The playoffs officially ended less than a week ago with the Larry O’Brien trophy applying for a passport and the offseason is now in full swing. Speculation is running wild and the rumor mill is working overtime — basically, it’s the best time of the year. Legacies will be redefined with the signing of a signature, careers will begin and end, and the potential of creating the next dynasty floats through the dreams of owners and general managers throughout the league. Meanwhile, in the Brooklyn Nets’ fanbase:
The purpose of this list is to provide some order and structure to a chaotic offseason. I’m ranking these players on a variety of factors including their individual skill level, their positional fit on the team, and how realistic it would be for them to sign with the Nets. All stats are taken from their last season played. This isn’t meant to be a ranking of who should or will be signed, but who would have the largest impact on the franchise. We’re nearly 24 hours away from the big dance, at long last, so buckle up, boys and girls!
10: Nikola Mirotic
15.2 PTS, 7.4 REB, 1.2 AST, 43.9 FG%, 36.5 3P%, 28 years-old
Nikola Mirotic is the exact type of player that Nets fans were begging for all of last season. Maybe not him specifically, but the phrase “stretch four” practically became the ritualistic chant of a disgruntled fanbase, growing louder with each mounting loss. Whether those cries were justified or not is a whole debate in and of itself, but Mirotic would still be a welcome addition to a team that struggled with depth from the power forward spot all season.
His biggest strength is obvious; he shot nearly seven threes a game last season and knocked them down at an above-average rate. He would slide in perfectly to Kenny Atkinson’s offense as a whopping 65 percent of his shot attempts came from behind the three-point line once he was traded to Milwaukee. He wouldn’t be the superstar that the fans have been crossing their fingers for, but six months ago they would have cheered his coming just as loudly.
9: Kristaps Porzingis
22.7 PTS, 6.6 REB, 1.2 AST, 43.9 FG%, 39.5 3P%, 23 years-old
Kristaps Porzingis would fill the same hole as Mirotic, but at a much higher level. He was an All-Star at age 22 before suffering an ACL injury that kept him out for the entirety of the past season. At his peak, the Unicorn could easily be the first or second option on a championship-caliber team.
There is one major issue other than his injury history: he is a restricted free agent. That means that the Dallas Mavericks, who already gave up a non-trivial haul for him, have the ability to match any offer thrown his way. It would be very surprising, to say the least, if they gave up their assets just to let Porzingis walk. All indications so far show that the feeling is mutual — this one may be over before it even starts. While Sean Marks has a history of offering huge deals to restricted free agents, don’t expect Porzingod to be wearing the white and black when opening night comes around.
8: Khris Middleton
18.3 PTS, 6.0 REB, 4.3 AST, 44.1 FG%, 37.8 3P%, 27 years-old
Khris Middleton is the type of player that casual fans have never heard of and that diehard fans dream of having in their rotation. He has quietly improved each season he has been in the league and can do a little bit of everything. He is switchable and competent on defense, a threat to score from any spot on the floor, and consistent as they come.
The downside is that he doesn’t seem to be capable of being “the guy”. He won’t be the one to take over in game seven of a playoff series. He is much more comfortable being the second or third option and doing his best to help the team as a whole. The problem is that he is so good at fulfilling that role that he will likely demand as much money on the open market as some lower-tier stars. While one can’t deny his skill and contributions, locking up a large part of your limited salary in a player who should probably be the third best starter is not ideal.
7: Klay Thompson
21.5 PTS, 3.8 REB, 2.4 AST, 46.7 FG%, 40.2 3P%, 29 years-old
Fans around the league have wondered for years how a team with Klay Thompson as the number one option would look. For a long while, it appeared as if this would finally be the offseason where those fantasies would be fulfilled. With his ACL injury during Game 6 of this year’s NBA Finals, his future is much more uncertain. Most now believe that he will return to the Golden State Warriors, but his immense talent demands that a general manager at least make an effort.
Thompson has established himself as the best 3-and-D player of all-time, in this writer’s opinion. He is a perennial All-Defense candidate and arguably the second-best shooter the game has ever seen. The only asterisk is how he will come back from his injury, but with modern medicine, ACL tears are much more manageable and most players make full recoveries and return to their old form. If a team could pry him away from Golden State, they would be well rewarded.
6: Jimmy Butler
18.7 PTS, 5.3 REB, 4.0 AST, 46.2 FG%, 34.7 3P%, 29 years-old
Jimmy Butler is perhaps the most “win-now” player on this list. His signing would indicate that the team is looking for playoff success sooner rather than later, as Butler has shown that he has little patience for teams that aren’t pursuing a ring. He is obviously the talent, but his role on the team isn’t immediately clear. He’s a good defender, but not the best on this list. He can score in isolation, but so can most of these other players.
