NEXT: The summer of 2023 sets the stage for Nic Claxton’s upcoming free agency

During a violent, loud and often stormy season, Nic Claxton was a beacon for the Brooklyn Nets.

Despite crashing waves and dark clouds and enough drama to fill a mini-series about the perils of the deep, the four-year-old big man simply kept turning and lighting the way. With an average of 12.6 points per game at a league-best 70.4 percent from the field plus 9.6 boards, Clax Attack was Brooklyn’s most consistent player throughout the 2022-2023 season, averaging 30 minutes per game. match over 76 matches.

It was on the defensive end where he shone brightest. Using the ‘7″2 wingspan and 36″ max vertical that had Nets fans excited from the jump, Claxton averaged 2.5 blocks per game. game, and was behind only DPOY Jarren Jackson Jr. for the league title. Claxton also found himself in the DPOY conversation and, in the opinion of teammates, executives and fans, at least should have — and would have — been a finalist had the national media’s attention not strayed away from Brooklyn when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving left.

Those looking beyond the box also noticed an increase in Claxton’s versatility on the defensive end. From Joel Embiid to Trae Young, there wasn’t an opponent he wouldn’t switch to, and he used his speed and frame to stifle unwanted visitors when they wandered over to Brooklyn’s side of the floor.

The Nets re-signed Claxton last summer to a two-year deal worth $17.25 million plus incentives (which he was able to meet worth $850,000). With his breakout campaign right after, it quickly became one of the league’s top deals, right next to eventual teammate Mikal Bridges, who is currently tied to a four-year, $90 million offer.

“The Nets re-signed Nic Claxton to an astounding value deal,” Hoopshype capologist Yossi Gozlan told NetsDaily. “That may have seemed like a lot for him at the time given his general lack of playing time and production in his early years, but he already exceeded its value.”

Such a good deal, notes Gozlan, that in retrospect the Nets might have second thoughts about not extending the contract another year!

“Unfortunately, they probably regret not being able to work for an extra year,” he added. “It’s not just because it would be nice to have him at $9 million again, but because they can’t extend him on his current deal. The Nets will have to risk Claxton entering free agency in 2024 and testing the market for a bigger deal.”

In fact, there is an underlying sense of fear with any contract that offers value for money. What will the player command when the deal expires? When a team gets great production from a player who isn’t making much in return, there is more incentive on the player’s part to raise their next price the next time his services come up for review.

That’s not to call these guys greedy. Any pending free agent should be paid properly for what they are worth. With the money team still throwing out, even with the new CBA taking effect – more than $2 billion so far, you should never blame anyone for seeking out a bag. Not with the way team evaluations are done.

The Nets won’t have to worry about Bridges for some time. His deal runs through the summer of 2026. With his new deal, Cam Johnson won’t be a free agent again until 2027. Even Ben Simmons, if and when he’s healthy, has two more years under contract. The same cannot be said for Claxton, who will be an unrestricted free agent this time next year. (And as Gozlan notes, the Nets can’t extend him until then.)

His expiring deal couldn’t have come at a better time for him, as the new CBA would allow him to earn 140% of his previous contract – a 20% increase over the old CBA.

If Claxton and the Nets don’t agree on a new deal before free agency in 2024, he will join the unrestricted free agency party. In the madhouse, opposing teams can negotiate and sign him whenever they want, unlike last summer when the Nets got a chance to match any offer for their defensive dynamo.

Again, Claxton walking away isn’t Brooklyn’s most pressing issue at this point, but the Nets are, if not, great planners. So expect them to have already game planned how his free agency might play out given the free agent signings at the center position over the past few weeks. And yes, a big reason they haven’t spent as wildly as some fans have expected this summer is because they’re planning for next summer.

As of June 30 and at the time of writing, NBA teams awarded a combined $236 million to centers, to Spotrac. Not bad for a “dying position”. Ex-Network tight end Brook Lopez landed the best year-over-year deal, inking a two-year, $24 million deal to stay in Milwaukee. Overall, Jakob Poeltl cashed in the most, signing a four-year, $80 million deal.

Jock Landale took the bronze and agreed to a four-year, $8 million deal with Houston Rockets but that deal is loaded with options beyond year one. The Orlando Magic will also pay Mo Wagner that amount on a two-year deal.

But none of those guys have Claxton’s combination of youth and resume’. A more enlightening example might be his former teammate, Jarrett Allen. Allen signed a five-year, $100 million deal two years ago and became a first-time All-Star months later.

That’s where Gozlan puts Claxton.

“Jakob Poeltl is probably the most relevant contractual comparison for him,” Gozlan told ND. “He just signed a four-year, $80 million deal and has a similar impact on both ends of the court. $20 million a year is also what Clint Capela and Jarrett Allen got recently.”

But Gozlan warned: “If Claxton has another strong season, that could be his bottom line on his next contract.”

Last year, Claxton averaged 12.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 2.5 blocks per game. He shot a league best from the field and he posted a 71/00/54 shot split. The aforementioned three centers set up the following numbers:

  • Lopez: 15.9 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, 2.5 BPG (.531/.374/.784)
  • Poeltl: 12.5 PTS, 9.1 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.3 BPG (.629/.000/.592)
  • Wagner: 10.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.2 BPG (.500/.313/.841)

What should immediately jump out are the similarities between Poeltl and Claxton’s numbers. Their scoring and rebounding figures almost mirror each other. Their best efficiency inside, non-existent 3-point shooting and problems from the charity stripe also match.

That said, it’s fair to see Poeltl’s four-year, $20 million deal as a benchmark for Claxton. However, a player’s age and resulting upside also has a bearing on the economics of free agents. At just 24 years old, Claxton is three years younger than Poeltl and arguably better than him if you count his seven DPoY votes to Poeltl’s zero as a tiebreaker. He is also younger than Wagner, and of course the veteran Lopez.

Account must also be taken of any expected growth Claxton may undergo during the 2023-24 campaign. It should be noted that Claxton has been seen taking a lot of 3-pointers this summer whenever there’s a camera in range. An improvement in that area would certainly raise his price.

Then there is just the law of supply and demand. Unless the Nets make another big signing or Day’Ron Sharpe makes his own leap this year, the Nets could begin another season without a true backup center — failing to fill a seemingly eternal hole. But that’s a story for another day.

So with the Nets thin at the center position, expect Claxton to take extensive burns. There will generally be fewer chefs in the Brooklyn kitchen on the offensive end as well in the midst of an entire season without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Those reasons, in addition to his overall projected growth just by being so young, make another batch of career-high numbers feel likely for Clax.

I’m no economist, but given all of these factors, Claxton will likely have a year-to-year number closer to Lopez’s, but Claxton won’t settle for two years like the former Nets center. A multi-year deal also arguably makes more sense for him given his age and potential. That brings us to a four-year, $24 million dollar deal that pays Claxton a total of $96 million as a realistic cap hit for next summer.

Of course, barring any regression or serious injury, the Nets front office should consider it a win if they strike a deal with him anywhere in the $20-$24 million window. Doing so could make Claxton the team’s third-highest player in average, behind Simmons and Johnson as well as its highest-paid big man since Lopez.

There are certainly arguments for bringing that number down, but the market will decide. Shooting seems to be more and more a requirement for centers these days rather than a bonus attribute. Despite the off-season video, it’s a mountain Claxton has yet to climb.

But with the Nets wedded to the switch on defense over the past few years, and Claxton being by many accounts the best switch big man in the league, his importance to the team cannot be overstated. Above all, for that reason, expect him to reach that number – and consider it well-deserved.

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