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How the Brooklyn Nets should approach the trade deadline

NBA trade season is upon us.

With the Feb. 7 trade deadline just a month away, players from all walks of the association will soon be packing their bags and making their way to their new homes.

The Brooklyn Nets, winners of 12 of their last 16, find themselves in a different situation than years past. Halfway through the season, the Nets are 20-22 and are just a game back of sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Coach Kenny Atkinson’s squad did not win their 20th game until Feb. 26 last season.

All of this is coming without arguably Brooklyn’s best player in Caris LeVert, a testament to the well-rounded talent and depth of the roster Nets general manager Sean Marks has built.

Many ruled out a run at the playoffs after LeVert’s injury and an eight-game losing streak that brought Brooklyn to 8-18, but several key players have silenced the doubters.

D’Angelo Russell is playing at the highest level of his career, averaging 18.1 points and 6.3 assists per game on shooting splits of 42.2/35.7/81.3 this season. The former second overall pick is finally playing with the poise on both ends of the floor that could earn him a multi-year contract.

Joe Harris is second in the league in 3-point percentage at 48.2 percent and has made key plays down the stretch of several tight games.

Jarrett Allen has emerged as one of the top defensive centers in the league, earning league-wide recognition for his emphatic blocks on Blake Griffin, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis.

Spencer Dinwiddie has steadily improved upon last year’s breakout season, averaging 17.1 points and 5.1 assists on 36.6 percent shooting from 3 this year.

On top of this, Brooklyn’s supporting cast has done a tremendous job of filling their roles. The entire team plays with an energy and enthusiasm that is contagious.

With the trade deadline around the corner, we take a look at the different approaches Sean Marks may take and prospects he could potentially target.

Buying

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that the sense around the league is that the Brooklyn Nets may be a buyer at the deadline:

“Now you hear after I talked to executives out there, the Nets are calling around wanting to be buyers at this deadline. Not taking on bad contracts to get draft picks, actually getting players, and we haven’t heard that in years.”

Any player that would offer significant, immediate help would likely require Brooklyn parting ways with Denver’s 2019 first-round pick. If Marks were to trade this pick, it will be for a player that helps now but also presents long-term value in the eyes of the front office.

Brooklyn will not undervalue Denver’s pick. Marks has had tremendous success finding talent late in the draft, selecting Caris LeVert 20th overall, Jarrett Allen 22nd overall and Rodions Kurucs 40th overall.

With the success of Brooklyn’s backcourt and a glaring need at power forward, any deadline acquisition will likely come in the form of a stretch four or a versatile defensive stopper. Here are a few prospects Marks could target at the deadline:

Rodney Hood

Rodney Hood is an intriguing option for Brooklyn. The Cleveland Cavaliers are in full rebuild mode following LeBron James’ departure. Hood is 26 years old and in the final year of his contract. The Cavs will be looking to find value for the two-way threat at the deadline.

The Duke product is having a decent year for the depleted Cavaliers, averaging 12.9 points per game on 39.1 percent shooting from 3.

Hood has yet to reach his full potential defensively, but at 6’8″ with a 6’9″ wingspan and great athleticism, he has the measurables and quickness to wreak havoc on the defensive end.

Brooklyn is an exciting team to be a part of. From top to bottom, they are constantly making hustle plays and feeding off of each other’s energy. Hood has been stuck with a Cleveland team playing uninspired basketball.

Perhaps a move to a young, up-and-coming team would be the spark Hood needs break out.

Hood fits the mold of the 3-and-D wing that is becoming among the most valuable assets in today’s NBA. He could turn into a younger version of DeMarre Carroll that may stick in Brooklyn long-term.

Hood’s arrival would also give Atkinson the option to play Rodions Kurucs at the 4 more frequently.

With Hood in the last year of his contract, Cleveland would not have much leverage in negotiations. Denver’s 2019 first would likely be enough to acquire the young wing.

Bobby Portis

Another intriguing prospect at a position of need is Bobby Portis of the Chicago Bulls. At 6’11” and just 23 years old, Portis has developed into a solid stretch 4 in his fourth season.

The 2015 first-rounder is a career 34.3 percent shooter from deep and has a soft touch with his back to the basket. Portis has the height and muscle to control the boards as well, averaging a career-high 7.7 rebounds per game this season.

A 3-point shooting power forward with great size is a luxury Brooklyn has yet to obtain in Kenny Atkinson’s system. Portis would space the floor on offense while defending larger power forwards and rebounding, a combination Brooklyn has struggled to find on the current roster.

Portis will be a restricted free agent with a $3.6 million qualifying offer after this season. The young stretch 4 would be an immediate help to the playoff push while adding a potential long-term fit.

Chicago’s selection of Wendell Carter Jr. seventh overall is likely a sign that they are not intent on paying Portis past this season, making him a viable trade candidate.

Marks could look to package Denver’s pick with an expiring contract such as Kenneth Faried to gain general manager Gar Forman’s interest.

Trey Lyles

If Marks is unwilling to include Denver’s pick in a deadline deal, he would be wise to buy low on a young prospect such as Trey Lyles.

