Where Every Net Stands Before Free Agency

Whether it was related to their play on the court or the drama off it, the Brooklyn Nets always seemed to be in the news for negative reasons during the 2021–22 NBA season. The team dealt with adversity from opening night with Kyrie Irving’s banishment due to his vaccination status. Then a COVID outbreak in December forced the team to sign outside players to 10-day contracts. A midseason blockbuster trade sent a disgruntled James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for three-time All-Star Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and two first round picks. And lastly, an injury to Kevin Durant caused him to miss about six weeks that saw the team endure an unheralded 11-game losing streak in that stretch.

Just reading that makes you want to take a deep breath—but wait, there’s more! Now we enter the offseason with a majority of the roster entering free agency, including Kyrie Irving, who reportedly has not been offered the max contract he desires, which may or may not eventually alienate his best friend, Kevin Durant.

Despite all the adversity and drama this past season, the Nets were still expected to make a deep postseason run as they entered the playoffs mostly healthy. The only exceptions were sharpshooter Joe Harris who underwent season-ending ankle surgery the month prior, and Ben Simmons, who was dealing with a herniated disc in his back while there were still rumors he would suit up for the postseason.

Now Joe Tsai, Sean Marks, and the Nets organization have the toughest challenge they’ve seen to date: how to improve a roster that seemed minimally faulty on paper but saw glaring weaknesses when the product was assembled on court. There’s a chance the Nets see a significant roster overhaul this offseason, as many of their own players from this past season have a decision to make regarding their future in the black and white.

Under contract through at least next season

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant will most likely remain a Brooklyn Net longer than any of the names soon to be mentioned due to the massive 4-year $198 million supermax extension he signed with the team last August that will keep him in Brooklyn until 2026. This is a no-brainer, Durant is the best talent the Nets have ever had in their franchise history and despite an Achilles tear in the 2019 NBA Finals and a rough series against Boston, he’s still arguably the greatest player in the league today.

Ring chasing veterans want to team up with Durant and have taken discounts to play for a chance at a championship alongside him. KD seems comfortable in Brooklyn and wants to leave his legacy there and ride off into the sunset with his superstar teammate and close friend Kyrie Irving who is currently a free agent.

His business (35 Ventures) is in Manhattan and since day one, he has always embraced Nets World, the fans, and the culture of the Brooklyn Nets. If the Nets continue to appease Durant and his wishes on how to fill out the roster, expect Kevin Durant to remain a Net for years to come.

Ben Simmons
Arguably the most polarizing name in the NBA, the acquisition of Ben Simmons led to more questions than answers for the Nets in year one. Simmons fought through a herniated disc in his back shortly after getting to Brooklyn, a rather serious injury. Despite the setback, it was reported that there was optimism that Simmons could make his Nets debut sometime in round one of the playoffs. That obviously never came to fruition.

Simmons underwent surgery for his herniated disc and is expected to be fully recovered by the start of training camp in the fall. While he isn’t untouchable, it wouldn’t be wise to trade a player like Simmons when his value is at its lowest. Expect him to be a Brooklyn Net on opening night.

The Nets’ two greatest needs this past season were a true playmaker and defense, while Simmons has his shortcomings on offense, he also checks both of those boxes and does so at the highest level.

Simmons was seen on Twitter liking tweets after the 76ers (his former team) were eliminated from the playoffs. Most notably, a tweet by Skip Bayless that said that Ben will eventually make the trade look so foolish for Philly. Might seem like nothing, but it shows his fire and willingness to bounce back next season. Simmons is ready for his revenge tour, pick your date.

Joe Harris
Joey Buckets, Joey Shuttlesworth, whatever nickname you call him, the Nets’ longest tenured player is certainly not your average Joe. He was brought in by Sean Marks in 2016 back when he was clean shaven, unknown, and struggling to find his niche in the league. Now he is in the discussion among the best shooters the game has ever seen. Harris’ situation is tricky because the Nets do not possess many tradable assets of high value this offseason.

