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June 29, 2010, 06:29 PM ET
Transaction Analysis: Nets Dump Yi

by Kevin Pelton

The NBA’s latest cap-clearing move saw the New Jersey Nets send forward Yi Jianlian to the Washington Wizards today in exchange for journeyman Quinton Ross. While the Nets didn’t have to give up a first-round pick, as Chicago did in (reportedly) dealing Kirk Hinrich to Washington or Miami did to get Oklahoma City to take on Daequan Cook, New Jersey did give up a fairly useful player in Yi. Here’s his projections, from our last look at team assets.

Player/Asset         10-11  11-12  12-13  Total

Yi Jianlian            1.3    2.4    2.2    5.8

The Nets saved just under $3 million for 2010-11, the difference between the salaries of Yi and Ross. On average, that amount of cap room is worth just 1.2 WARP per year, for a total of 3.6 over the next three years, so New Jersey has - on paper - hurt itself in terms of assets.

You’ll recall that last week I argued cap space had more value to the Heat because it allowed Miami into a different neighborhood of free agency. Is the same true of the Nets? I think that depends on the next move New Jersey makes. Per the numbers Chad Ford shared today on TrueHoop, New Jersey is now $3.15 million away from having enough room under the cap to sign two max free agents without asking them to take any discounts. Conveniently, Kris Humphries is scheduled to make $3.2 million next season. By sweetening the pot with cash and/or their first-round pick, the Nets should be able to rid themselves of Humphries by the start of free agency.

That leaves just one minor issue. Dealing Humphries would only shave $2.7 million off the cap because it would necessitate adding another minimum-salary cap hold. This is where I don’t quite get why New Jersey agreed to take back Ross, since the difference between his salary and the minimum for rookies would be enough to get the Nets room for two max contracts.

There may be more here than meets the eye. Perhaps New Jersey anticipates using another young player (Courtney Lee or Terrence Williams) in a deal with Humphries. Or maybe the $500,000 difference or so won’t matter to the players the Nets intend to woo - it’s a relatively minor amount in the grand scheme of things, and even if they deal James Johnson the Bulls will be farther away from being able to sign two players for the max, yet they’re still considered in that mix. Still, it is a bit of an oddity that New Jersey couldn’t make the deal without Ross, who wasn’t needed for cap purposes.

From the Wizards perspective, this is a much better deal than the Hinrich one. Yi is a better player than anyone Washington could have signed with the $3 million in cap space they spent on him, plus the Nets apparently floated enough cash to cover the difference in salaries next season. Yi may not turn into anything more than the middling contributor he was in New Jersey, but the cost to find out will be minimal.

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