NBA Draft

Nets’ 2022 Free Agents, Targets and Draft Needs After NBA Playoff Loss | Bleacher Report

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    This season was championship-or-bust for the Brooklyn Nets, so it’s time to officially declare it a bust.

    Brooklyn’s title hopes came to an abrupt end Monday when the Boston Celtics finished their four-game sweep with a 116-112 victory in Game 4.

    The campaign started with dreams of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden dominating the league on the way to the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Those plans quickly went awry when Irving was ruled ineligible for home games because he remained unvaccinated against COVID-19, and Durant and Harden both missed time with injuries.

    While rules changed and permitted Irving to play in home games before the playoffs arrived, the Nets eventually traded Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers in a move that brought them Seth Curry and Ben Simmons.

    However, Simmons didn’t make an appearance in the entire regular season, and his availability was a question mark at best coming into the playoffs because of a lingering back injury. He ultimately didn’t play at all in the Boston series, with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reporting Simmons and Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul met with the team to discuss the “physical and mental hurdles remaining in the All-Star’s pursuit of a return to play.”

    Attention now turns to the offseason, and the biggest question is whether Irving will exercise his player option for 2022-23 and remain with the team, sign a long-term extension or perhaps look elsewhere as he chases the second championship of his career.

    Here’s a look at the big picture for the Nets as they look to put their failures in 2021-22 in the rearview mirror and focus on building the next championship club.

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Unrestricted Free Agents

    Bruce Brown

    LaMarcus Aldridge

    Blake Griffin

    Andre Drummond

    Goran Dragic


    Restricted Free Agents

    Nic Claxton

    David Duke Jr.

    *Free agents courtesy of Spotrac.


    One look at Brooklyn’s list of free agents provides a fairly clear picture of what it was trying to accomplish this season. It chose to surround Durant, Irving and Harden—before he was traded—with marquee veterans with playoff experience as the team chased a title.

    Some of them, such as Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, were stars in their own right during their primes, but the formula did not end in the coveted title.

    None of Brooklyn’s free agents figure to land massive deals on the open market, so the team may look to bring some of them back at the right price. The price will be key because Spotrac projects the Nets to have a total salary-cap figure of $186.4 million, which is the sixth highest in the league.

    Bringing back too many of these players could limit the Nets’ flexibility to look elsewhere as they attempt to improve their team.

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Assuming Irving chooses to remain with the Nets—as he has hinted at in the pastthe Nets have quite the selling point for potential free agents.

    Anyone who signs with the team will already be on a championship contender thanks to the presence of Durant and Irving alone. If Simmons can return to the form that helped him make three All-Star Games as a member of the 76ers, it won’t take a star-studded supporting cast to compete for a championship.

    That type of situation and the ensuing space for open shots it creates will surely be intriguing for free agents this offseason, but the Nets’ lack of payroll flexibility could limit their overall options.

    They likely won’t be able to offer the biggest contract for any potential signing and will instead need to rely on players taking discounts to compete for championships alongside some of the league’s biggest stars.

    Brooklyn needs rim protection inside to take some of the defensive pressure off Irving and Durant and more athletic wings who provide additional length and physicality on defense. Defense was an issue throughout the campaign, and re-signing Andre Drummond would be an ideal place to start.

    The 28-year-old established himself as a double-double threat every time he stepped on the floor for the Nets after he came over in the deal that included Harden and Simmons, and having a full season under his belt could help him become even more productive.

    Elsewhere, restricted free agent Miles Bridges would be an ideal fit as someone who has the defensive versatility to defend multiple positions and the ability to score 20-plus on any given night.

    Yet his price tag will surely be too high if he even leaves the Charlotte Hornets.

    Perhaps the Nets can look to make a trade for someone like Indiana Pacers big man Myles Turner, which could help them control and match the salaries depending on who is involved.

    Still, drastically improving the team with outside help feels like something of a long shot at this point.

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman projected the Nets to select Duke’s Wendell Moore Jr. in a March mock draft, and that pick would make plenty of sense.

    After all, the 20-year-old is someone who could defend multiple positions with the type of physicality the Nets need on that end of the floor. The ACC All-Defense selection took some of the pressure off Duke teammate Paolo Banchero on that end, which is exactly what he could do for Irving or Durant in the professional ranks.

    Moore still needs some work as an offensive playmaker, but he drilled 41.3 percent of his triples in his final season with the Blue Devils and can take advantage of the double teams that come Durant’s way.

    Auburn’s Walker Kessler is another option.

    The big man, 20, won the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year as a dominant rim protector and double-double threat, which would fit in nicely with Brooklyn’s rotation.

    Kessler would also be a potential replacement for Drummond if Brooklyn chooses not to re-sign the latter.

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