Do they decide to run their core back and rebuild around the edges or do they elect to swing for the fences and package Harris with a young player and a first-round pick for a player of a higher caliber? The Nets value Harris tremendously and believe that in addition to his shooting, his size and rebounding can be of significant value.

The reason Harris is so intriguing is because of his $18 million salary next season which can easily be used to match salary and bring back a player who fits a greater need. Odds are Harris is returning to Brooklyn for his seventh season once training camp rolls around, but maybe the organization feels a greater sense of urgency to shake things up. If so, Harris might be a casualty of the revamped quest for a title.

Seth Curry
The younger brother of the newly minted four-time NBA champion and finals MVP Stephen Curry, Seth Curry is looking for a championship of his own. Seth played well for Brooklyn in his short stint this season. His glaring weaknesses are on the defensive end, notably staying in front of his man after switches and staying out of foul trouble.

On offense, his talent shines bright. He is one of the greatest shooters ever who effectively moves without the ball and is an underrated playmaker. He can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim which takes pressure off the stars and provides a jolt when he plays with the second unit.

While Seth is certainly a great fit for the Nets, how well does he fit in a backcourt with Kyrie Irving? Both former Duke guards are just 6’2″ and are incapable of guarding the elite backcourt talents in the league.

Do you bring Seth off the bench in a sixth man role? Does Joe Harris’ return mean that Seth becomes expendable or vice versa? Is there a world where both coexist or is one flipped to address more evident needs? Seth is a stellar talent, the only questions are if he fits on next year’s roster and if so, how will his skillset be utilized and deficiencies be suppressed?

Cam Thomas

The rookie that turned everyone’s heads from day one of summer league, Thomas was an instant source of offense for the Nets this past season. He saw his playing time fluctuate due to lineup inconsistencies but took advantage of the situation when he was in. On a very cap-friendly deal, Thomas is under contract next season and is a rookie Durant had coveted since before the draft.

He is built for the moment and already has his fair share of game winners on his resume. The key for Thomas will be to improve to improve and round out the other aspects of his game, most notably his defense so he can hang his hat on that end of the floor when he has an off-shooting night.

The Nets have received calls regarding the availability of Thomas, it is believed that they can acquire a first-round pick in return for him, but does trading him for a mid to late first make sense considering the player drafted there would probably be less NBA ready than Cam is currently?

The best-case scenario for Thomas would be a Jordan Poole caliber leap that vaults him into a legitimate sixth man for the Nets. A guy that can come off the bench and give you 15 points per game on any given night. The Nets are attempting to build a sustainable winner, and that starts by getting value out of your draft picks, arguably none of which look more promising than Cam Thomas.

Day’Ron Sharpe
In a center rotation with household names such as Andre Drummond, Nic Claxton, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Blake Griffin, Day’Ron Sharpe seldom got to play with the big club, but when he did, his strengths were magnified. When he was with the Long Island Nets in the G-League, Sharpe was having rebounding performances for the ages, most notably a game with 15 offensive rebounds, a G-League record.

Sharpe is arguably the best rebounder in his draft class with rebounding per 36-minute stats that mirror some of the best in the game such as Rudy Gobert and Steven Adams. He even got the best of All-Star center Nikola Vucevic in a game against the Bulls back in January.

Sharpe will need to improve staying out of foul trouble and his lateral quickness, but for a center of his size, he is in great basketball conditioning and even shows promise on a jump shot. The Nets might be willing to move on from Nic Claxton and part of the reason why is because of their confidence in Sharpe, the former North Carolina product whom the organization had targeted way before the draft.

Kessler Edwards (Team option: $1.56 million)
The rookie from Pepperdine University who initially earned himself a two-way contract then impressed and made the rotation come December; Kessler Edwards is an early candidate for the biggest steal of the 2021 draft.

A typical 3&D wing, Edwards has the versatility and length to guard one to four, and while his shooting mechanics aren’t always the prettiest, he is a reliable shooter from deep and in the midrange. Edwards will need to improve his finishing at the rim, often blowing easy layups during his inaugural season in the league, but the promise he showed in year one has to bring a smile to the organization.

