The Brooklyn Nets are ready to make a splash this summer. Following the team's worst season since 2017-18, those efforts will center on Cleveland Cavaliers star Donovan Mitchell. With the 27-year-old yet to sign an extension entering the final year of his contract, the Nets are expected to be “at the top of the list” of suitors should Cleveland fail to secure a long-term commitment, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst.

But what if the Nets don't pull off a Mitchell trade? After all, the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat would be in the hunt, with several smaller market squads like the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans circling in the background.

Where can the Nets pivot if a Donovan Mitchell trade falls through?

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and guard Darius Garland (10) talk in the fourth quarter against the Indiana Pacers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Brooklyn could look to pivot to another guard. The Atlanta Hawks are expected to break up their backcourt duo of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray this summer. If Mitchell were to remain in Cleveland, Darius Garland's camp would seek a change of scenery for the 24-year-old point guard, according to the Athletic's Shams Charania.

However, such trades would represent a lateral move for a Nets team that finished with the NBA's ninth-worst record this season (32-50). And while less expensive than Mitchell, they'd still come at a significant price. Atlanta and Cleveland would likely seek multiple first-round picks for Young and Garland, who are owed $138 million and $118 million, respectively, over the next three seasons. Beyond that, it's difficult to identify the trade candidate that could vault Brooklyn's often unwatchable offense into a more tolerable category next season.

The Nets have pointed to the 2025 offseason as the starting point of their next era. With Ben Simmons' albatross contract expiring, Brooklyn could have over $60 million in cap space. However, if they strike out on Mitchell this summer, can they run it back in 2024-25 with a rotation that looked like one of the NBA's worst for most of this season? All in hopes of a mystery star coming to rescue them next offseason?

That's a very tough sell to a fanbase frustrated with the team's lack of direction amidst the misery of 2023-24. So what is Brooklyn's other option if a Mitchell trade doesn't come to fruition?

Enter the Rockets.

Will the Rockets re-enter the picture?

The Nets and Rockets have been rumored trade partners since the deadline. With Houston in control of Brooklyn's first-round picks in 2024 (No. 3 overall), 2025 (swap), 2026, and 2027 (swap), the two teams have discussed various frameworks that would return the Nets their draft capital.

Rockets general manager Rafael Stone called Nets general manager Sean Marks at the trade deadline and sought to offer Brooklyn's picks back in return for the Phoenix Suns' future draft picks, according to the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen. Brooklyn owns Phoenix's first-round picks in 2025, 2027, 2028 (swap) and 2029, all unprotected. Marks “quickly dismissed” the idea.

However, that framework could be back on the table with Houston expected to re-engage Brooklyn ahead of the draft, according to the Athletic's Kelly Iko. A trade for their picks back would allow the Nets to fully reset and build through the draft while developing young prospects like Cam Thomas and Noah Clowney. The logical next step after such a move would be trading Mikal Bridges and other veterans, such as Cam Johnson and Dorian Finney-Smith, to accumulate more draft capital.

However, there's another version of a Houston deal where Brooklyn could re-coup its draft capital while retaining its Phoenix picks, which are rising in value following the Suns' first-round implosion. The Rockets reportedly also discussed a deal for Mikal Bridges at the deadline that would have returned Jalen Green and several of Brooklyn's first-round picks, first reported by Yahoo Sports' Jake Fischer and confirmed by Shams Charania.

It remains to be seen whether that deal would still be on the table. But if the Nets are to kick the tires on a rebuild, trading Bridges for several of their picks back while retaining the Phoenix picks would be the best outcome. Such a deal would allow them to regain control of their future while maintaining maximum flexibility.

It'll be a busy offseason for the Nets' front office, and like several others, Mitchell will be at the top of the list of priorities. However, Brooklyn should be preparing contingency plans. And after an abysmal 2023-24 campaign, Houston could offer Marks a liferaft if he strikes out in his star pursuit.