• Erik Slater

Brooklyn Nets likely to be patient at deadline with offseason aspirations

The clock is counting down to Thursday’s 3 p.m. Eastern trade deadline and teams around the league are rushing to find a way to address their biggest need.

Currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, a playoff berth seems likely for the Brooklyn Nets for the first time in three seasons.

This has raised the question of whether or not this success should alter Brooklyn’s plans at the deadline.

This is a valid question as the Nets have turned heads around the league this season and a competitive playoff showing could go a long way in the eyes of free agents.

Brooklyn has been playing injured for the majority of the season and will receive a huge boost when Caris LeVert returns from injury.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Nets are optimistic LeVert can return before the All-Star break. LeVert and Allen Crabbe returned to practice Tuesday. Spencer Dinwiddie, who is sidelined three to six weeks with a thumb injury, will also be back by mid-March.

The Nets’ success without LeVert has many labeling Atkinson’s squad as a team that can make some noise in the playoffs at full strength. This has many pointing to the Nets as a potential buyer at the deadline.

While general manager Sean Marks has done a wonderful job constructing a well-rounded roster, one vital piece to Atkinson’s fast-paced offense has been missing: A floor-spacing power forward with size.

Jared Dudley filled in nicely this season prior to a hamstring injury but is obviously not a long-term solution. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has regressed while fighting injuries this season, hurting Brooklyn far more than he has helped offensively.

DeMarre Carroll, Rodions Kurucs and Treveon Graham have all seen time at the 4. However, Carroll and Graham are undersized while Kurucs has flashed potential as a versatile two-way wing with great size.

With the Nets in playoff contention for the first time in years, many fans and analysts are calling for Brooklyn to find the solution at power forward before the deadline.

Nikola Mirotic, Dario Saric and Bobby Portis are proven stretch 4s that will be available. Denver may also dangle Trey Lyles in discussions. There are plenty of options on the market, but do any of them make sense for the Nets long-term?

At 6’10”, Mirotic offers an impressive combination of size and shooting at the 4. The fifth-year forward will garner significant interest on the trade market. It makes sense for the Pelicans to try to accumulate assets in preparation for Anthony Davis‘ departure.

While he would fit nicely in Brooklyn’s offense, Mirotic is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and is already making $12.5 million this season. With floor-spacing power forwards in high demand, someone is likely to overpay for him.

A trade for Mirotic would include his early Bird rights, allowing the Nets to go over the cap this offseason to re-sign him, similar to how they re-signed Joe Harris.

However, do the Nets want to commit a sizable portion of their long-term cap space to Mirotic? Likely not as it would inhibit them from pursuing a potential star this offseason.

If Marks does not want Mirotic clogging up his books long-term, why would he give up assets for him at the deadline? A rental does the Nets no good at this point with the team still in a rebuild.

Portis is an intriguing option in the Nets’ system. The fourth-year forward is proving his value to GMs around the league, averaging 14.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game on career-high 37.5 percent shooting from 3.

The 2015 first-round selection will be a restricted free agent this offseason and Chicago’s selection of Wendell Carter Jr. seventh overall in the 2018 draft signals they are going a different direction.

The Bulls will be looking to move Portis and the Nets are a good fit. However, similar to Mirotic, Portis will have numerous suitors this offseason. If the Nets were to deal a draft pick for the 23-year-old, they could risk being forced to match a pricey offer sheet.

Marks will likely be patient as he can wait to see if Portis receives a big offer in restricted free-agency or pursue the forward at his own price if Chicago renounces his rights.

Saric is a more affordable option. The 24-year-old is set to make $3.4 million next season with a qualifying offer of $4.7 million in 2020.

Acquired by the Minnesota Timberwolves in November, Saric is averaging 9.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game on 33.7 percent shooting from 3 this season.

While the Nets wouldn’t have to worry about paying Saric this offseason, the Timberwolves are reportedly placing a hefty price tag on the forward. Sean Deveney of The Sporting News quoted one league executive as saying:

“He could be had for a decent offer, a first-rounder and a player.”

