The Brooklyn Nets find themselves at a crossroads this offseason, with uncertainty surrounding a number of veteran superstars. Unfortunately for head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks, they won’t find the answer to their problems in the 2022 NBA Draft.
The Nets wrapped their season with an early departure from the playoffs for the third straight year since adding All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to the roster in 2019. At one point, it even looked like they would miss out on the playoffs altogether, needing a win in the play-in tournament to advance.
They’ll have the offseason to try to fill in the gaps of their roster, but they’re going to have to get creative. The Nets are one of four teams without a first or second-round pick in the upcoming draft, having traded them away to Houston (No. 17) and Detroit (No. 46). They did have the rights to the No. 23 pick, but on Wednesday opted to defer the first-rounder to Philadelphia.
Bruce Beck -- lead sports anchor for NBC New York -- said one of Brooklyn’s top priorities should be establishing an “inside presence.”
The Nets spent last season rotating between a center quartet that included Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Claxton. They averaged just under 40 combined points. Claxton is a restricted free agent, while Griffin, Drummond and Aldridge are all unrestricted free agents.
With little assets to use as leverage, what options do the Nets have to address this vacancy in the paint?
The answer just might lie at the top of the depth chart, according to Beck.
“What happens with Kyrie Irving? Does Ben Simmons ever play a game for the Nets?” the anchor asked.
The Nets roster remains as star studded as any in the league, having entered the season with the best odds to win the 2022 NBA championship. Much of the disappointment can be chalked up to ill-timed injuries, but there’s no denying that the Brooklyn project hasn’t exactly panned out as expected.
Durant spent his entire first season in Brooklyn sidelined with a torn Achilles and apparently has not spoken to the team’s front office since a 4-0 routing by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs this year. Meanwhile, Irving has battled injuries, missed nearly two-thirds of this past season due to his unvaccinated status standing in violation of a New York City mandate and, most recently, is creating buzz around contract negotiations.
With the addition of Ben Simmons this past season, the Nets once again find themselves with a proven star that shares many of the same red flags -- injury prone and a reputation for inconsistent effort during his four seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers. Simmons has done little to silence those concerns, having sat out every game since making the move to New York.
These three superstars are due over $116 million this season, over 62% of the team’s total salary cap. This doesn’t even take into account the likely possibility that Irving denies his extension in expectation of a long-term contract that could be just shy of $200 million.
This leaves Marks with limited cash to sign valuable role players and a lot of uncertainty surrounding his Big Three.
Perhaps Simmons’ stint in New York will be just that -- a stint -- as he could likely be on the move for the second time in the calendar year. Irving’s contract negotiations could also shake things up as the Nets are reportedly “outright unwilling” to meet his demands for a long-term contract. Durant is entering the first year of a four-year max deal, but if Irving -- a documented close friend -- goes, the superstar might have something to say on the matter.
Don’t be surprised to see change come in Brooklyn.