Even with two stars and a capable surrounding cast built to compete in the East, the Brooklyn Nets had concerns entering last season. As we approach the new campaign, Kevin Durant’s health and the conference’s relative strength don’t look so threatening now.
Durant lit up the league and Brooklyn bolstered its starpower by adding James Harden, setting themselves up as favorites to take the 2021-22 crown after an injury-riddled postseason exit last season. Still, nothing is certain in this league.
Here are five of the biggest questions facing the Nets this season…
Can the Big 3 stay healthy?
This question is in a tier of its own, and frankly decides their season more than anything else. If Durant, Harden, and Kyrie Irving are healthy enough during the regular season but especially the postseason, the championship is Brooklyn’s to lose.
Should one of the three be hurt, or severely limited, the league immediately catches up to the Nets. And in the Playoffs, every vulnerability is exposed. While they likely improved on the margins this summer, it’s not nearly enough to make up for a star going down.
Durant was largely durable prior to his Achilles tear, similar to Harden and last year’s hamstring issues. Irving dealt with a myriad of unlucky knocks, perhaps unavoidably to some degree with his playing style. It’s impossible to predict, but Nets fans must hope their team remains healthy.
Will Harden and Irving sign extensions?
Earlier this summer GM Sean Marks signed Durant to a four-year extension worth $198 million running through 2026. He also assured fans extensions were coming to his counterparts Irving and Harden by the time training camp arrives.
We’re still a month out from that date, and with Durant’s signature and Marks’ confidence there’s no reason to think the extensions are coming. It will be interesting to see if there are any protections for either of the two in case of injury — always a risk that comes with long-term deals.
Should Irving or Harden come to some sort of disagreement with Brooklyn, they have player options for 2022-23 they can opt out of, becoming 2022 unrestricted free agents. Again, not likely unless one of the guards is chasing a bigger payday using that route.
Who will be their toughest challenger?
It was the Milwaukee Bucks that upended the Nets and went on to win a championship, but they did so with Irving and Harden out. Brooklyn may not have the size for Joel Embiid, but neither do most teams.
Another tough East out will be the Miami Heat, now with Kyle Lowry in the mix. Their big three of Lowry, Jimmy Butler, and Bam Adebayo doesn’t stack up talent-wise, but the Heat’s roster runs deep with high-IQ, tough players.
Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers appear to be favorites behind their newly-formed trio of Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis. On paper, there’s not a better competitor for the Nets, with their biggest edge being their physicality and athleticism. Brooklyn has the bigger scoring punch and more time spent on-court together — no small factor.
What happens to DeAndre Jordan?
The Nets signed Jordan to a generous four-year, $39 million contract when they assembled their superteam, but in year two head coach Steve Nash benched him for the final stretch of the season. He had every reason to do so.
Entering 2021-22, Jordan is 33 years old, earning just shy of $10 million, and barring a transformational offseason won’t be earning meaningful minutes. That leaves Brooklyn some choices, assuming they’d prefer to better utilize his cap space over keeping him as an overpaid veteran leader.
Trading Jordan alone will cost the Nets a young player, and getting something of value back will cost more. There is a theoretical Jordan and young assets for Myles Turner trade, but it’s doubtful that satisfies the Indiana Pacers’ needs.
The other viable option is buying him out, clearing some luxury tax space and a roster spot.
What can be done on the buyout and trade markets?
Along with Jordan’s $10 million contract and an assortment of young pieces, the Nets have an $11 million trade exception picked up in the Spencer Dinwiddie sign-and-trade. All this is more than enough to make further upgrades to the roster. How impactful those might be remains to be seen.
Brooklyn improved its roster a great deal via the buyout market last year, with their signings of Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge. There are sure to be new candidates looking to join up in pursuit of a ring — perhaps someone like Kevin Love, a friend of Griffin’s.
Source: Yahoo Sports