Brooklyn Nets 2019 Offseason Preview
The 2018-19 season marked the turning point of the Sean Marks-Kenny Atkinson era with the Brooklyn Nets. A 14-win improvement and the team’s first playoff berth since 2015 turned heads around the league.
A young core, gritty style of play and significant cap space has Brooklyn positioned to be a premier free-agent destination for the first time in years.
Upon his arrival in 2016, general manager Sean Marks brought a plan to Brooklyn. Through under-the-radar signings and trades, solid drafting and savvy manipulations of the salary cap, Marks has rebuilt the franchise.
Now, with the Nets in position to make a splash, Marks will need to capitalize on his work and bring elite talent to Brooklyn this summer.
When all is said and done, the Brooklyn Nets may head into next season with a transformed roster. Brooklyn’s superstar aspirations have thrown the future of several players into question.
Six players from Brooklyn’s roster will hit free agency next season. DeMarre Carroll appears to be on his way out following the acquisition of Taurean Prince. The Nets acquired Prince in a deal with Atlanta that dumped Allen Crabbe‘s contract.
Prince plays a similar game to Carroll as a two-way wing and offers a younger and cheaper alternative at 25 years old. The Baylor product averaged 13.5 points per game on 39 percent shooting from three last season.
Brooklyn will not extend a qualifying offer to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and it is unlikely the forward will be back. Hollis-Jefferson was the longest-tenured Net on the roster after spending four seasons in Brooklyn.
Ed Davis and Jared Dudley will hit free agency and it is unclear whether the veterans will be back. Following a solid season, Davis is in line for a raise and may infringe on Brooklyn’s cap space. It has been rumored that the Nets will target a big man in the draft as a cheaper alternative. Dudley may be the likeliest of the Brooklyn’s free agents to return. The veteran will likely seek a minimum deal after proving to be valuable last season as a high-IQ presence on the floor and in the locker room.
D’Angelo Russell‘s future is among the biggest decisions of the offseason for Marks. The 23-year-old is coming off an All-Star season and will be a restricted free agent. Reports have surfaced that the point guard may not be a primary option for Brooklyn in free agency, leading many to believe another star point guard may be in Marks' sights.
The non-guaranteed deals of Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham will likely be waived to add to cap space.
That leaves the Nets with seven guaranteed contracts. Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs, Dzanan Musa and Prince will serve as the main supporting cast for whichever top free agents wind up in Brooklyn next season.
Free Agents (6): DeMarre Carroll, Jared Dudley, Ed Davis, D’Angelo Russell (restricted), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Theo Pinson (restricted)
Non-Guaranteed (2): Shabazz Napier, Treveon Graham
Guaranteed (7): Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert (expiring), Joe Harris (expiring), Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs, Dzanan Musa (team option for 2020-21), Taurean Prince (expiring)
NBA Draft Preview
Following a trade that sent the 17th pick to Atlanta, the Brooklyn Nets own the 27th and 31st picks in Thursday’s draft.
Marks has consistently found talent late in the draft, selecting the likes of Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs. Without any high draft picks and cap space, Brooklyn’s has drafted for upside regardless of positional need in recent years.
Marks gambled on LeVert, who struggled with injuries in college, as well as Dzanan Musa and Kurucs, both of whom had limited experience against top competition.
Now, with an abundance of cap space and plans to go big-game hunting in free agency, you have to wonder if that philosophy will change. Will Marks go for safer picks that will produce role players or swing for the fences on risky prospects with star potential? Will he look to fill positions of need in the frontcourt or draft the best player available?
It has been reported that the Nets want to select a backup big man in the draft with Ed Davis hitting free agency. There is also a clear hole at power forward that caused problems last season.
Marks has shown he can identify and develop talent late in the draft. This year’s draft may bring more late-round gems and answer questions regarding the status of current free agents on Brooklyn’s roster.
Potential Draft Targets
Mfiondu Kabengele - C - Florida State: Mfiondu Kabengele has been rising up draft boards ahead of Thursday’s draft. The ACC Sixth Man of the Year flashed a versatile skill set last season, averaging 13.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game.
The big man posted great measurements at the combine, standing 6-foot-10 and 259 pounds with a 7-foot-3 wingspan. Kabengele has the size and athleticism to be an impact player on both ends of the floor at the next level.
Offensively, Kabengele’s could fit Brooklyn’s system as a stretch big. The redshirt sophomore showed solid touch from outside last season, converting on 24-of-65 (36.9%) three-point attempts. The Canadian also possesses the coordination necessary to finish in the pick-and-roll.
More importantly, the Florida State product has the bulk and physical tools to control the boards and anchor the paint defensively, areas Jarrett Allen struggled with last season. He also has the mobility to switch off screens and guard on the perimeter.
