Injuries cost the Brooklyn Nets a shot at the Eastern Conference Finals this season, but another area of weakness was their frontcourt. How can the Nets bolster their big man rotation while already being well into the luxury tax this summer?
The Nets’ 2020-21 season came to an end because of injuries to James Harden and Kyrie Irving, but it was also rough for them leading up to the playoffs.
LaMarcus Aldridge was banked on as the Nets’ best center for offense, but was forced into early retirement after signing with Brooklyn.
They were forced to play DeAndre Jordan more who they had essentially benched (more on him in a minute) and eventually landed on Blake Griffin as the small-ball center.
Griffin is a free agent, but it would surprise me to see him sign anywhere else but Brooklyn where his pathway to minutes is still pretty good. However, Griffin isn’t a true center and while he can play the position and exploit matchups against certain teams, one of the Nets’ main focuses this offseason should be to bolster their frontcourt.
Potential Trade Assets and Free Agent Targets
Even with Spencer Dinwiddie opting out of his player option for next season, the Nets are still on the hook for over $160 million in salary. They can’t afford to sign anyone who will command a high salary without exploding into the luxury tax.
Brooklyn will need to be smart with acquiring talent this offseason. They also have Bruce Brown as a restricted free agent, but he too will command a chunk of change this summer that the Nets may want to spend on a big man.
One way they could potentially do that is to convince Dinwiddie to accept a sign and trade, or sign and trade Brown if they can’t match his eventual offer sheet in the summer.
Putting a sign and trade together will be tricky, but Dinwiddie will have no shortage of suitors, even coming off his ACL injury and Brown should get a lot of looks as well after establishing himself as a guy with all-defense potential. This may be the best avenue to acquire a center. Assuming Brooklyn is able to convince a team to accept Jordan and a draft pick to offload his salary, the Nets will have some room to pick up a big on the open market.
Among the free agents who would probably consider the mid-level exception, or the veteran minimum, the Nets are probably going to be interested in Dwight Howard, who has proven to be a great 20-minute per game center and still a very good anchor on defense.
Andre Drummond is also available and he could see the Nets as an opportunity to put up huge numbers without having to be exposed too much on offense.
DeMarcus Cousins is proving he is healthy again in these playoffs and I’m sure the Nets would be interested in adding an offensive talent like him.
If they strike out on those three, some other options could be Enes Kanter, Daniel Theis, Nerlens Noel or Ed Davis. None of these guys are starters, but combined with Griffin and Nic Claxton, the Nets could have a more viable big man rotation coming into next season than they did in the playoffs.
Nic Claxton Wild Card
There is one option for the Nets that hasn’t been mentioned and it absolutely has to. If Claxton can work hard in the offseason to bulk up some more, he is the most viable option as a starting center for Brooklyn. He may not be ready by then, so what the Nets do in free agency will be telling how they think of Claxton in the near-future.
However, the 22 year-old, third-year big man, who was the first pick in the second round in 2019 has a lot of upside. He can run the floor and block shots and he projects to be an 8-10 rebound per game player eventually. He needs to improve his strength and free throw shooting but he could play an important role and may even start at center.
Claxton’s development and whether it explodes in his third year will go a long way in the Nets’ title chances.