The Brooklyn Nets have long been considered one of the handful of teams with the inside track on signing one, if not two, of the big-fish free agents this summer. They may have just moved to the pole position. On Thursday, the Nets reportedly agreed to trade Allen Crabbe, as well as a pair of first-round draft picks, to the Atlanta Hawks for Taurean Prince and a 2021 second rounder.
Notable: The trade cannot be officially completed until July 6th, when Atlanta’s books will clear enough to give it the salary-cap room to absorb Crabbe’s contract. That is the whole point. By trading Crabbe, and his $18.5 million salary for next season, to a team with the cap space to absorb that money, the Nets do not have to take equal money back in the deal.
Prince is set to make $3.5 million next season. Throw in the slot value of the No. 17 pick, and that’s $18 million in additional cap space the Nets just created. All told, the Nets currently have $46 million in cap room. Let D’Angelo Russell walk, and they’ll have over $60 million. And you know what that means.
Room for two max free agents, baby.
Indeed, trading Crabbe to a team with cap space was the only road block in creating a path to a potential championship contender. That’s out of the way now. Letting Russell walk by renouncing his restricted free agent rights is still a decision for Brooklyn, but with Kyrie Irving being heavily linked to Brooklyn in recent days, plus the fact they now have a clear path to creating space for a second start to join Irving, well, let’s just say the wall is starting to reveal some pretty clear handwriting.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, there is strong mutual interest between Brooklyn and Irving.
In addition to Irving, we know this summer’s free-agent class is stacked. We know Durant and Irving have been linked as potential partners with the Knicks. Why not form the same partnership across town with a better supporting cast in place? What about, say, Kawhi Leonard? Jimmy Butler? Klay Thompson? Kemba Walker? We’ll talk about this in a bit, but there may even be a way to put together an attractive enough package to get into the Anthony Davis sweepstakes.
Even if you look at this deal independent of Brooklyn eventually hooking a couple big fish, it’s still a good trade. Prince is a useful player. He can get a little tunnel-visioned as a scorer, but he’s long and athletic, he can defend and he can certainly create offense. Getting off Crabbe’s money was the win. Getting a good player on a team-friendly deal with an additional unprotected draft pick is pure gravy. The Nets really nailed this.
And now they become a major player this summer. Again, they were already in the mix, but with this additional space and the culture they’ve built there, not to mention the team itself, this is a very attractive destination. As opposed to a guy like Irving, or any other big free agent, choosing, say, the Knicks, who have nothing to offer except the allure of New York City and whatever new pieces the can add, the Nets, also in New York, already have something good going.
They were a playoff team this year. They have a host of really nice players. Spencer Dinwiddie. Caris LeVert. Joe Harris. Jarrett Allen. If only one max player goes there, they can potentially keep Russell. If you really want to dream, Brooklyn could dangle Russell as a sign-and-trade guy, plus other young, attractive pieces in an offer for Anthony Davis, or certainly for a lesser star like, say, Bradley Beal, who feels like something of an Anthony-Davis backup plan for a couple teams.
One way or another, the Nets, with a playoff team already in place, are suddenly in position to fast track themselves into legitimate championship contention. When you think about where they were six years ago when they traded everything, including their soul, to the Boston Celtics in a desperate, ill-advised attempt to become a title contender with an aging Paul Piece and Kevin Garnett, this is one of the more remarkable reconstructions the NBA has seen in some time. It’s been patient. Incredibly smart. And it’s very close to paying off big time.