Brooklyn Nets 2024 NBA offseason preview: Path to improvement won't be easy

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 29:  Ben Simmons #10 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on from the bench against the Atlanta Hawks during the first half at Barclays Center on February 29, 2024 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Ben Simmons played in only 15 games during the 2023-24 season. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

2023-24 season: 32-50

Highlight of the season: In early December, the Nets won six of seven games to sit at 12-9 and give their fan base some optimism. This eventually faded.

In discouraging fashion. The team failed to make the postseason, while owing its 2024 selection to Houston, essentially gift-wrapping the Rockets a lottery pick in this June’s draft. Mikal Bridges didn’t live up to the hype of his post-trade play of last season, and the team refused to pick a direction at the trade deadline, despite strong offers coming in for the aforementioned Bridges.

Third-year guard Cam Thomas broke out as the scorer everyone expected him to become, averaging 22.5 points on the season in a fairly modest 31.4 minutes per game. He was surprisingly consistent, failing to hit double-figure scoring just seven times all season, showcasing an ability to get up a high volume of both 3-pointers and free throws, which is usually a steady model for offensive efficiency.

While Thomas exploded onto the scene from a scoring standpoint, he didn’t offer much of anything else, which became a theme for these Nets. Outside of Bridges and Nic Claxton, who averaged 11.8 points and 9.9 rebounds and played exceptional defense all year, no other Net who played regular minutes proved to be a consistent two-way threat or all-around player. Dorian Finney-Smith played high-caliber defense, but managed just 8.5 points in 28.4 minutes per game. Dennis Schröder, who came over in a deadline deal from Toronto, averaged 14.6 points and 6 assists but failed to stand out defensively.

Needless to say, you don’t win a lot of basketball games if your roster is primarily full of one-end players who can’t get out of their comfort zone. Their one hope of having a switchable all-around player available to them was Ben Simmons, but he played in just 15 games due to a back injury, leaving his Nets future — and even career — in limbo.

With no draft picks this summer, and Claxton becoming an unrestricted free agent, you have to wonder what the plan in Brooklyn is. Because, as of right now, things look bleak.

Talent. The Nets are in no position to be picky, and if they hope to pair Bridges with another All-Star, they have to make darn sure that player is capable of lifting the entire roster to new heights. The Nets found themselves far too often coming into games at a talent disadvantage and, should they wish to be competitive, that must change this summer. Bridges, 27, isn’t getting any younger.

The Nets do not have a draft pick this year, but they could buy or trade their way into the second round if a player falls unexpectedly or if the front office feels like there's a missing piece. — Krysten Peek

Projected draft picks (pre-lottery): None

The Nets have $115 million locked up in Simmons, Cameron Johnson, Bridges, Finney-Smith and Schröder. They wish to retain Claxton, who carries a cap hold of over $16.6 million — and will likely cost more than that — meaning with the added contracts of the rest of the roster, the Nets will be over the cap.

They will, however, be below the luxury tax line of $171.3 million, meaning they can use their full non-tax mid-level exception, which is worth around $13 million. That type of contract isn’t going to field them an enormous difference maker, however.

Key free agents

Nic Claxton (UFA)

Lonnie Walker (UFA)

Brooklyn likely wants to get better — and immediately. If so, that necessitates the removal of Simmons’ $40.3 million contract, which is clogging up its cap sheet. With no picks to offer this year, the Nets will have to dig into their draft cupboard and shop future selections, including the ones they received from Philadelphia in the James Harden trade, to get off that contract. If they can’t, it’s likely they return next season with a similar level of talent on the roster.

Considering their limited frontcourt depth, re-signing Claxton makes sense. But the real move the Nets need to make is leaning into more of Thomas, whom I believe has untapped potential as a playmaker. Thomas averaged 4.3 assists in March and is still just 22 years old. While he's been typecast as a chucker, this team desperately needs someone who scores and creates for others, and he could fit the bill if given the opportunity. — Dan Titus