Nic Claxton's impending unrestricted free agency is among the Brooklyn Nets' top question marks of the 2023-24 season. Despite his uncertain future with the Nets, the breakout center recently expressed his desire to make Brooklyn his long-term home, via Michael Scotto of HoopsHype.

“A place where I’m wanted,” Claxton said of his free agency desires. “Hopefully, everything works out with Brooklyn. I love it here.”

Claxton emerged as one of the NBA's top defenders last season. He tied Jaren Jackson Jr. for the league lead in stocks (steals + blocks) with 254 and finished 10th in the Defensive Player of the Year voting. He also made significant strides offensively, leading the NBA in field goal percentage (70.5) while flashing an array of crafty moves as a self-creator and finisher.

This year, the former second-round pick is averaging 12.1 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks on 64.7 percent shooting after missing eight of Brooklyn's first nine games due to an ankle sprain.

While the fifth-year Net may want to stay in Brooklyn long-term, the question remains: how much will it cost the Nets? And are they willing to meet that price point?

Claxton cashes out

Nic Claxton, Brooklyn Nets, NBA

Claxton’s projected salary is $21 million per year, according to 12 NBA executives polled by HoopsHype. However, several executives believe his new deal could approach as much as $25 million annually. The projected range isn't surprising based on recent deals in the center market.

Former Nets center Jarrett Allen received a five-year, $100 million deal from the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jakob Poeltl signed a four-year, $78 million deal with the Toronto Raptors, and Nikola Vucevic inked a three-year, $60 million deal with the Chicago Bulls. At the same time, Brook Lopez, Myles Turner and Clint Capela all agreed to two-year deals worth between $20 million and $24 million annually.

While Claxton has earned his place among the above names, extending him on a deal in the same range is far from a no-brainer for Brooklyn. After trading Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Nets have a known desire to pair a star with Mikal Bridges in the near future. That desire makes keeping Claxton and Cam Johnson, who signed a four-year, $94.5 million contract this offseason, unlikely long-term given the spending constraints of the new CBA.

This has led to speculation that general manager Sean Marks could trade Claxton ahead of this year's deadline. While he will likely gauge interest in the Georgia product, Marks is under no obligation to deal Claxton this season, regardless of whether he fits into Brooklyn's long-term plans.

Similar to Johnson's free agency, the Nets can re-sign Claxton, retaining control of him and kicking the can down the road on a long-term decision. That would allow Claxton to maintain or grow his trade value without forcing Brooklyn to effectively punt on this season.

However, re-signing Claxton at a deal exceeding $20 million annually will hurt Brooklyn's ability to retain other rotation pieces. The Nets have $116.6 million committed to eight players next season. Re-signing Claxton would increase that to nearly $140 million, with the luxury tax line set for $172 million.

Brooklyn has an incentive to stay out of the luxury tax again in 2024-25 due to a CBA clause known as the repeater tax. Teams exceeding the luxury tax line three times in four years are taxed $2.50 per every dollar over the line. That figure increases to $2.75, $3.50 and $4.25 for every additional $5 million. Aside from savings for owner Joe Tsai, dodging the tax next season would ensure the Nets are not subject to the repeater tax until at least 2028.

Spencer Dinwiddie, Royce O’Neale, Lonnie Walker, Dennis Smith Jr and Trendon Watford will be unrestricted free agents this offseason. With the Nets aiming to avoid the tax, re-signing Claxton would mean moving on from multiple of those players.

Dinwiddie has played a key role as Brooklyn's lead ball handler this season with Ben Simmons sidelined. He ranks 13th in the NBA in assists since Simmons went down, averaging 7.5 per game. His 3.94 assist/turnover ratio during that span ranks third among 15 players averaging seven or more assists.

The veteran point guard could also approach a deal worth $20 million annually, meaning re-signing both him and Claxton could leave the Nets less than $15 million below the luxury tax with five roster spots left to fill.

Brooklyn came out the other side of Durant and Irving's departures with a foundational player in Bridges and a stockpile of draft picks. Johnson's free agency presented Marks with his first critical decision of the post-Durant-Irving era. He'll soon be forced into a similar position with Claxton, and how he proceeds will offer a glimpse into his long-term plans for the new-look Nets.