What the Nets should do when the lockout ends…

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PBT is working its way through what every team in the NBA should do when the NBA lockout ends. To see all the teams we’ve done so far, click here. Today, we talk New Jersey Nets.

Last season in New Jersey: Remember when the Nets were going to get John Wall, and if that didn’t happen, they were going to get LeBron James? That was a neat idea. The Nets wound up getting neither of those gifts and subsequently, spent a lot of money on a pretty marginal set of talent. And to make things worse, the mediocre talent underperformed. Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw, and Jordan Farmar all took steps back in points per 36 minutes and Morrow and Outlaw dropped in PER considerably. It was another disaster of a season. Their best attribute before February was getting Sasha Vujacic. When “the Machine” is your high point, you’re doing it wrong.

Then, the Nets got suckered into being involved in Melo talks, despite the entire time looking like they were only being used as a negotiating ploy. Prokhorov himself was brought in to close the deal, and couldn’t pull it off. That’s twice in seven months the Nets tried and failed to out-maneuver the Knicks. So what did they do? They pulled a rabbit out of a hat and got Deron Williams for a fairly obscene package of assets that shocked everyone.

The value of Williams is obvious. But so is the fact that if the Nets don’t garner and capitalize on some momentum, Williams is a free agent in 2012 and could leave New Jersey without them getting a single thing out of the deal. That’s the worst nightmare for the Nets. They weren’t good even after Williams came on board, and his injuries including a wrist problem that required post-season surgery didn’t help matters. Brook Lopez went from being a stud young center to “that center who doesn’t rebound” in the East, and Avery Johnson clashed with several players.

So, no, not a great year for the Nets.

Since we last saw the Nets… They’ve announced their transition to the Brooklyn Nets for starters. They’ve cleared $18 million off of their cap with the expiration of Dan Gadzuric and Sasha Vujacic, who bailed for Europe. Kris Humphries is a free agent that they’ll need to spend heavily on to get back, if they don’t go for an upgrade in David West or someone similar. Deron Williams is struggling in Turkey (and taking a lot of contact, to boot).  They’ll be mostly the same team next year but they do have a window of opportunity to improve through free agency.

When the lockout ends, the Nets need to… rectify the mistakes they made in 2010 and prove to Deron Williams he needs to be in Brooklyn. The Nets are clearly taking a “buy their way into contention” approach. If that’s the plan, they’ve got to hop to it. Williams leaving in free agency would set them back five years, and that’s assuming they can buy their way out of a larger rebuilding plan. They gave up so much to get him, including Derrick Favors, that losing him would decimate what they’re building towards. They clearly want the triple-star combo like New York does.

One of the quietly bubbling but starting to froth storylines is Brook Lopez. The Nets really thought Lopez was their star for a long time. But now, it’s possible that they could actually let Lopez go in an effort to acquire Dwight Howard in 2012. Getting Howard would not only be the ultimate bird flip to the Knicks, it would put them in the top of the league in terms of contention. But before they get there, they have to build a base.

Moving Outlaw should be top of the list, if only because it’s hard to see him contributing on the level they need. They need space for the stars they want to acquire. From there, anything they can do to get young talent should be done. Expect them to be heavy-hitters in free agency again, and with Williams, it’s possible they’ll have better luck than last year when they were largely passed over. Lopez is entering the biggest year of his career. He’s either going to cement himself as a building block, or write his own ticket out of town. And not to Brooklyn. This is confusing.

Johnson needs to try and gel the team better. Being a discombobulated mess with a guy yelling at you isn’t going to do wonders. He’s not going to change, but there needs to be some chemistry building. The way Anthony Morrow was used last year was near criminal. He was part of it, to be sure, but he should be used more as the perimeter weapon.

Oh, and if there’s an amnesty clause? It should be used on Johan Petro. Not because his contract needs it the most. Just out of principle.

Lakers’ recruiting pitch for Paul George leaks

AP Photo/R Brent Smith
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LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.

Paul George never said that, though.

So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.

Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:

Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational

The text:

When you were just a kid

In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale

We were dreaming too.

While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival

And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.

Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.

The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too

Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?

My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?

Report: No divide between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?

Sam Amick of USA Today:

As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.

Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.

Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.

Report: LeBron James not planning to sit for elaborate pitch meetings in free agency

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LeBron James held court in Cleveland in 2010, listening to pitch after pitch as teams flew in to recruit the superstar during free agency. That approach became a model, and Kevin Durant followed it in the Hamptons in 2016.

But maybe once is enough.

Durant announced months ago he’d stay with the Warriors. And now LeBron – who could definitely leave Cleveland – is making clear he doesn’t want the hoopla, either.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

sources close to the situation tell ESPN that he has no intention of hearing elaborate pitch meetings from teams.

league sources believe he and his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini have enough understanding of the stakes and NBA landscape to handle the process without much fanfare.

LeBron is still haunted by The Decision. He’s a great player and philanthropist and does plenty to connect with fans. Yet, people still dislike him purely because of how he changed teams eight years ago.

If I wielded as much power as LeBron, I’d want suitors wining and dining me. He wants to avoid more backlash.

This will probably look similar to 2014 – LeBron’s agents hearing out teams then LeBron meeting with only the most serious options, though the final announcement will likely come via Uninterrupted rather than Sports Illustrated.

The Lakers, Cavaliers, Rockets and 76ers are commonly viewed as the favorites for LeBron. This approach makes it less likely for a longshot to emerge – though, for what it’s worth, we don’t know those four teams are his favorites right now.

Report: Nuggets re-signing Nikola Jokic to five-year max after declining team option

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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The Nuggets are building around Nikola Jokic.

But a second-round pick turning into a franchise player so quickly creates complications. Denver is resolving one by declining Jokic’s team option, which will send him into restricted free agency (as opposed to unrestricted free agency next year) and paying him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This ought to please Jokic. He would have earned just $1,600,520 next season if Denver exercised his team option.

Jokic is one of the best-passing full-time centers ever. He also shoots and rebounds well, though he must improve his defense to become worthy of this contract. At just 23, he’s worth betting on.

That said, I’m surprised the Nuggets didn’t get him on a slight discount. Though they clearly didn’t want to risk him testing unrestricted free agency next year, they gave him a MASSIVE raise (about $24 million) next season when they didn’t have to.

Jokic’s exact max salary won’t be determined until the salary cap and luxury-tax line are set this month. But this clearly puts Denver in cost-cutting mode now.

As constructed, the Nuggets are in line for about $24 million in luxury-tax payments. That’s without considering Will Barton, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Expect Denver to look to unload Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler and/or Mason Plumlee.

Jokic was always going to be in Denver next season. The Nuggets have now secured him far longer. It will cost them next year – an important season to them – but they also clearly value a future with Jokic.