The Nets have a team option on Kessler worth $1.56 million. That will certainly be picked up. A player of his skillset and who can play off the ball is a hand and glove fit on a team with few draft picks and title aspirations.

Free Agents

Kyrie Irving (Player Option: $36.9 million/Unrestricted Free Agent)
The Nets superstar point guard should be priorities A, B, and C for the Nets this free agency period. Irving has a player option he will most likely decline worth $36.9 million for the 2022-23 season.

Shams Charania reported that the Nets and Irving are at an impasse and are currently not seeing eye to eye on what his next contract should be and how it should be structured. Due to lack of availability in his first three seasons in Brooklyn, the Nets would like to give Irving a contract that is slightly less than max with incentives to earn more based on games played. Irving on the other hand likely believes that he is worth the full max regardless.

One thing is for certain, there is no Kevin Durant in Brooklyn without the influence of Kyrie Irving. Durant is already locked into Brooklyn until 2026, it’s time to lay the groundwork out and reach a resolution. Despite his availability concerns, Irving is still one of the greatest talents the Nets have seen in their franchise history and letting him walk not only alienates Kevin Durant but removes the Nets from title contention. The decision is simple, give Irving whatever money he wants and repair the relationship that seems to be waning.

Patty Mills (Player Option: $6.2 Million)
As of this moment, Patty Mills still must decide whether he should opt into his $6.2 million player option for next season. I have him listed as a free agent but barring an offseason trade, the expectation is that Mills will pick up that option and return to the Nets next season.

While he is the definition of a feast or famine type player, Mills seemed to strive when he had a true playmaker playing alongside him. That playmaker was James Harden before February and will be Ben Simmons come October. His best game was the Christmas outbreak against the Lakers when you would’ve thought you were watching Stephen Curry run around those screens and pop the three with a quick trigger.

Mills also has numerous connections to the roster and front office. He has close ties with Durant from their time at the 2021 Olympics, Simmons from his ties to his home country of Australia, and Sean Marks from their time in San Antonio. Few teams have cap space next year and Mills will likely want to continue to play for a team that has a chance at competing right away. Expect him to pick up the player option and be back in Brooklyn… for now at least.

Bruce Brown (Restricted Free Agent)
After a very poor first half to the season that saw him behind DeAndre’ Bembry in the rotation, Bruce Brown stepped up his play in remarkable fashion following the James Harden trade. You can make a legitimate argument that Brown was the Nets third best player post-trade deadline. Brown can excel in either a small ball four role or as an undersized wing.

His newly polished three-point shot was a nice development for his game, but Brown is still not considered a shooting threat nor a 3&D specialist. He gets most of his points off floaters and short rolls to the rim, which leads you to wonder how his game will mesh with Ben Simmons.

The Nets and Brown have mutual interest, the question will be at what cost? Reports have speculated that Brown may draw anywhere from $12-16 million per season. Time will tell how much the Nets value Brown and whether they view his skillset as irreplaceable.

Nic Claxton (Restricted Free Agent)
Nic Claxton certainly is a talented center whom the Nets would like to bring back, but at what point do the Nets deem it’s too costly? Claxton offers a lob threat and defensive versatility to a Nets team that lacks athleticism and defense. He can play a similar role for the team as Robert Williams did for Boston during their run to the finals. Capable of switching onto guards on the perimeter, Claxton has a skillset like few big men in the NBA.

The offseason agenda priority for Claxton last summer was to add weight and put on muscle so he wouldn’t be bullied around as often. This year his priority should be to improve his offensive consistency, most notably his free throw.

Claxton’s offensive game is heavily based on lobs and above the rim finishes with a post move here and there. If Claxton can develop an average mid-range jump shot, it will keep defenses honest and force the opposing big man to leave the paint, opening driving lanes to the basket for Durant, Simmons, and the many guards on the roster. It would be wise to bring back Claxton and figure out if he fits later.