Kabengele turns 22 in August, hurting his upside case, but the big man has the intangibles that the Nets are looking for. He could go as early as the late teens, but if he falls to 27, Kabengele could be the dream selection.
Bruno Fernando - C - Maryland: Bruno Fernando is one of the biggest question marks heading into this year’s draft. At 6-foot-10, 237 pounds with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and extremely broad shoulders, Fernando has the physical tools of an elite center, but his game shows several red flags.
Most of Fernando’s game is played above the rim, similar to Jarrett Allen. He excels as a finisher in the pick and roll off of lobs and is a presence as a shot blocker (1.9 blocks per game). The big man is also very mobile in the open court and can finish in transition. Fernando was able to put the ball on the floor and flashed a smooth rhythm jumper at times. There is hope he could develop his outside shot based on his solid form and 77.9 percent (113-for-145) free-throw shooting.
The red flags stem from Fernando’s decision making on both ends of the floor. He averaged a team-high 2.8 turnovers per game and often found himself out of position defensively, consistently biting on shot fakes and getting in foul trouble. His impact defensively was limited by narrow court awareness and understanding of offensive sets.
Despite these red flags, Fernando plays with a passion and high motor that coaches will love. Montrezl Harrell’s game has been a frequent comparison. Harrell was an early second-round pick and has flourished with the Clippers, relying on his physicality and effort to impact the game.
Fernando’s physical prowess and poor decision making have him all over the place in mock drafts, ranging from as high as No. 18 to as low as 40th. If he can develop his understanding of the game, Fernando has the physical tools and motor to excel as a modern center in today’s NBA.
Nicolas Claxton - C - Georgia: Nicolas Claxton may have the highest ceiling of any big that will fall in Brooklyn’s range. The sophomore broke out after moving into a playmaking role last season, averaging 13.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
Standing 7-feet tall with a 7-foot-2.5 wingspan, Claxton has an offensive dexterity that is rare for someone his size. The big man was comfortable as a ball handler in the half-court and transition. He has the potential to develop as a shooter, converting on 26-of-86 (30.2 percent) 3-point attempts in two seasons at Georgia.
Defensively, Claxton’s athleticism allows him to switch and guard on the perimeter. His impressive mobility and 9-foot-2 standing reach allow him to rotate and block shots with ease.
The drawback with Claxton is his underdeveloped frame. He weighed in at just 217 pounds at the combine and was overpowered at times down low in college. Brooklyn may have a tough time pulling the trigger on the big man given Jarrett Allen’s struggles matching up with bulkier centers.
Claxton has a ways to go in terms of his frame, but he offers versatility on both ends of the floor that screams upside. If Brooklyn is set on taking a big, he could be the fallback plan as a developmental pick.
KZ Okpala - SF - Stanford: KZ Okpala would be an upside pick with the potential to blossom into a starting-caliber two-way wing, arguably the most valuable position in today’s NBA. The sophomore averaged 16.8 points and 5.7 rebounds on his way to a first-team All-Pac-12 selection last season. Standing 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Okpala has the size of a power forward with the athleticism of a versatile wing.
While he is raw offensively, Okpala consistently finds ways to create his own shot out of the pick and roll and isolation. A quick first step and long strides allow him to attack defenders on closeouts and finish at the rim. Okpala has yet to show consistency as a shoot but improved from 3 last season, knocking down 32-of-87 (36.7 percent) attempts.
The forward can switch 1 through 5 defensively, using his length and quick feet to contest shots and get in passing lanes on the perimeter. Okpala’s physical tools as a two-way player give him tremendous upside in the late first-round. Brooklyn acquired Taurean Prince on the wing, who will be a restricted free agent after next season.
Okpala could present a cheaper option with the potential to develop into a starter towards the end of his rookie contract.
Luka Samamic - PF - Croatia: Following a strong performance at the NBA combine, Luka Samanic has put himself in position to be a first-round pick. At 6-foot-11 with solid ball-handling ability, Samanic fits the mold of a modern forward. The 19-year-old played for Petrol Olimpija in Slovenia this season and was previously a member of the FC Barcelona B club, the former team of Rodions Kurucs.
Samanic impressed scouts with his ability to attack defenders off the dribble and switch effectively defensively. He moves extremely well for his size, allowing him to run the floor in transition and penetrate in the halfcourt. A career 31.9 percent 3-point shooter, Samanic will need to improve from deep to put pressure on more athletic defenders at the next level. The forward has gained weight over recent weeks, weighing in at 227 pounds at the combine, but will need to continue to fill out his frame to hold up on the glass and in the post.
Samanic does a little bit of everything and has potential as a two-way forward with a diverse offensive skill set. Brooklyn found a hidden gem in Kurucs in the second round of last year’s draft. Sean Marks could take a shot on Samanic and hope he fits a similar mold.
