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The Brooklyn Nets had a tumultuous 2022.
From trading James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers for Ben Simmons in February, Kevin Durant’s trade interest in late June and, most recently, the suspension of coach Steve Nash and Kyrie Irving—it’s been quite a downward spiral for a Durant-owned team. In the year In 2021, it will be a finger away from the Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Can the franchise course correct or is it time to start tearing the roster apart for a realistic rebuild?
All about KD
At 34, after a torn Achilles tendon, Durant is still one of the NBA’s best players. In 11 games this season, he is averaging 31 points per game while shooting 51.8 percent from the field. He remains a generation-setter and the Nets’ most important player.
Durant is also under contract for three more seasons (through 2025-26), so why would Brooklyn consider letting him go via trade?
They may not be. time.
But according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, general manager Sean Marks and Nash are pushing for dismissals, and we’re not far from Durant. Durant eventually relented, and Nash’s rise came more organically.
But if the losses continue to pile up, the Nets (4-7) could be in for a two-round sweep. Durant wants to win, and if he doesn’t believe that will happen in Brooklyn, he may try to get him to move again. Given the length of his contract, some around the league are skeptical that he will be fit until near the end of his contract.
The number of teams interested in Durant can easily match his $44.1 million salary, and the list of franchises with enough young stars, prospects and picks to entice them is much larger. Will the Boston Celtics offer Jaylen Brown? Are the Toronto Raptors willing to talk about Scotty Barnes?
How eager was Brooklyn to send Durant to the rival New York Knicks, even though New York had already included several of their draft picks? Would the Golden State Warriors be willing to return Durant by offering prospects like James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody? Can the Miami Heat even get a viable offer that doesn’t include Bam Adebayo?
It’s also time for the Nets to realize they’re at the end of their current core and start anew. If any of the above occurs, it may be too late.
For now, however, the franchise remains on the lookout for a replacement for interim head coach Jacques Vaughn.
Hiring a coach applicant
If the Nets hire Ime Udoka (he’s said to be the favorite). h/t Charania), not to control the reconstruction group. Udoka has a solid reputation as a coach after a run that took the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals and a long tenure as an assistant in the league.
Outside of coaching, Udoka was also named after he was suspended by the Celtics for violating team policies, including using “profane language in a conversation with a female subordinate prior to initiating an inappropriate workplace relationship with the woman.” .
It makes sense for the Nets to hire the best coach to revitalize the 2022-23 campaign and invest Durant in Brooklyn. But given Udoka’s actions in Boston, this is also tactless. Marc Stein reported that Tsai’s push against Udoka was troubling enough behavior.
Mark Stein @Stein line
League sources say there have been some “strong voices” pushing Joe Cy from the Nets to end their interest in hiring suspended Celtics coach Ime Udoka as Steve Nash’s successor, given the turmoil Brooklyn has faced this offseason.
More to come: https://t.co/LGN9cVpMwn
Some around the league speculate that commissioner Adam Silver is pressuring the Nets to reconsider Udoka’s hiring.
If the decision is to bring in a winning coach now to match Durant, the Nets will be more of a buyer than a seller at the trade deadline. If the next coach is less than stellar, the franchise may be moving forward post-KD.
With Charania, the Nets have an extensive list of steps to follow to get Irving back into the game.
Irving can quickly follow them—especially after it’s been reported that “”Fruitful“Meet Silver on Tuesday at Charania — and help Brooklyn get back to tournament form. But it’s within reach.”
“There is a growing pessimism in various corners of the league that Kyrie will play for the Nets again,” Stein said.
Regardless of the outcome, if Irving’s $36.9 million comes off the books following this season’s campaign, Brooklyn won’t have cap space come July. The maximum the team can have is a non-taxpayer mid-level distinction starting at $11.4 million.
Any significant updates surrounding Durant could come via trade, either at the February 10 deadline or after the season surrounding the draft and free agency.
Is there any market for Irving? That’s not clear, but initial inquiries in NBA circles have been very disappointing.
“It’s toxic now,” said one executive.
The Los Angeles Lakers traded him to the Nets earlier in the summer, but Brooklyn wasn’t open to moving Irvin at the time. Now, it seems too late.
Draft selection is problematic
More importantly, if the Nets decide it’s time to move on from the Durant rebuild, the franchise still has multiple first-round picks available to the Houston Rockets for Harden.
If Victor Wenbayama is the No. 1 pick in 2023, Houston has the right to trade with the Nets. Even though Brooklyn has the top pick and the Rockets are No. 2, the Nets won’t get Wenbanyama.
At least Houston is among the worst teams in the league; A trade might not be terrible, other than losing a shot at the franchise pole. Scott Henderson of the G League Ignite is a great consolation prize.
The Rockets have trade rights in 2025 and 2027, and Houston automatically gets the Nets’ 2024 and 2026 first-round picks. A lack of draft currency may be all it takes to keep Brooklyn from rebuilding.
But that’s not the same as the Nets that Mark took over in 2016, a few years later in 2013 with the Celtics in trades for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and others. That deal depleted the Nets, but Marks showed impressive ability in 2018-19 by turning “nothing” into a playoff team.
That fledgling team fell in five games to the Sixers in the 2019 playoffs, winning one more game in the process to make up two of the three postseason runs of the Durant/Irving era (to be fair, Durant was still recovering from an Achilles injury until 2019).20)
Simon and the rest
The Nets are not without talent. The team has a number of strong veterans such as Royce O’Neal, Joe Harris and Seth Curry (working back from an ankle injury). Young prospects like Nick Claxton and Cam Thomas are developing well.
The elephant in the room is Ben Simmons, who the Nets acquired in return for Harden from the 76ers. He has struggled to get and stay healthy since the Nets acquired him in February.
“Simmons doesn’t have much trade value right now,” one executive said. “He wasn’t healthy, and when he was caught, he didn’t look very good. He definitely didn’t make up for it.”
Simmons is owed $78.2 million for two more seasons, so a move could be tempting. If the Nets decide to trade Durant, they should try tying Simmons as a requirement.
The Nets may want to shed Irving’s salary, but that should be a priority since his contract expires after the season. If Brooklyn clears Durant and Simmons via trade, the franchise could have significant financial flexibility, with Irving leaving in July.
The list of teams capable of taking on that kind of money is short (Durant and Simmons earned $79.5 million this season), but the Lakers could theoretically get there by offering Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn. Will LA use the 2027 and 2029 first-round picks to salvage such a blockbuster season?
All three Lakers’ contracts are expiring, which could open up $71-81 million in cap space for the Nets next summer, depending on which players the team selects (like Westbrook, O’Neal, etc.).
Continue or start?
Do the Nets really have the wherewithal to give Durant enough of a supporting cast to compete? Will Irving stay happy if he doesn’t return from suspension?
The Nets may not get the same kind of return that the Utah Jazz got for Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell (lots and lots of first-round picks). Few teams other than the Knicks have a starting treasure chest to offer.
Still, Brooklyn owes Houston a chance to add some young, high-quality prospects and possibly add Simmons in the process.
Especially if the Nets bring in Udoka, the coaching penalty will tell her. Then, a business may be focused on winning rather than rebuilding.
If the roster is intact, healthy and busy, maybe a Udoka can turn this team into another playoff power in the East. Whether the team gets that opportunity remains up in the air, especially with Irving’s situation still unresolved.
As long as Durant believes in what the team is doing, Brooklyn may try to move on, but it doesn’t seem like Durant’s summer return to form in search of a new home is out of the question.
Email Eric Pincus at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter. @EricPincus.