Andre Drummond (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Andre Drummond’s highs are extremely high, but his lows are extremely low. He will have a plethora of nights where he gets 14 points and 12 rebounds in 26 minutes, then have nights where he gets too lackadaisical and tries to throw a Jason Kidd-esque behind the back pass on a fastbreak.

Nonetheless, re-signing Drummond should be a high priority for Brooklyn. While Drummond is not a defensive specialist, the Nets have struggled for years with containing larger big men such as Nikola Vucevic and Joel Embiid. Drummond gives them a big body who doesn’t get pushed around due to his large frame and stature.

The question with Drummond possibly returning is where the money to pay him would come from? Are the Nets willing to offer him their Mid-level exception and is he trying to win here or does he simply want whichever team will pay him the most at this point in his career?

Blake Griffin (Unrestricted Free Agent)
No Net showed more heart and effort this season than Blake Griffin. Despite experiencing sporadic minutes and playing time throughout the season, Griffin remained professional and stayed ready for when his name was called.

There are a lot of things to like about Griffin if you are a contending team. He’s a great locker room personality, he provides leadership, and he was a star in his prime who can educate the young big men on your team. Having a troubling injury history and losing a significant portion of his prime athleticism, Griffin learned to adjust his game and enhance his skillset once he got to Detroit, most notably, improvements to his ball handling and jumper.

While he never publicized it, it’s safe to assume that Griffin was frustrated with his role on the team this year. He started the season as the clear starter at center and was eventually taken out of the rotation for James Johnson who was cut before the regular season concluded.

Griffin even joked on an Instagram live with Bruce Brown recently that he had been doing offseason workouts since March. There will be suitors lined up at his door lobbying for the grit and grind style of play that Griffin brings every night.

LaMarcus Aldridge (Unrestricted Free Agent)
It almost seems inevitable that LaMarcus Aldridge will not be returning to Brooklyn next season. After initially signing with the Nets in 2021 than being forced to retire with an irregular heartbeat, Aldridge was devastated. Months later he was cleared to return to basketball then saw a rollercoaster second stint with the Nets.

At the start of the season, Aldridge looked like the clear third best player behind Kevin Durant and James Harden. By the end of the year, he was buried in the rotation and seldom saw the court due to his lack of defense, specifically in drop coverage against elusive guards.

Aldridge is a beloved Net, but the team will most likely look to part ways with the post-move maestro. If he decides to play another year, he will certainly have suitors who are interested in adding the winning player to their roster.

Goran Dragic (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Dragic was a stellar midseason pickup for the Nets. A point guard who has a keen understanding of when to score and when to facilitate for others. His relationship with Steve Nash brought him to Brooklyn and considering Nash will be returning as head coach next season, you have to wonder if Dragic will want to return as well.

When Dragic joined the Nets he proclaimed, “to finish my career with Nash would be awesome.”

After the season ended, his quote had a complete 180 and it’s reasonable to think otherwise.

Dragic answered during his post-season interview “Every day there was something different, something difficult.” Quite frankly, he isn’t wrong. Drama and negative headlines seem to be magnetically attracted to this team.

The Nets would certainly enjoy his locker room presence and consistency, the question is if Dragic still feels mutually about the organization he wanted to join.

David Duke Jr. (Qualifying Offer: $1.576 million)
David Duke Jr. was signed by the Nets after going undrafted in the 2021 draft. The Nets’ two-way wing gained an opportunity to play with Brooklyn in mid-December when most of the team was out with injury or in health and safety protocol and took advantage of his opportunity eventually gaining a few starts for a team that had championship hopes.

On paper, his stats and shooting splits don’t raise an eyebrow. 4.7 points per game, 3.0 rebounds, and 0.8 assists on 36.1 percent shooting, and 24.3 percent shooting from three. Leaves room for improvement, but it’s Duke Jr.’s feel for the game and hustle that makes him so intriguing.

Already athletic and a terrific rebounder for a guard, if his three-point shot improves, Duke Jr. may very well be a player who can have a decade long career in the NBA.