Darius Bazely - SF - Princeton High School: There may not be a bigger risk-reward prospect in this year’s draft than Darius Bazley. The former five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American was committed to Syracuse before deciding to sit out last season and signed a $1 million internship with New Balance.
Bazley impressed with a strong performance at the combine after spending the season with a trainer working on his body. He has tremendous size on the wing at 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan and 8-foot-11 standing reach.
The forward is an explosive athlete with the ability to play above the rim and grab and go in transition. He flashed solid ball handling and finishing ability out of the pick and roll at the combine. Bazley’s length and quick feet should serve him well on the defensive end as he fills out his 208-pound frame.
There are numerous questions about Bazley’s game heading into the draft. He has yet to prove himself a consistent shooter and lacks experience against top-level competition. There will be a clear learning curve as he breaks into the league having missed a full year of on-court development.
While he is very raw, there is no doubting Bazley’s physical profile and fluid athletic ability. The Ohio native turned 19 last week and has tremendous upside as an ultra-athletic wing.
Sean Marks has had his eye on Bazley and attended one of the 19-year-old’s workouts ahead of Thursday’s draft. Bazley would be a risky pick for Brooklyn but has the potential to be a home run down the road.
Free Agency Preview
This offseason could prove to be the top free agent class in NBA history and the Brooklyn Nets have emerged as a prime destination just in time.
The Nets are up to $46 million in cap space after non-tendering Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and could get up to $67 million if they choose to renounce D’Angelo Russell.
A superstar pairing will be Brooklyn’s focus this offseason. The Nets have emerged as Kyrie Irving‘s top choice and the hope is he could attract another star.
Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler and Russell are all options to pair with Irving. The point guard has reportedly met with Durant to recruit him to Brooklyn in recent weeks.
Russell’s fate remains uncertain. Recent reports have suggested that the breakout guard is likely gone if the Nets land Irving. The 23-year-old does not appear to be a priority but could enter the mix if Brooklyn strikes out on top options.
For the first time in years, the Nets have a legitimate interest from a superstar. Irving is not the answer alone, but his interest is progress and could lead to a brighter future than Nets fans could have ever imagined at this time last season.
Potential Free Agent Targets
Kyrie Irving (UFA), PG, Boston: Over the last month, reports have surfaced from all over the league that Kyrie Irving wants to be with the Brooklyn Nets. Those reports have gained steam over the last week.
Irving left his long-time agent Jeff Wechsler last week and joined Roc Nation Sports. The change further fueled Nets speculation as Jay Z, a former Nets minority owner, founded the agency and Michael Yormark, the twin brother of Nets’ head of business operations Brett Yormark, is the president. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reported that Irving is planning on joining the Nets when he hits free agency next month:
“According to a source with ties to Roc Nation, the organization expected to become Irving’s new representative, the All-Star point guard is prepared to sign with the Brooklyn Nets when he becomes a free agent next month.”
Irving’s tumultuous season in Boston ended with a second-round exit and many questioning his leadership qualities. The All-Star point guard was criticized midway through the season for calling out teammates in the media. Despite this, Irving averaged 23.8 points and 6.9 assists per game on 40.1 percent shooting from 3 last season.
When healthy, Irving is among the top point guards in the league. The 27-year-old relies on his tight handle and quickness to blow by defenders and finish at the rim from difficult angles. Irving’s mid-range game and 3-point shot have steadily improved throughout his career to compliment his driving ability. The point guard consistently creates his own shot using a solid floater and turnaround game in the mid-range along with a confident pull-up three-point shot.
Irving is a blockbuster talent that would not only help the team on the floor but also fill the seats. It appears that Brooklyn is where Irving wants to be and the point guard may be bringing another star along with him.
D’Angelo Russell (RFA), PG, Brooklyn: D’Angelo Russell will be the toughest decision Nets general manager Sean Marks will make this offseason.
In his first healthy season with Brooklyn, the 23-year-old rose to a new level, carrying the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first All-Star selection. The point guard averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game on career-high 36.9 percent shooting from 3. Russell excelled in Brooklyn’s fast-paced, pick-and-roll oriented system with an improved 3-point shot.
Russell initiated the second-most pick-and-roll plays in the league this season and consistently made the right decisions in those sets. He attempted the fifth-most pull-up 3s in the league, converting on 36 percent of them. Most importantly, Russell improved immensely in the clutch last season. He nearly doubled his field goal percentage in the final five minutes of games within five points, increasing it from 25.9 percent to 49.3 percent. The floor general led several fourth-quarter comebacks, staying composed and finding his shot within the offense.
Despite this breakout season, Irving’s interest in Brooklyn leads many to believe that Russell will be in another uniform next season. It had been reported that the Nets would not shy away from an Irving-Russell pairing, but many around the league question the fit and think it is highly unlikely.
