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  • Erik Slater

Brooklyn Nets: Draft-night trade sets up free agency splash

The 2019 NBA draft was rather anti-climactic for the Brooklyn Nets.

Brooklyn didn’t make a first-round selection for the first time since 2016. While the Nets didn’t make a draft-night splash, they quietly set themselves up for a loud offseason.

The Nets came into the night with the 27th and 31st picks in the draft. Despite a talented pool of young prospects, general manager Sean Marks‘ focus was not on a first-round pick, but rather free agency.

Marks traded the 27th pick to the LA Clippers in exchange for a lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick via Philadelphia and the 56th pick in the draft.

The deal not only puts Brooklyn back in the first round of next year’s draft, but more importantly saved the Nets nearly $2 million in cap space, bringing them closer to the space they need to sign their dream duo of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

If the Nets renounce all of their free agents, they will open up $68 million in cap space, just shy of enough for the duo. Marks will likely look to move another contract to open the space.

Spencer Dinwiddie ($10.6 million), Joe Harris ($7.7 million) Taurean Prince ($3.5 million), Dzanan Musa ($1.9 million) and Rodions Kurucs ($1.7 million) are all trade candidates.

The belief around the league has been that Brooklyn is Irving’s preferred destination and there is growing optimism that the Nets have the inside track on Durant. Brian Windhorst pointed to Brooklyn as a serious landing spot for Durant Friday on ESPN’s The Jump:

“The Nets are gaining confidence that they can pull this off. They’re continuing to make moves. They made three moves in the last week. They’re right there for a second slot.”

Kendrick Perkins, Durant’s former teammate, stated that he feels the Nets are the frontrunners for Durant. Windhorst responded with:

“He is not the only person involved with the NBA who told me exactly that.”

While Marks dealt both of Brooklyn’s first-round picks with an eye on Irving and Durant, he did find a potential impact player in Nicolas Claxton with the 31st pick.

Claxton, a 20-year-old center from Greenville, S.C., was regarded by many as a first-round talent. After seeing limited time as a freshman, Claxton took a huge step forward last season.

The sophomore averaged 13.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game after moving into a playmaking role.

Standing 7’0″ with a 7’2.5″ wingspan and 36-inch vertical leap, Claxton’s physical profile and athleticism scream upside. On top of his impressive measurements, the big man possesses an offensive dexterity that is rare for someone his size.

Claxton looked comfortable handling the ball in the halfcourt and transition last season. The center also showed potential as a threat from deep while at Georgia, shooting 30.2 percent on 86 3-point attempts. At his draft-night press conference, Claxton talked about his game.

“My game starts off with defense, but offensively I have a great handle for my size and I’m going to continue to work on my jump shot. I can hit an open jump shot. I have a lot of confidence in myself, so I feel like I’ll definitely be able to do a lot.”

Defensively, Claxton shares similar qualities to Jarrett Allen. His mobility allows him to switch and guard on the perimeter while a 9’2″ standing reach helps him to challenge shots above the rim.

While Claxton has similar strengths to Allen defensively, he could struggle in similar areas as well. He has an underdeveloped frame, weighing in at just 217 pounds at the combine, and struggled to bang down low at times in college.

“That’s something that I know is going to be really critical for me," Claxton said. "Just making sure that I continue to put on some good weight and good strength. I just work extremely hard in the weight room, like I’ve been doing these past few years, and the rest will take care of itself.”

While he may not be ready to contribute as a rookie, Claxton has the physical tools and intangibles to develop into a weapon on both ends of the floor.

Brooklyn also acquired UCLA point guard Jaylen Hands with the 56th pick. Hands, a former five-star recruit, averaged 14.2 points and 6.1 assists per game on 37.3% shooting from three as a sophomore.

At 6’3″, Hands is an explosive athlete who excels creating his own shot off the dribble. The California native was a scoring threat from all levels of the floor while at UCLA.

Hands struggled with shot selection at times and was turnover-prone, averaging 3.2 turnovers per game last season. The 20-year-old will provide depth at point guard and provides upside late in the draft as a former top recruit.

Overall, draft night was a success for Brooklyn. Marks continued to pave the way towards a pair of big-time signings while finding value in the second round.

Things are heating up in Brooklyn and the coming weeks could put the franchise in the spotlight for years to come.