LeBron is free, but Nets eye 2016-17

LeBron James' opting out and becoming a free agent has many teams dreaming of landing the best player on the planet.

For the Brooklyn Nets, it certainly would be a fantasy for many reasons.

For starters, the Nets' cap situation is so overloaded that they would have to find a way to clear a ton of space. Their two youngest and best trading chips -- Deron Williams and Brook Lopez -- are each coming off surgeries and either a disappointing or a shortened season. The Nets will certainly explore all options to improve this summer. But trading one, if not both, will be awfully difficult.

Williams will make $19.7 million next season, and Lopez is set to earn $15.7 million. And then there’s Joe Johnson, who will make $23.1 million in 2014-15.

All indications are that Kevin Garnett will return for his final season under contract worth $12 million. So while the Nets can still re-sign Paul Pierce and pay him more than any other team because they own his Bird rights, you get the point of any hope for LeBron being a fantasy.

The Nets would have to find a taker, or takers, for some of their unsavory contracts, while taking nothing back in return contractwise to clear cap space. And LeBron isn’t interested in carrying a team. He would want to go to a situation that is built to win it all now with help from other stars and the ability to contend for the next several seasons.

Going to a Chicago or Houston or staying in Miami certainly appears more attractive than coming to the Nets and teaming up with Williams or Lopez coming off surgery.

So what about next season? What if James were to sign a one-year deal with the Heat and then become a free agent next summer? The Nets would basically have to sign minimum guys this summer and likely let Shaun Livingston and Pierce walk in free agency.

The Nets would be an average team at best if that were the case and with no guarantees of landing James next summer. Their goal is to remain competitive and try to keep their diminishing window of contention open as long as they can. Bringing back Pierce and having Garnett return at least gives them two years out of last summer’s blockbuster trade.

The Nets will look to try to add onto what they have, if at all possible, rather than subtract and hope to land a big free agent next summer.

Brooklyn has its eyes focused on further down the road -- for 2016-17 when Kevin Durant becomes a free agent and the Nets are expected to have salary cap freedom and space.