The Nets need another athletic big, and some great young ones are hitting restricted free agency, GM Sean Marks’ weapon of choice. But fans already penciling Aaron Gordon or Clint Capela into the lineup may be disappointed.
After Marks handed Otto Porter Jr., Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe huge offer sheets over the past two offseasons, many Brooklyn fans are expecting him to go big in an RFA market that includes Orlando’s Gordon, Houston’s Capela, the Lakers’ Julius Randle and Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith stirred the pot Wednesday by speculating that Brooklyn might throw a huge offer sheet at Randle or Capela. But don’t bet on Gordon or Capela, or Brooklyn breaking the bank for anybody.
The Nets’ top priority is protecting their trove of salary-cap space for the summer of 2019, when they could have enough room for two max deals. They think they have Capela-lite in Jarrett Allen, who molds his game after the Rockets star. And while they may have interest in Randle, he’d require a move to clear cap space (like dealing DeMarre Carroll or Jeremy Lin).
Brooklyn wants to maintain flexibility while Gordon wants to stay in Orlando, preferring to not even get to the point of talking to other teams in the free agency dog-and-pony show.
“Hopefully not. Hopefully we just get in wrapped up with Orlando. That would be fantastic,” Gordon, 22, said Tuesday night on the red carpet for the premier of “Uncle Drew” at Lincoln Center. “Yeah, that would be great. That’d be great.”
The Magic tendered Gordon a qualifying offer on Tuesday, and president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman told the Orlando Sentinel he didn’t think they’ll have to “recruit” Gordon because of the relationship they’ve already developed. By the sound of Gordon on Tuesday, Weltman was right.
Once the Nets complete a buyout with Dwight Howard — assuming he leaves about $8 million on the table to bolt Brooklyn — they could have up to $12 million to spend. They may not even spend that, eyeing cheaper players and holding cap space into the season.
The Lakers’ pursuit of LeBron James and Paul George could leave Randle obtainable, although he also could end up in a deal for Kawhi Leonard. Meanwhile, Gordon stated he wants a max contract and said Tuesday he felt he’ll get one.
“Definitely,” Gordon said. “But we’ll see how it goes; whatever Orlando wants to do. As a restricted free agent, I have complete trust in the regime. So it’s going to go how it’s going to go.”
Brooklyn definitely has interest in Gordon’s teammate, Mario Hezonja, 23. That’s the kind of neighborhood they’re shopping in.
Hezonja hasn’t lived up to his billing as the No. 5 pick in 2015, but the Nets have liked him for some time and are known to do the reclamation-project thing. After acquiring the No. 2 (D’Angelo Russell) and No. 3 (Jahlil Okafor) picks in that same draft, and the No. 8 pick from 2014 (Nik Stauskas), Hezonja could be the latest roll of the dice.
After Orlando declined to pick up Hezonja’s fourth-year option, he finally started showing signs of tapping into his potential. He averaged a career-high 9.6 points last season, but bumped that to 14.0 points on .371 percent from deep in 30 starts. At 6-8, 215 pounds, he can play anywhere from the two through four, but started taking advantage of mismatches as a smallball four.