Ultimately, Butler is a better version of Caris LeVert, but it isn’t even clear that he will still be better next season. While he would make the team better, his salary could likely be better spent upgrading other parts of the roster.
5: D’Angelo Russell
21.1 PTS, 3.9 REB, 7.0 AST, 43.4 FG%, 36.9 3P%, 23 years-old
This man needs no introduction. D’Angelo Russell gave hope to a team — a fanbase — that had lacked it since the infamous Billy King trades. He was their first All-Star selection since 2014. He led them to their first playoff game win in 1,447 days. He brought fun and excitement back to Brooklyn basketball.
And now he might walk for nothing.
This situation has divided the fans like no other, and for good reason. This offseason Sean Marks has to decide between going all in and potentially forcing open a championship window or to stay put and let the young pieces grow and develop under the Nets’ talented staff. There is a risk to both strategies, Billy King being an example of an all-in gone wrong, and the modern Celtics being an example of how holding too tightly to your assets can backfire. There is no single “correct” answer, and that is why disagreement is inevitable. Russell is caught in the middle of this crossfire, and his fate will say multitudes about the direction that this team is heading.
4: Tobias Harris
20.0 PTS, 7.9 REB, 2.8 AST, 48.7 FG%, 39.7 3P%, 26 years-old
Remember that roster hole I mentioned earlier? The one that was begging to be filled by a stretch-four? Yeah, Tobias Harris is the premier long-range power forward in the league today, possibly rivaled only by Blake Griffin. Despite this, many fans are hesitant about the idea of offering Harris a large contract. The distinction lies in whether you believe that he can be the best player on a championship team.
Shooting five threes a game and connecting on nearly 40 percent of them is terrific for a big man and something that the Nets have lacked since the legendary Brook Lopez. His defense is acceptable, he rebounds well for his size, and he is above-average at finding and making the correct pass. What’s not to love? The answer is his price tag. The max contract Harris could take in free agency is worth 32 million dollars a year. That is the kind of money that you want to offer to your number one guy, and that is just not something that Harris has shown to be capable of yet.
After being traded to Philadelphia he was often the fourth option on offense behind Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and the already mentioned Butler. A team paying anywhere near 32 million/year to its fourth best player is in big trouble. Now, if a persuasive general manager could convince him to take a discount? That’s a whole new story.
3: Kyrie Irving
23.8 PTS, 5.0 REB, 6.9 AST, 48.7 FG%, 40.1 3P%, 27 years-old
Finally, the man who has been linked to Brooklyn repeatedly since the season ended by some of the most respected reporters around the league. Perhaps the most polarizing figure to the fanbase who isn’t actually a part of the team — yet. But if you believe the rumors, it is as close to a done deal as you can get. Some may be upset, but it could be so much worse.
Irving is a six-time All-Star with multiple All-NBA selections at the age of 27. He has played under the brightest lights possible with the added scrutiny of being LeBron James’s teammate and thrived, hitting one of the most iconic shots of the decade. While this last season with the Celtics somewhat turned public opinion against him, he is still friends with nearly every big star in the game. The Brooklyn Nets would be lucky to have Kyrie Irving representing the borough.
2: Kevin Durant
26.0 PTS, 6.4 REB, 5.9 AST, 52.1 FG%, 35.3 3P%, 30 years-old
If this article had been written one month ago Kevin Durant would have easily been the number one target. The combination of his Achilles injury and the incredible postseason performance of the man ranked ahead of him was enough for Durant to slightly slide. However, even the possibility of missing all of next season isn’t enough to stop teams from pursuing him, with the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers, and Nets all reportedly still ready to offer him the max deal he is looking for.
The future is now very unclear for the man who was supposed to be in full control of free agency. This year, the Slim Reaper threatened to steal the crown from King James, and many claim that he did. If Durant can come back at even 75 percent of what he was when he left, that still leaves him as a top ten talent.
1: Kawhi Leonard
26.6 PTS, 7.3 REB, 3.3 AST, 49.6 FG%, 37.1 3P%, 27 years-old
The New Face of the League. The Board Man. The King of the North.
The Klaw has two rings, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, two Finals MVPs, five All-Defensive selections, three All-NBA selections, and three All-Star selections. He is only 27.
You don’t need a paragraph about how good Leonard is. He will single-handedly change the course of whatever franchise he decides to commit to. It may be a long shot, but if there’s even a chance that he could be in Brooklyn black and white to start the 2019-2020 season, you must shoot your shot.