaluing Cameron Johnson
To his credit, Johnson also increased his production with his larger role on the Nets, averaging 16.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.4 steals after the trade as both he and Bridges put up career-high numbers in their new digs.
But Marks also cautioned his former employers over putting too much stock into what they saw.
Bridges and Johnson are best friends and have both expressed a desire to keep it that way.
Nets general manager Sean Marks has to operate separately from that to some degree, however, with the Nets facing some financial uncertainty.
Nets Have to Massage the Salary Cap
Johnson was not the only one that Marks warned the Nets about with veteran guard Spencer Dinwiddie, 30, heading into the final year of his three-year, $54 million deal and having averaged 10.0 assists over his final 21 appearances of the regular season.
He also put up 17.0 points, 4.2 steals, 1.0 steals, and turned the ball over just 2.4 times per game in that span.
But a potential extension should be out of the question, Marks argues.
Dinwiddie will be eligible to sign for up to $128 million over four years in August. Brooklyn is projected to be $15.6 million below the luxury tax before Johnson’s new deal. If they keep him as they say they want to, they will be firmly into the tax barring subsequent moves which are expected to happen anyway, namely with veterans Dorian Finney-Smith and Royce O’Neale.
Finney-Smith even acknowledged as much in his exit interview on April 25.
What this team looks like come next season is anyone’s guess as they navigate both the personal and financial aspects and pitfalls of roster building this summer on the heels of another failed “big three” experiment.