A first-round pick may deter Brooklyn from dealing for Saric, who was playing at a higher level last season in Philadelphia. Marks will likely call to gauge the market for Saric.

If he can talk the price down to something along the lines of Carroll and the New York Knicks’ second-round pick, he may consider. But if Minnesota is set on acquiring a first-rounder, expect the Nets to pass.

Trey Lyles is an attractive buy-low candidate. The 23-year-old has struggled this year in Denver, shooting a career-low 25.7 percent from 3.

Lyles is the final year of his rookie deal and will be a restricted free agent this offseason with a qualifying offer of $4.6 million.

Brooklyn could deal for Lyles and retain him at a bargain price as his shooting struggles may discourage teams around the league from signing him to an offer sheet.

The 12th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft has a vast skill set that fits well in Brooklyn’s pace-and-space offense. While he is struggling this year, Lyles shot 35.8 percent from deep over his first three seasons.

At 6’10”, he also has a unique ability to put the ball on the floor and drive past defenders on closeouts.

Lyles could offer immediate help at power forward this season with the potential to stick long-term. Unlike the other forwards on the market, he will not come at a high price and will not require the Nets to use a sizable portion of their cap space to retain him.

While Mirotic, Saric and Portis are all high-level players that fit the system and Lyles could be a long-term role player, the Nets have higher hopes for the power forward position.

Peter Vecsey, a former New York Post columnist, reported last month that “the Nets intently covet” newly-acquired Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris this offseason.

Per Wojnarowski, Philadephia acquired Harris early Wednesday morning in a deal that sent Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, two first-round picks and two second-round picks to Los Angeles.

Harris is in the midst of the best season of his career and is the ideal four in Brooklyn’s offense. At 6’9″, he is long, athletic and versatile with natural scoring ability.

The 26-year-old is averaging career-highs in points (20.7), rebounds (7.9), 3-point shooting percentage (42.2) and field goal percentage (49.3) this season. Harris possesses the unique ability to score from all levels of the floor at power forward.

He can shoot from 3, pull up in the mid-range and blow by defenders on drives.

Most importantly, Harris is playing with the composure of a star late in games.

The Long Island native is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and Brooklyn will likely be one of several teams pursuing the forward. Philadelphia is reportedly budgeting to retain Harris, but the Nets will offer stiff competition this summer.

Zach Lowe stated Monday on his podcast that the Nets are also interested in Aaron Gordon. Gordon signed a four-year, $80 million contract to remain with Orlando last offseason.

Gordon is an explosive athlete that offers unique versatility on both ends of the floor. The 23-year-old is an elite finisher and a respectable shooter from 3. He also offers the valuable ability to switch onto numerous positions on the defensive end.

However, any deal for Gordon would come at the expense of a core player, most likely Jarrett Allen or D’Angelo Russell, and multiple draft picks.

While the Harris trade may make a deal for Gordon more attractive, it’s hard to see Marks giving up multiple assets when he already has the ability to pursue a star this summer.

The 2019 free agent class will feature Kyrie Irving (player option), Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard (player option), Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler (player option) and Kristaps Porzingis (restricted free agent), as well as Harris.

With this assortment of studs set to hit the market, it wouldn’t make sense for the Nets to deal assets and commit a chunk of cap space to Mirotic or Portis this summer.

A trade for any power forward that requires them to part with first-round picks or use significant cap space in the offseason seems unlikely.

Given this, a bargain deal for Lyles is the most sensible trade.

Denver is in need of depth on the wing and with Paul Millsap and Juan Hernangomezat the 4, they are likely not intent on retaining Lyles. Graham and second-round compensation may be enough to pry the power forward away from Denver.

If the price is in that range, Marks would be hard pressed not to consider.

The loaded 2019 free-agent class makes it unlikely that the Nets will seek a long-term solution at power forward prior to Thursday’s deadline.

While the Nets are in playoff contention for the first time in years, they are still in rebuild mode. Marks will be operating at the deadline with a long-term vision.