This is news that’s both terrifying and relieving: blood clots can be both career- and life-threatening depending on the underlying cause, and the fact that they were caught by the California Medical Center in Los Angeles may very well have saved both for Mirza Teletovic. It’s devastating news for Teletovic, whose season is over with his free agency looming, but he’s also very much alive and in treatment, which is the best news you can hope for in life’s game of chance.
Now comes the next step. For Teletovic, that’s staying put in Los Angeles until further notice, with blood-thinning treatment to get rid of the clots and more tests to determine his future. For the Nets, general manager Billy King sent out a message expressing gratitude that Teletovic is, for now, safe, but noted that his job continues, saying “we will explore all the options available to us,” making it clear that he wants to replace Teletovic’s production somehow.
Teletovic has a solid reputation as an outside shooter with picture-perfect form and a sneakily expansive off-the-dribble game, but his outside attack has been a bit of a dud this season. He’s hit 2.5 three-pointers per 36 minutes at a 32.1 percent clip, both career lows since Teletovic came to the NBA three years ago after leading the Euroleague in scoring. Whatever the cause for his struggles (and it’s useless for us to speculate at this point), NBA teams nonetheless had to respect Teletovic’s shooting to some degree, and he provided the most respected outside touch the Nets had on their bench by a long shot. His confidence rarely wavered, from his unrelenting shooting right down to his famous laugh at LeBron, and the Nets will miss his production off the bench despite his shooting struggles.
The NBA places a premium on outside shooting these days — it’s no coincidence that the two best teams in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks, are #1 and #2 in three-point percentage — and replacing Teletovic as a pure threat isn’t as easy as scouring the waiver wire. It’s just not easy to plug-and-play a 6’9″ forward with size, strength, no shooting conscience, and perfect hair. Ray Allen’s the best shooter out there, but he’s not leaving retirement except to play on a contender, and his relationship with Kevin Garnett has been *ahem* dicey in the last few years. The D-League has a few good shooters, like David Wear (yes, Knicks forward Travis Wear’s brother), but the competition is night and day, and its best shooter — 6’2″ Brady Heslip — just left the D-League this week to go play in… Bosnia. Can’t make this up.
The Nets could seek to replace Teletovic’s shooting via trade. If the Thunder want to re-invigorate Brook Lopez talks, they could try to throw in the sharp-shooting former Nets guard Anthony Morrow, hitting from outside at close to a 38 percent clip and only making a hair over $3 million for each of the next three years. The Nuggets, who have also reportedly called about Lopez, have a horde of underperforming shooters who might need a change of scenery. if the Nuggets are ready to cut ties with the recovering Danilo Gallinari, a Gallinari-Lopez swap works under the cap, with room for the Nets to add more pieces. But Morrow is a one-trick pony at best, and the Nuggets’ interest may be tempered without the inclusion of JaVale McGee. The Nets will struggle to find anyone that fits Teletovic’s theoretical role.
The Nets might not be able to find anyone at all, which might still be salvageable. The Nets aren’t the biggest team in the world, but they could theoretically run out a big rotation of Mason Plumlee-Kevin Garnett-Brook Lopez-Cory Jefferson-Jerome Jordan, and fill in the gaps with a spread lineup featuring Joe Johnson as the nominal power forward (which they’ve done on a few occasions this season). It’s not ideal to stick Jefferson in that spot, but he’s shown potential as a rangy, athletic big man, averaging 13 points & 9 rebounds per 36 minutes in limited time. If the Nets still hope to hang onto their playoff spot, they should look to upgrade, but if they’re looking long-term, giving those minutes to a developing Jefferson, who’s not a baby-faced prospect at 24 but has room to grow, might not be the worst idea.
Teletovic is one of the original four Brooklyn Nets players left, and the only one who hasn’t sparked massive trade speculation. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the year, and the Nets have to tender him a qualifying offer (worth about $4.2 million) to make him a restricted free agent, giving them the right to match any offer he gets on the free agent market. But the market will likely be sparse, particularly considering his recent health developments, and the Nets might look to retain him for under $4 million even if there’s less doubt about his future.
Again: this is a scary situation for everyone involved, particularly Teletovic, who must just feel relief that he’s alive and getting treatment at all. The Nets season is already headed downwards, clinging to the final playoff spot with the Hornets and Pistons nipping at their heels, and Teletovic’s loss is a blow to their already-shaky bench production. The first step is hoping he can recover, the second is hoping the Nets can — from his loss, from their last loss, from a season slowly going down the drain.