Brooklyn’s front office may already have their second star in mind to pair with Irving and could think Russell’s ceiling is limited by his struggles getting to the basket and the foul line. If Irving signs with the Nets, Russell will likely be on his way out, but either way the 23-year-old put himself in position to cash in on his development throughout his time in Brooklyn.
Kevin Durant (Player Option), PF, Golden State: Leading up to this offseason, the question around the league has been where will Kevin Durant play out what will likely be his final major contract?
Durant was every team’s top free agent target and despite suffering a ruptured Achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals not much has changed. Many around the league believe teams will still offer the superstar a four-year contract despite him being unavailable in the first year, a testament to the type of generational talent he is.
The forward has a player option with Golden State for $31.5 million, but the expectation is that he will opt out and hit free agency. With Durant missing all of next season at 31 years old, there’s no guarantee he will ever be the same player. However, even if Durant loses a step, he is still an elite talent that can completely transform a team. His ability to shoot over almost all defenders will not be affected by the injury, making him at worst an ultra-talented stretch four.
The belief has been that Durant was destined to team up with Irving and bring the Knicks back to relevance. However, reports have surfaced that Irving had been recruiting Durant to the Nets prior to his injury.
Irving’s stance appears to not have changed and you have to question whether Durant would go to New York on his own, especially coming off a serious injury. The forward was likely Brooklyn’s primary option to pair alongside Irving and that will not change
Kawhi Leonard (Player Option), SF, Toronto: What a season it was for Kawhi Leonard. Following an ugly ending in San Antonio and many questioning his abilities as a player, Leonard proved himself to be a top-five talent in the league, bringing Toronto it’s first ever championship.
The finals MVP averaged 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game on 37.1 percent shooting from 3 on his way to the title. Leonard’s postseason run will be remembered as one of the top playoff performances in NBA history.
Leonard is an elite two-way wing with great size and versatility, the type of player coaches dream about in today’s NBA. At 6-foot-7, he can guard any position on the floor using his quick feet, ridiculous 7-foot-3 wingspan, and enormous hands. This was evident in the Eastern Conference Finals as Leonard shut down Giannis Antetokounmpo and brought the Raptors back from a 2-0 deficit.
Offensively, Leonard has worked to develop his outside shot to an elite level. The eight-year veteran has developed one of the most consistent pull-up jumpers in the league to compliment his strength and driving ability.
Leonard has proven that he can perform at the highest level on the biggest stage. A Brooklyn pairing of Irving and Leonard would propel the Nets into finals contention as early as next season.
The Clippers and Raptors appear to be the favorites to land Leonard, but Marks will likely get a meeting with the NBA champion and have the opportunity to sell him on his vision.
Tobias Harris (UFA), PF, Philadelphia: Tobias Harris has been a rumored Brooklyn target since the beginning of the season. The 26-year-old was acquired by Philadelphia midway through the year and had a solid season, averaging 20.0 points and 7.9 rebounds on 39.7 percent shooting from 3. Peter Vecsey, a former New York Post columnist, reported around the trade deadline that “the Nets intently covet” Harris in free agency this summer.
The forward would be a terrific fit in head coach Kenny Atkinson’s pace-and-space offense as a stretch four who can shoot off the move and penetrate in the pick-and-roll. Harris has the ability to elevate and knock down contested shots or blow by defenders on closeouts and finish at the rim.
While Harris is a great fit in Brooklyn, there are questions about whether he is worth max money. Defensively, he leaves plenty to be desired and he often took a backseat in Philadephia. The forward is likely to receive plenty of interest on the open market and will likely draw at least one max offer.
Despite the concerns about overpaying Harris, the forward may benefit from being a primary option alongside a talented guard like Irving. While he is likely not the top option to pair with Irving, Harris could be a solid fallback plan if the Nets strike out on the likes of Durant and Leonard.
Jimmy Butler (UFA), SF, Philadelphia: Jimmy Butler could be another fallback plan to pair with Irving. The guard is coming off yet another solid season after forcing his way out of Minnesota, averaging 18.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game on 34.7 percent shooting from 3.
Butler listed Brooklyn as one of three preferred trade destinations before being shipped off to Philadephia. The 29-year-old is also close friends with Irving and there were rumblings last summer that the two wanted to play together in the future.
Butler is a terrific two-way guard who impacts the game in a variety of ways. Offensively, he prefers to operate with the ball in his hands out of the pick and roll. He is a strong finisher towards the rim with the ability to fight through contact.
Butler is an average shooter and one has to question the fit alongside a ball-dominant guard like Irving. He questioned 76ers head coach Brett Brown midway through the season, expressing his unhappiness with his lack of involvement in the offense. Would the wing be happy alongside a guard like Irving who has the ball in his hands for the majority of the game?
Brooklyn could try to make it work, but Irving may be better suited alongside a sharpshooter who can penetrate in the right spots. With Butler turning 30 in September, he is a risky candidate to receive a max contract alongside Irving.