With the Brooklyn Nets future becoming a rising topic of discussion, attention should turn to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a soon-to-be restricted free agent.
The Brooklyn Nets are making their bed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, having won three straight and 12 of their last 15.
The recent success has put the franchise’s progress into focus and raised even more questions about the team’s future.
Brooklyn responded to one of those questions, locking backup point guard Spencer Dinwiddie into a three-year extension worth $42 million.
Now, most eyes are turning to point guard D’Angelo Russell, who’s averaging career-highs in points (18.2), assists (6.4), and three-point percentage (.354).
Now 24 (happy birthday, Rondae), the Nets forward is eligible for a qualifying offer worth $3.5 million. Or, and this is infinitely more probable, he’ll test the restricted market.
So, what does Hollis-Jefferson mean to this young team?
What’s he worth in today’s market?
Can Brooklyn really afford to let him walk?
Rondae’s fourth season hasn’t lifted off as many expected it would. He’s averaging just 9.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.9 assists in 24 minutes per game.
Once a reliable starter, head coach Kenny Atkinson has opted to play him with the second unit recently.
Hollis-Jefferson’s impact comes at random times, usually on the defensive side of the ball. He was tasked with guarding LeBron James in Brooklyn’s recent win over the Lakers and at times is clearly the Nets’ best defender.
(Albeit when Caris LeVert isn’t on the court.)
Offensively, he’s pretty mobile within the post and has put together some flashy highlights this season. However, Hollis-Jefferson has failed to develop a reliable three-point shot, posting a .242 clip from deep so far this year.
He’s a reliable rebounder with a 7-foot-2-inch wingspan. Still, averaging just 5.8 rebounds per game doesn’t push his needle on the depth chart. That’s especially true when factoring in the emergence of Ed Davis, who Brooklyn signed last offseason on a one-year deal.
Davis, previously with Portland, is averaging a career-high three offensive rebounds per game. He’s filling a gap last year’s Nets couldn’t bridge and will play a large role should they make the playoffs.
This makes the argument for Brooklyn to offer Hollis-Jefferson all the more complex. And that’s without mentioning his history of injuries. In four seasons with Brooklyn, Rondae has missed 53 games, 4 games, 14 games, and 7 thus far this season.
The Nets’ current win-streak (three games) has come without Hollis-Jefferson on the floor. While it’s certain he could help, it’s just more evidence in favor of a lesser deal for the forward.
Before they decide whether to offer an extension, however, there should be a reasonable conversation about expectations and his likelihood of taking the “Joe Harris route.”
As a former first-round pick who’s shown glimmers of a starter-scale ceiling, there’s no question Hollis-Jefferson will get paid. But it’s how much he’ll get paid that makes things difficult.
Ironically enough, the Brooklyn front office has been the most aggressive team on the restricted market in recent years. Now they will have to sit on the opposite end of this affair, bracing for an offer sheet they simply can’t stomach matching.
Teams like Atlanta, Sacramento, or even Dallas could all come knocking for Rondae’s talents. They have the cap space, and they sit far enough off from contending that they can afford to invest in developing (even more) youth.
An appropriate comparison for Hollis-Jefferson’s situation is Jerami Grant’s deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Back in July, Grant signed a three-year, $27-million deal to remain with the team, after having spent two years there already.
The season prior, he averaged 8.4 points and 3.9 rebounds in just 20 minutes per game. Grant was a big force in the Thunder’s top-10 defense, and he was a 24-year-old player still not fully developed.
He and the Thunder likely worked out this deal before most buyers could circle back and present offer sheets, i.e. he took a discount to stay in a favorable situation.
Rondae’s situation with Brooklyn could play out just the same.
Both Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie accepted deals for less than what they could have potentially netted in an open market to remain with the Nets.
Brooklyn gave them both a chance, assisted their development, and trusted them amidst a strenuous rebuild.
There is something about this core and the direction of the franchise that excites players, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the same holding true for Hollis-Jefferson.
But Can Brooklyn Let Him Walk?
Of the Nets’ four budding youths, it seems Hollis-Jefferson may be the most expendable. Russell has taken a commanding lead of the offense; Dinwiddie is thriving in his role, and LeVert was the team’s best player before going down with injury.
The front office thinks highly of their longest-tenured player, for sure, but a deal that could forfeit their free-agency hopes just doesn’t make sense.
Brooklyn is being viewed as a potential landing spot for one of the summer’s top free agents. Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Tobias Harris, and potentially Khris Middleton will all enter the open market.
The Nets will have the cap space to offer a max contract and are an up-and-coming franchise in terms of contention. Of course, remaining in the Eastern Conference playoff race will play a large part in those free-agency hopes.
The Nets youth-first movement has finally caught up to them, and they face some tough decisions with a huge summer ahead.
Should the Brooklyn front office feel strongly about their chances to sign a big-name free agent, they very likely will let either D’Angelo Russell or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson go.
Based on overall fit, talent, and potential market value, the latter is most likely to take the fall. Above all else, Brooklyn has become a proven groomer of young talent, whether Rondae lives it out his career with the Nets or not.