The Nets Don’t Need More Stars. A Little Help Will Do.

The Nets Don’t Need More Stars. A Little Help Will Do.
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The Nets Don’t Need More Stars. A Little Help Will Do.

The Nets Don’t Need More Stars. A Little Help Will Do.

Sounds cool being the Nets.

Yes, their season ended prematurely after a disappointing second-round loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs. But the loss could easily be attributed to injuries to star goaltenders Kyrie Irving and James Harden. And even then, the Nets came close to winning the series, thanks to the heroism of Kevin Durant.

But they have clear organizational leadership with free agency on the way. It helps to have an owner in Joe Tsai who is ready to open his checkbook.

However, their situation is more precarious than it appears.

The Nets know their starting XI will include Irving, Durant, Harden and possibly Joe Harris. They will be a contender for the championship even if they fill the rest of the list with this article’s readers and the writer. They don’t have any space for caps, so their summer won’t be spent trying to attract another star. But because they have a historically large trio, they’ll likely be able to persuade a quality veteran to take a pay cut to hunt a ring.

However, the organizational orientation does not go further. Above the Nets, their top three players – Irving, Durant and Harden – can leave after the coming season. When teams lose at full blast, the diagnosis is usually straightforward – they need more shots, better defenders, or more bench assist. But it’s harder to assess a team like the Nets, where the best players got injured and the actors – Jeff Green and Bruce Brown for example – often hit over their weight. And now the Nets face added pressure to show their best players that they are savvy enough to acquire the right teammates for them. Otherwise, they can leave.

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Here’s a look at the Nets’ off-season options.

With their lone pick in the first round draft, ranked 27th, the Nets selected Cameron Thomas, 19, a Louisiana state guard known for his score.

Goalkeepers Spencer Dinwiddie, Chris Chiozza and Mike James are among the Nets’ top unrestricted free agents.

Dinwiddie, 28, missed most of last season with a partial anterior cruciate ligament tear in his right knee. He’s a starting caliber keeper on one team that probably doesn’t have room for another, making it likely he won’t return.

The Nets have already taken a few steps, agreeing to bring back Blake Griffin, who found equipment at 32 after joining the Nets in March that he lacked in his final season with the Detroit Pistons. And Brown plans to sign a one-year qualifying offer from the Nets, according to ESPN. Griffin has shown that he is willing to accept a lesser role and that he is able to play alongside Irving, Durant and Harden. Brown, 24, had his best season in his third year, posting career highs in offensive efficiency and rebounds.

Green, 34, bounced back from team to team with minimum contracts, despite his productivity. He was excellent for the Nets last season, his best moment being a 27-point performance against the Bucks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He provided crucial wing depth that the Nets will need to replace: he agreed to a two-year contract with the Denver Nuggets, according to ESPN. In his place, the Nets plan to sign another 34-year-old companion – James Johnson, a tough defensive reserve, for a one-year contract, according to ESPN. Johnson split last season between the Dallas Mavericks and the New Orleans Pelicans.

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The Nets also agreed to terms with Patty Mills, according to ESPN. It was luck: Mills, who turns 33 next week, is one of the league’s best save pointers. He’s been a mainstay of the San Antonio Spurs for most of the past decade and has solid playoff background. He won a championship in 2014 with Spurs. This deal makes Chiozza and James unlikely to return.

As powerful as the Nets’ offense is, their defense has been a handicap for much of the season. Irving, Harden, Harris, and Griffin aren’t known as defensive dynamos. 33-year-old center DeAndre Jordan was excluded from coach Steve Nash’s rotation, in part because he lost a step defensively. In the playoffs, the Nets struggled to slow down Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, underscoring their need for a defensive presence at the rim.

Adding defenders who can shoot to play their stars wouldn’t hurt either.

But the Nets’ most important need might be to try and lock in at least two of their three stars in the long run.

If Dinwiddie leaves there is a possibility of signing and trading and maybe the Nets could help out that way.

There are also some intriguing names in the free agent market. Danny Green, 34, is a very experienced shooter with three championship rings to start. He shot 40.5% from 3 points last season for the Philadelphia 76ers. Avery Bradley, 30, struggled with the Houston Rockets last year after starting the season with Miami, but overall he remains an above-average defenseman and perimeter shooter.

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But more than likely, the biggest help for the Nets will come from organic growth, particularly that of Nicolas Claxton, 22, and Alize Johnson, 25, who spent part of last season in the G League. Claxton, a second-round draft pick in 2019, has proven to be a capable rim racer but needs to bulk up to be more physical. The Nets have signed several 10-day contracts with Johnson, and at every step Johnson has shown impressive energy on the bench. In an April game, Johnson had 20 points and 21 rebounds.

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