Like the Knicks’ trade of Kristaps Porzingis, this move signals the Brooklyn Nets’ intentions to make a splash in free agency this summer — and puts pressure on the organization to do so. Unlike the Porzingis trade, the Nets aren’t giving up a potential franchise player.
By moving Crabbe’s $18.5 million salary, the Nets will have around $46 million in cap space, giving them room to either sign a max free agent and retain restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell, or sign two max free agents if they renounce Russell.
That’s good news considering the crop of big-name free agents hitting the market this summer, including Kevin Durant and one Kyrie Irving, who may have legitimate interest in taking his talents from the Boston Celtics to another team within the Atlantic Division:
Durant has been tied to the Knicks for over a year now, but if the Nets land Kyrie and have a star free agent in KD’s ear, there’s a chance Brooklyn’s organizational stability will wind up looking more attractive than a New York team that’s been mired in chaos for most of the last two decades.
The Knicks have some young pieces, but the Nets are coming off a playoff appearance, have a well-respected coach in Kenny Atkinson, have implemented a successful system and have a shrewd general manager in Sean Marks who’s quickly turned a hopeless situation into an appealing free agency destination.
The cost of giving up this year’s No. 17 overall pick and a protected first-rounder next year is minimal in that respect, especially if the Nets manage to lure one or two star free agents this summer. Even if it’s only one, that likely means Brooklyn will still be able to match a potential offer for D’Angelo Russell, who’s coming off his first All-Star appearance.
Even better, Taurean Prince is a legitimately good player. He took a step backward on the defensive end of the floor, but he’s still better than Crabbe in that respect and shot a career-high 39 percent from long range on 5.7 attempts per game last year.
His games played and numbers dwindled a bit in his third season, but he’s still only 25, addresses a position of need on the wing and should be a solid fit in Atkinson’s system. He’ll also only make $3.5 million next season.
No matter what becomes of Prince next season (or his restricted free agency next summer), the Nets are shedding salary to position themselves for a franchise-altering summer.
Attaching two first-rounders to do so has to feel somewhat familiar for long-suffering Nets fans, but this isn’t the Paul Pierce–Kevin Garnett trade all over again. This is a chance to bring top-tier, still-in-their-prime talent to the other New York team, and those picks are unlikely to be valuable anyway. No. 17 in a weak draft class and a lottery-protected pick that will probably wind up in the 15-20 range are both well worth the risk.
While moving two first-rounders essentially takes Brooklyn out of the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, this grade could look much better in retrospect, depending on how the Nets are able to put that cap space to use this summer.