The former 12th overall pick of the 2015 draft is in his fourth season with the Denver Nuggets. The 23-year-old is averaging 9.2 points and 4.4 rebounds in 19.2 minutes per game.

While Lyles is in a shooting slump, converting on just 24 percent of attempts from deep, he was a 35.8 percent 3-point shooter in his first three seasons. At 6’10”, Lyles also offers the unique ability to put the ball on the floor and blow by defenders on closeouts.

This combination of shooting ability and athleticism driving to the basket, along with Lyles’ size, would be an intriguing combination in Brooklyn’s offense. Like Portis, Lyles will be a restricted free agent after this season with a $4.6 million qualifying offer.

The forward’s struggles this season have raised questions about his fit alongside franchise centerpiece Nikola Jokic. Lyles’ playing time is down as of late. The former Kentucky Wildcat is averaging just 10 minutes per game in Denver’s last four contests, all wins.

Lyles’ shooting struggles and decreased playing time have dampened the market for the young forward. Denver is also extremely thin at small forward and lacks a two-way wing.

Torrey Craig is the only true small forward on the roster, averaging just 5.7 points per game on 28.2 percent shooting from 3 in 21.2 minutes a night.

Brooklyn may be able to package a second-rounder with DeMarre Carroll to get a deal done, although Carroll’s leadership qualities and superb play as of late may deter Marks from dealing the veteran.

Portis and Lyles share similar qualities as power forwards with great size who can space the floor.

While Brooklyn has seen success this season with smaller, quicker players at the 4 in their pace-and-space system, both Portis and Lyles move extremely gracefully for their size and offer a unique skill set.

Lyles is the cheaper option, but Portis has a much better chance of sticking long-term. Hood also offers a valuable skill set and long-term projection.

The value Marks places on Denver’s pick or retaining veterans like Carroll will be the deciding factors in how aggressive Brooklyn will be at the deadline.

Dumping Crabbe

While the Brooklyn Nets are enjoying their recent success, they are still far away from a title contending team. Given this, taking the role of the buyer does not fit the mold of Sean Marks’ rebuild.

If Marks does not find a player to aid in the playoff push that also fits into his long-term plans, there is another direction he can take with Denver’s pick.

The alternative would be to use the pick to get out of the final year of Allen Crabbe‘s contract. Crabbe has a player option at $18.5 million next season. Marks’ acquisition of the 26-year-old shooting guard is the lone blemish of his tenure with Brooklyn.

If Marks could get Crabbe’s salary off the books for next season, it would add room for Brooklyn to pay D’Angelo Russell while maintaining space for a big-time signing.

Denver’s pick would be of value to several rebuilding teams looking to replenish their assets. Cleveland, Chicago and Atlanta are a few of the teams that could be interested.

The Nets may need to take back a player of lesser salary so their trade partner would not have to pay Crabbe’s entire contract.

Chicago has been looking to move Jabari Parker. Parker’s contract includes a team option for next season which would most likely be declined.

The Bulls may be interested in a Crabbe for Parker swap if they can take back Denver’s pick. With Chicago in rebuild mode, paying the final year of Crabbe’s contract would be a fair price to pay for a first-round pick.

Marks could also look to step in as the third team in a trade and use Crabbe to make salaries match while adding Denver’s pick to sweeten the pot. They may even be able to bring back another player in such a deal.

The ability to keep D’Angelo Russell long-term while maintaining the flexibility to sign a star would be a tremendous win for Brooklyn at the deadline.

Selling

The other direction Sean Marks could go in would be to sell off pieces or absorb salary dumps for draft picks. However, given the chemistry the Brooklyn Nets have displayed over this recent stretch, it may be hard to break the team up.

There has been speculation since the start of the season that D’Angelo Russell’s impending free agency could lead Marks to trade the guard at the deadline.

However, Russell’s recent success is a large reason why the Nets are in the playoff hunt. The 22-year-old has earned high praise from Nets coach Kenny Atkinson as of late.

Following Russell’s departure from Los Angeles, many reports said the former second overall pick was uncoachable.

Atkinson called those rumors a “myth” on Sunday. YES broadcast commentator Sarah Kustok stated that everyone in the organization, from coaches to teammates to the performance staff, adores Russell.

This does not sound like the narrative of a player who will be traded in the coming weeks.

Another option would be to deal veterans such as DeMarre Carroll or Ed Davis to contenders for draft picks. However, Brooklyn would receive nothing more than second-round picks in return.

It is hard to see a situation where Marks would interrupt the chemistry this team has built this season to acquire a couple of second-round picks.

Brooklyn’s increasing playoff chances have many fans clamoring for a player that would make an immediate impact, but Marks will wisely keep the franchise on its current trajectory. There will be no shortcuts.

If Brooklyn acquires a player for draft picks, he will be one that fits into their long-term plans. If Marks finds a way to get out of the final year of Crabbe’s contract, it would be yet another savvy manipulation of the salary cap.

It is an exciting time for the Brooklyn Nets and the trade deadline will add further clarification of the franchise’s plans for the coming years.