Surprise! As of today, the Brooklyn Nets have a firm spot in the conference playoff race. They’re currently the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference and have a three-game game lead on the ninth-placed Detroit Pistons. While they were on a tear in January, the Nets stumbled out of the gates to start off February, and a big reason for that has been the teams’ depth at the four and the multitude of injuries to key pieces. If Brooklyn wants to stay relevant in the Eastern Conference’s elite eight, some moves may be necessary.
So, then, let’s address the areas that need improvement.
The power forward position has been a revolving door for the Nets this season. Almost everyone capable of playing the four has drawn a start at some point in the season — with the exception of DeMarre Carroll who has come off the bench all year. Since the beginning of the Marks-Atkinson Era, it’s clear that the Nets like running out small lineups. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been the go-to guy to play the small ball four, but nagging injuries have caused him to be in-and-out of the lineup, often leaving him with a colder rhythm. Jared Dudley took over and had his big moments too, but a hamstring injury currently has him sidelined.
Rodions Kurucs — who will compete in the Rising Stars contest in Charlotte soon — has been holding down the fort as of late, but he’s appeared to hit a rookie wall. It was expected, after playing seven games for Barcelona’s B team, transitioning into an 82-game NBA season, there’s bound to be some bumps and bruises.
The Nets have lost four out of their last five games and shooting struggles have been a big reason for it. In their last contest against the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn shot a horrible 5-for-40 from three-point territory. The Nets have been one of the better teams from beyond the arc — fifth in 3PT — but there has to be another guy aside from Joe Harris who can run around screens and be able to get quick three when needed.
Allen Crabbe was slated to be that guy, but injuries have been kind to him this year. He was starting to get his groove back before he went down with another knee injury in December, although he’s slated to return as early as tonight. The second time around, hopefully, it’s back to 2017-18 Crabbe. But if not, it’s always good to buy low on a backup plan, just in case.
With all that being said, this list is comprised of realistic trade targets, so if you’re expecting an Anthony Davis scenario, you’ll be pretty disappointed, just as a forewarning.
On to the trades!
Nikola Mirotic, New Orleans Pelicans
While the aforementioned Davis won’t be a highlight of this article, his departure might be the first domino to fall in an immediate-rebuild situation. Nikola Mirotic is averaging 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds to go along with 37 percent shooting from deep. His 6’10, 250 pound-build can give head coach Kenny Atkinson something he hasn’t had much of in his Brooklyn tenure — a quality stretch big. Aside from Brook Lopez’s final season — and initial foray into long-distance shooting — Atkinson has been starved on that front.
Mirotic isn’t necessarily the best defender, but you can’t teach size. He’s hard to move in the post and his style of play can open up the paint for Jarrett Allen — something the majority of other power forwards struggle with consistently. Contract-wise, it’s not a huge risk as the international sharpshooter has a deal worth $12.5 million that will expire at season’s end. Of course, Mirotic doesn’t fit the mold of a typical Nets four, but it’s clear that his weapons could unlock a new, different level into the Nets’ ceiling.
Troy Daniels, Phoenix Suns
Troy Daniels is the perfect buy-low candidate to help the Nets’ three-point shooting off the bench. Daniels, currently in the final year of a deal worth about $3.3 million, can get hot from three-point land in a heartbeat. He’s a career 40 percent shooter from range and can provide veteran leadership to the Nets’ bench unit. Today, Daniels is hitting 1.4 three-pointers in just 13.2 minutes per game — right in line with Shabazz Napier’s long-range acumen. Who wouldn’t take another Napier from behind the arc at a low, low cost?
But even bigger, his three-point heroics in the 2014 playoffs for the Houston Rockets against the Blazers shows he has what it takes during important moments too.
Taurean Prince, Atlanta Hawks
Taurean Prince had a career-year last year for the struggling Hawks, averaging 14.7 points to go along with 39% shooting from distance. His start to the season was derailed by an ankle injury that sidelined him for 21 games — now, he appears to be on the market. The Nets are in win-now mode, while the Hawks are shopping around almost anybody with a pulse, like Kent Bazemore and DeAndre’ Bembry to boot While he might be suspect defensively, Taurean’s height of 6’8 — combined with his innate playmaking ability — makes him seem like a strong fit candidate for the Nets right now. Naturally, Prince is still young, 25, and on a rookie deal so he might be a little pricey.
But if anyone is better at transforming unused goods, it’s the Nets’ coaching staff.
JaMychal Green, Memphis Grizzlies
Speaking of teams in lose-now mode, the Grizzlies are blowing it up. Marc Gasol might be headed to Charlotte — or might not be — and Michael Conley looks likely to be shipped off to another location as well. Grit ‘N Grind is undergoing a complete overhaul, so taking advantage of the Grizzlies’ fire sale and nabbing a solid power forward in Green might be one way to improve the Nets weakest areas. Green, 28, like many of the Nets’ key pieces, proved his worth by clawing his way out of the G League and overseas to be a productive player at home here.
When the NBA headed fast into its modern-day three-point-centric offenses, Green adjusted by adding a deep shot to his arsenal. This season, Green is shooting a career-high 40 percent from three-point range — albeit at just 0.9 makes — to go along with an array of interior moves and solid post-defense. Green’s attitude and style of play fit like a glove with what the Nets are trying to build and, importantly, on an expiring deal worth $7.6 million, the price could be right too.
Rodney McGruder, Miami HEAT
The HEAT are another team in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt and have made no indication of trading Rodney McGruder — but Miami is an undeniably tricky spot long-term. The 27-year-old pest started the season on fire but has cooled down significantly since — still, the Nets, in need of more positive defenders, should come calling. His shooting has dipped along with other areas in his offensive game, but McGruder can still lock up opposing teams out on the perimeter.
He’s a little undersized, 6-foot-4, but he makes up for it with great lateral quickness and explosive athleticism. His shooting from outside has dipped about 7 percent from 2017-18, but at 1.4 makes per game, McGruder can still clearly be a factor from deep. Spot-up shooting and lockdown defense from the guard position can free up guys like D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie to focus all their energy on offense, a luxury that might become necessity come playoff time.
Despite his age, McGruder will be a restricted free agent this summer — but is Miami ready to move on from a flexible rotation piece at a nice price?
With a little under 24 hours before Thursday’s deadline, the Nets are expected to do… something. What that is, exactly, remains to be seen — but with Brooklyn in a playoff chase for the first time in forever, a small-level move may be the right call. Around the corner, the Nets will have Crabbe, LeVert and, eventually, Dinwiddie back at full health, so any desperation desires should be halted, however, some extra help could be useful as the Nets prepare for the springtime and beyond.
As always, trust in Sean Marks — it’s certainly worked so far.