The Brooklyn Nets play in Barclays Center, which was ridiculously expensive to build even though few in Brooklyn wanted it. It’s only fitting that they fill the arena with ridiculously expensive players whose previous teams did not want them.
Tuesday, the Nets pulled off the rare trade that was a salary dump for both parties. Brooklyn got rid of Andrew Nicholson, who had signed a $26 million contract with the Wizards last offseason and proceeded to average 2.6 points per game. Washington had given up a first-round pick in the trade that sent Nicholson to Brooklyn, and the Nets have now dealt him to the Blazers, who will instantly waive him. The Nets will take on Allen Crabbe, allowing Portland to cut more than $40 million in luxury tax payments. The Blazers are now potentially a destination for loose parts as clubs position themselves for a multi-team Carmelo Anthony trade.
The Nets are responsible for the Crabbe contract. Last season they signed Crabbe, then a restricted free agent, to a $74.8 million offer sheet. They would have been happy to land Crabbe, but the Blazers took him on — which quickly became a bad decision. (Nets GM Sean Marks has earned a reputation as an offer-sheet king. Marks made the Blazers accept a Crabbe contract with a trade kicker, but has now gotten Crabbe to waive the trade kicker.) Brooklyn evidently still sees upside in its new swingman: At only 25 years old, Crabbe is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league and a good defender, two of the most sought-after traits at the wing position. But even after the best statistical year of his career last season — he finished no. 2 in 3-point percentage behind Kyle Korver and averaged a career-high 10.7 points per game — he didn’t seem worth the $18.5 million he was owed.
The 2016 offseason was reminiscent of the dot-com boom. Owners saw the salary cap skyrocketing due to the massive influx of cash from the league’s new media rights deals, and acted as if the cap would increase forever. But this year, the salary cap jumped only a smidge.
Brooklyn’s contract book is hilarious: Its top-three most expensive players are now Crabbe, Timofey Mozgov, and DeMarre Carroll. The Nets will pay those three guys $49.4 million total next year and $49.9 million the year after that. All three players were signed to stunningly large contracts their teams soon regretted. The Lakers gave up promising young point guard D’Angelo Russell to get out from under the Mozgov contract; the Raptors gave up first- and second-round picks in next year’s draft to get rid of Carroll; and the Blazers took another not-great contract to dump Crabbe.
They’re fine basketball players — well, at least Crabbe and Carroll are. After all, the Nets were willing to pay this price for Crabbe last year. They’re still going to pay him that price — and to do that, they unloaded Nicholson, who was so bad for the Wizards last season that Washington threw in a first-round pick in their deadline trade with the Nets for Bojan Bogdanovic just to get rid of him.
The Nets are still in the draft pick purgatory created by the 2013 Kevin Garnett–Paul Pierce trade. They are still doomed by their awful decision. So for now, their best bet is to try to capitalize on the crippling decisions other teams made and acquire young talent the hard way. In an ideal world, they would have gotten a draft pick for Crabbe. But they still got a player they like while dumping a player they didn’t.
And things could be worse. The Nets might have three awful contracts, but they don’t have either of the worst two contracts in New York.