• Erik Slater

NBA bubble will serve as evaluation period for depleted Nets

As the NBA prepares for it's revamped 2020 season, there is not a more depleted team than the Brooklyn Nets.

Teams will soon make their way to Walt Disney World to join the NBA bubble. However, several of Brooklyn's top players will be watching from home.

The Nets announced in early June that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving would both be sidelined until next season. Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan will be away from the team after both tested positive for coronavirus. The team will also be without Wilson Chandler, who opted out of the restart, and Nicolas Claxton, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery on June 24.

Despite this, general manager Sean Marks says the organization is committed to sending a group to Orlando via ESPN.

"We have a job to do," Marks said. "We have to bring a team to Orlando. We will bring a team to Orlando. We will go down there, and we will compete. That's our jobs here."

There is a job to do, but for Brooklyn, these missing pieces alter what that entails.

Without Dinwiddie, Jordan and Chandler, the Nets are unlikely to present a serious threat in the first round. For Marks, the Orlando bubble should be used to take a closer look at young talent and assess the roster heading into a pivotal offseason.

Marks quickly moved in this direction by signing Tyler Johnson, a 28-year-old shooting guard who spent the season with Phoenix. Johnson is a familiar name to Nets fans as Marks signed the guard to a four-year, $50 million offer sheet in 2016, which the Heat promptly matched.

Johnson went undrafted out of Fresno State in 2014 but quickly carved out a role with the Heat before being traded to Phoenix in 2019. The combo guard flashed a quick release from three and the ability to score in the mid-range while handling the ball in Miami.

A 37.1% three-point shooter in his first four seasons, Johnson struggled to find his stroke this year in Phoenix while battling injury.

Johnson is the kind of low-risk, high-reward signing the Nets should give a serious chance given their situation. With Irving and Dinwiddie sidelined, the guard will have the opportunity to prove himself.

Chris Chiozza is another name who will see an expanded role in Orlando. The 24-year-old signed a two-way contract with Brooklyn in January and worked his way into the rotation prior to the league's shutdown.

Chiozza saw extended minutes in March, averaging 10 PPG on 52.6% shooting from three in five games. The point guard stepped in and was fearless, playing a huge role down the stretch in a March 3rd comeback win in Boston.

Standing just 5'11", the Florida-product will have a difficult time landing a starting role in the NBA. However, a tight-handle, impressive outside shot and high motor make the guard a solid candidate as a third-string point guard, a position that should not be overlooked given Irving's problems staying healthy.

Chiozza will now look to capitalize on the momentum he created in March and give Marks something to think about this offseason.

Power forward was a position of scrutiny this season for Brooklyn. Taurean Prince started the bulk of games at the four with Chandler coming off the bench. Now, with Chandler out, Rodions Kurucs will get a chance to make his mark.

Following an impressive rookie season in which he started 46 games, Kurucs never found his rhythm this year. The Latvian played just 12.8 MPG in 39 contests and looked unsure of himself when on the floor. The backdoor cuts, defensive activity and decisiveness with the ball that made him so effective in his rookie season seldom showed up.

Despite his struggles, the 22-year-old's length and defensive versatility are valued more than ever in today's NBA.

Kurucs flourished in his rookie season alongside D'Angelo Russell but never got a real chance to share the floor with Irving. Irving's court vision and ability to draw attention would compliment Kurucs' shooting and instincts off the ball beautifully.

The forward's sophomore season did not go as planned, but Chandler's absence now gives Kurucs the opportunity to regain his confidence.

Given the absence of Brooklyn's top scorers, Caris LeVert will be leaned on more heavily than ever before.

The 25-year-old was in the midst of a breakout season prior to the shutdown, averaging 17.7 PPG and 4.1 APG on a career-high 38.1% shooting from three. LeVert frequently filled the role of the lead ball-handler with Irving sidelined.

Despite his improved numbers, there have been rumors circling that Brooklyn will look to trade for a third star this offseason. Questions surrounding LeVert's ability to play off the ball alongside Irving have fueled speculation.

With Irving and Dinwiddie sidelined, LeVert will have the chance to showcase his talents more than ever before. This could help to drive up the guard's trade value and/or solidify him as the third piece Brooklyn is looking for.

The Orlando bubble will give several young players an opportunity to prove themselves. It will also be Brooklyn's final look at its veterans heading into the offseason.

There should be no doubt that Brooklyn will compete, but the purpose of this period transcends the win/loss column. Expect the Nets to operate with that in mind.