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How the Nets are wasting the most money on dead salaries

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
AP Photo/Steve Dykes

Now that NBA teams have made their final roster cuts, we can officially say it: the Brooklyn Nets will pay more than almost anybody to players not on their roster.

At $6.54 million, the amount Brooklyn will spend to pay players that didn’t make it to their final roster eclipses the individual salaries of 12 of the 15 guys who did. Only the Philadelphia 76ers ($12.0M), and the Minnesota Timberwolves ($9.4m) will spend more on such payouts.

It’s not uncommon to wind up paying guys who never suit up for a regular game; 28 teams will do so this season. Part of that is because of a growing practice in the NBA whereby teams guarantee small portions of a training camp invitee’s non-guaranteed contract to retain the player’s rights for their D-League affiliate.

Some 55 NBA prospects signed that type of contract this fall, from Jameel Warney’s Dallas deal that guaranteed him $20K to the $250K that players like Ben Bentil and Phil Pressey extracted from their training camp deals through negotiations.

But you don’t get to Philly’s, Minny’s or Brooklyn’s level of dead salary just by paying camp guys $20-250 thousand at a time. Those teams will also be making payments to players with whom they have cut ties.

The Sixers lead the league in this category because, throughout their rebuild, they’ve used their cap space to allow teams to get out from underneath contracts. They simply eat the costs, and they do so because teams usually attach an asset in those deals. For example, the Sixers obtained an extra pair of second-rounders when they took on Tibor Pleiss’ $3M guaranteed (and $500K for next year).

Pleiss and Carl Landry alone will receive $9.5M from Philadelphia this cap year. Just those two guys will cash enough checks to make Philly the league leader in dead salary, but they’re also paying three other unemployed athletes. They inherited Sasha Kaun’s remaining $1.3M salary commitment (along with cash to pay it off and then some) from Cleveland this summer, and they also signed two guys — Cat Barber and Brandon Paul — using the partial guarantee tactic.

In Minnesota’s case, it’s a bit more straightforward. When they parted ways with Kevin Martin, they used a provision that allows them to “stretch” remaining salary across additional years. They’ll pay the shooting guard $1.38M per year in each of the next three seasons even if the 33-year-old free agent never plays another game.

And when Kevin Garnett announced his retirement, that left Minnesota with the $8M guaranteed their franchise star was owed. They could stretch that $8M across three seasons if they wanted to, but doing so would cut into what could become significant 2017 and 2018 cap room.

For Brooklyn, the logic is a bit different. The $6.5M they’ll pay to non-Nets this year mostly represents their decision to create a new basketball beginning, even at a cost.

The bulk of that amount — almost $5.5M — is owed to erstwhile Nets star Deron Williams. The franchise and the point guard divorced last summer, but Williams was still owed $43 million. Last year, he agreed to reduce that figure to $27.5M stretched across five seasons. In the months to follow, Brooklyn also waived veteran Jarrett Jack and reclamation project Andrea Bargnani, who account for another $824K of salary this season.

They also brought Yogi Ferrell, Egidijus Mockevicius and Beau Beech to camp with partial guarantees. But for the most part, their dead salary belies just how badly the organization wanted to move forward.

The Nets wanted a new basketball identity, something they wouldn’t get without new personnel. Williams was obviously unhappy in Kings County, while Jack and Bargnani simply weren’t producing.


Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams (8) drives around Atlanta Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll (5) in the first quarter of Game 4 of a first round NBA playoff basketball game, Monday, April 27, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

 (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

And if there was ever a year to accept the costs of a fresh start, it was this one. Even with all of those dead cap entries, the Nets have nearly $19 million in cap room, more than they’ll likely find a way to use. And next season, even as they pay Williams another $5.5 million, they’ll still have the ability to create close to two max salary slots.

That’s what rebuilding looks like: sometimes moving forward means putting the past behind you.

Here are some other salary nuances surrounding the Nets now their cap sheet is at least somewhat final. (Obviously, trades and end-of-roster tinkering can impact some of this.)

Discounted wings

That’s not the only salary superlative the Nets own relative to this year’s NBA: they also will pay less money to wing players (loosely defined as players who will mostly log SG and SF minutes) than anybody else in the league. The average team will pay its wing players $38 million this season — Brooklyn will pay barely a quarter of that figure.

Teams with the lowest cumulative wing salaries:

  • Brooklyn – $10,991,762
  • Minnesota – $14,793,779
  • Phoenix – $21,716,952
  • Boston – $22,104,702
  • Philadelphia – $22,234,983

We’ve written about the Nets’ surprising number of rotation-quality wings, so how is it that they’re investing so little at that position? Really it’s just a reflection of the rapid cap inflation that is causing star salaries to skyrocket while figures among the league’s rank and file stay static. Players like LeBron James ($31M), Kevin Durant, James Harden and DeMar DeRozan ($26.5M each) are bringing up the average, but Brooklyn doesn’t have that type of All-NBA wing.

What they do have are capable players who signed reasonable deals. NBA veteran Randy Foye and Euro vet Bogan Bogdanovic will make $2.5 million and $3.6 million this year, respectively. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert are on rookie scale contracts that limit their annual salaries to modest amounts, especially since they went in the latter half of the first round. Both will make $1.4 million to 1.6 million this year. And Joe Harris and Sean Kilpatrick are on minimum-salary contracts that cost the Nets just under a million each.


The Nets will also rank in the bottom half in the league (20th) in point guard pay. That’s because they got good deals for free agents Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez, and rookie Isaiah Whitehead is also locked in on a scaled deal.

Their big man salary will rank 12th until something changes, but that high figure is almost entirely a function of star center Brook Lopez. He’ll earn more than $21M this year, while Trevor Booker’s fair deal ($9.25M this year) makes him the only other Brooklyn big set to receive more than $3M.

Coming up short

The Nets are actually so far under the 2016-17 cap that they need to spend another $9 million and change just to meet the minimum requirement.

The league’s collectively bargained rules call for each team to spend 90% of the team salary cap. That means the Nets would have to spend to about $84.7 million, a significant jump from their current $75.6 million.

What happens if they don’t? Nothing, really. There’s no penalty for coming up short; teams are just required to pay their players the amount of the shortfall. The Players’ Union, in consultation with the Nets’ players, would direct Brooklyn’s front office as to how to distribute the $9M million shortfall — perhaps divided evenly or perhaps proportional to their 2016-17 salary. So Brooklyn doesn’t need to solve for that $9 million problem.

But it behooves them to think about it. That’s $9 million they’re going to spend as either a lump sum at the end of the season or before then on transactions that improve their team and/or generate assets. That’s not to say there’s no value in generating some goodwill in the form of an end-of-season bonus, but in purely economic terms, that’s not the most efficient use of $9M the franchise will dole out either way.


Note: The figures in this article are from my salary files, which I maintain using a number of online sources, most notably the indefatigable Basketball Insiders pages

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