From the moment training camp opened, Nets players and coach Kenny Atkinson alike have raved about the development of third-year wing Caris LeVert, who appears poised to make a quantum leap. LeVert’s unmistakeable signs of progress, in a nutshell, explain why the Nets are not engaged in trade negotiations with Minnesota for All-Star forward Jimmy Butler and obviously are conserving their assets for the 2019 free-agent market.
Several media accounts about Butler’s recent trade request and listing of the Nets as one of his preferred destinations have speculated they not only would have to part with at least one first-round draft pick to land Butler but also would have to include a top young player, most likely LeVert, as part of any package.
It’s not happening. An NBA source told Newsday the Nets are not pursuing Butler, and further, LeVert will not be part of any trade negotiations barring the most unlikely of circumstances.
The Nets have spent the past two seasons under general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson developing a young core that includes LeVert as a key element and have two first-round picks next season — their own and Denver’s pick protected 1-12 — and they project to have $65 million in salary-cap space to sign two marquee free agents without surrendering assets.
Butler is a seeking a maximum five-year offer worth $190 million from any team that trades for him this season, but he also can get a four-year deal worth $141 million next summer from any team if he doesn’t sign a max extension this season. Obviously, the Nets would have the financial leverage to sign Butler if they traded for him, but they also would be giving up assets and taking a chance on him signing long-term.
That is why the Nets are not players in the Butler talks. ESPN on Wednesday reported the emphasis has shifted to the Miami Heat as a primary suitor. Meanwhile, Atkinson became the latest member of the Nets organization to praise LeVert after the second training camp practice.
“First two days of training camp, he’s been fantastic, quite honestly,” Atkinson said of LeVert. “I’m going to call it like it is.”
LeVert came off the bench last season while playing both guard positions and small forward. Asked if LeVert might earn a starting spot, Atkinson said, “We’ll see. Too early to make that call yet. I think he’s made a jump physically, and he’s starting to understand the change of pace needed to play. Him and Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] are our two most active defenders.”
LeVert credited his dramatic improvement to a training regimen that focused on improving his balance and lower-body strength and to an “outside-the-box” approach that includes daily meditation and visualization.
As for the Timberwolves trade rumors, LeVert said, “I don’t really get into that type of stuff too much, but obviously as a player, it’s good to feel wanted and it’s good for other people to acknowledge what you’ve been doing on the court.
“But I love it here in Brooklyn, and I want to play here a long time.”
Obviously, the Nets share that desire.