Most NBA teams procrastinate until the days leading up to the trade deadline to make their big moves. Not the Brooklyn Nets. They pulled off their James Harden blockbuster less than a month into the season and secured Blake Griffin via buyout before the All-Star Game had even tipped. They’re ahead of the game, and that allows them a comfortable bit of flexibility leading into the deadline itself.
Based on everything they’ve seen since acquiring Harden, the Nets can credibly call themselves the favorites in the Eastern Conference without a single move. Now, they can tailor their decisions to specific needs and matchups in ways less talented teams cannot. The field is trying to catch up to the Nets. Here’s everything you need to know about their position leading up to the deadline.
- Defense: Brooklyn could stand to improve virtually any part of its 26th-ranked defense, but the idea should be to prepare for specific things the Nets will encounter in the postseason. Right now, for example, Brooklyn’s defense has no obvious solution to the LeBron James-Anthony Davis pick-and-roll that forms the backbone of the Lakers’ crunch-time offense. They’re going to need another guard defender as well, unless they’re comfortable with defenses ignoring Bruce Brown behind the arc. Really, though, virtually any additions here would be welcome, even if that just means adding another switchable wing or two. They have nowhere to go but up.
- Defensive rebounding: The Nets aren’t a bad rebounding team, per se, but they are getting absolutely killed on putbacks. The 1.142 points per possession they allow off them ranks 27th in the NBA. Once an opponent gets the ball back against Brooklyn, they’re just not having any trouble scoring. That’s partially a symptom of the small ball Brooklyn favors, which grants any number of other benefits, but striking the proper balance will be critical in the postseason.
- Effort: This is going to pick up naturally in the postseason, but most effort metrics are unkind to the Nets. They rank 24th in charges drawn, 25th in deflections and dead-last in loose balls recovered. Brown losing minutes in the playoffs due to his shooting woes is going to exacerbate those flaws even if everyone else plays harder in the postseason. Another hustle player, but one that can shoot, would be helpful here.
- Untouchables: Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin
- Probably staying: Joe Harris, DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Green, Bruce Brown, Nicolas Claxton
- For the right price: Spencer Dinwiddie, Landry Shamet
- Let’s make a deal: Tyler Johnson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
- Tradable first-round picks: N/A
- Tradable first-round swap rights: N/A
- Tradable second-round picks: 2021 (Atlanta), 2021 (Indiana, protected 45-60), 2021 (Phoenix, protected 36-60), 2022 (own), 2024 (own), 2025 (Golden State), 2026-27 (own)
- The Nets are currently above the luxury tax line. They can therefore only absorb 125 percent of their outgoing salary plus $100,000 in any trade, regardless of what tier of salary they bring in.
- The Nets have not yet spent their taxpayer mid-level exception (originally $5.7 million, but prorating by the day). This can only be spent on free agents. They also have a disabled player exception worth $5.7 million, thanks to Spencer Dinwiddie’s injury. That exception does not prorate, and it can be used in trades.
- Brooklyn currently has only 13 players signed for the rest of the season. It has previously gotten by using 10-day deals for players like Iman Shumpert, Tyler Cook and Andre Roberson, but will need to settle on at least 14 in time for the postseason.
- Dinwiddie has a player option for $12.3 million. If he opts out of it, the Nets have full Bird rights on him, and can therefore pay him anything up to the max in order to retain him.
- Tyler Johnson and Luwawu-Cabarrot are unrestricted free agents, and the Nets will have Early Bird rights on both. They can therefore pay them up to the average player salary (whatever the non-taxpayer mid-level exception amount turns out to be) in order to retain them.
- Jeff Green will be an unrestricted free agent. The Nets will have only Non-Bird rights on him, meaning they can offer only 120 percent of his 2020-21 salary without dipping into their cap exceptions.
- Bruce Brown will be a restricted free agent, but the Nets will have full Bird rights on him. They can offer him anything up to the max, and if another team signs him to an offer sheet, they will have the right to match it and retain him.
Possible trade targets
- Low-end — Garrett Temple: The optics of giving up value for a player the Nets let go of for free in the offseason wouldn’t be great, but Temple’s defense would be more than welcome, and he is beloved by virtually every teammate whose path he crosses. Could the Nets justify playing both him and Brown, given their inconsistent shooting? That’s probably enough of a question mark to deter them, but the organization knows Temple well and should give him a look if the price is low enough.
- Medium-end — Rudy Gay: P.J. Tucker would be the obvious occupant of this slot, but if the Nets really had the chips to get him, wouldn’t they have done so in the Harden trade? Thaddeus Young would’ve made sense prior to the Blake Griffin signing, but Sean Marks has scratched Brooklyn’s playmaking itch already. The 3-and-D forward well starts to dry up from there, but Gay is 34 years old on a Spurs team inching toward a youth movement. If he’s available for the right price, Brooklyn would be wise to check in on him.
- High-end — Aaron Gordon: Orlando’s possible interest in Dinwiddie as a long-term point guard may have cooled after his injury, but Gordon hasn’t exactly been healthy this season either, and with the Magic destined for the lottery, they have little incentive to keep Gordon entering a contract year unless both sides are interested in negotiating an extension. The Nets probably can’t outbid the other suitors that would certainly emerge if Gordon became available, but his defensive versatility would be a remarkable deadline addition.
Possible buyout targets
- Guard — JJ Redick: Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are already Nets, so sure, why not let another member of the Lob City Clippers in on the fun? Redick lives in Brooklyn in the offseasons and his wife has said on the record that she wants him there. The chance to compete for a championship, even in a reduced role, would make Brooklyn the favorite if Redick is indeed bought out.
- Forward — Otto Porter Jr.: Sean Marks always gets his man. Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson both found their way to Brooklyn after their original teams matched expensive offer sheets given to them by Marks, so why not make Porter the third such predestined Net? Porter has hardly played this season due to injury, but if healthy, all-around forwards of his ilk are a rarity.
- Center — JaVale McGee: The Nets already have several mouths to feed at center, but Griffin is an all-offense option and Green works only in small-ball alignments. If they’re looking for another athletic rim-runner and shot-blocker, McGee is probably their best bet barring an Andre Drummond buyout. That he has inside intel on the Lakers is an added bonus.