CLEVELAND — After missing the previous three games with what was described as a non-COVID-19 illness, Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen was scheduled to return against the Nets on Monday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Of course, Allen was drafted in 2017 by the Nets and spent more than three seasons with them before being traded to the Cavs last Jan. 14 as part of the multi-team deal that brought superstar James Harden to Brooklyn.
It was tough to say goodbye to a popular player they developed, but the chance to acquire Harden was too good to pass up. But Allen has thrived in Cleveland. Prior to this season, the Cavaliers signed him to a five-year contract worth $100 million, and he has responded with 14.2 points per game on 69.4% shooting while hauling down 10.9 rebounds per game, all career-highs.
Nets coach Steve Nash was a rookie head coach last season, but when asked at the Monday morning shootaround how tough it was to send back Allen as part of the Harden trade, Nash said, "For sure. We loved him and wish him a lot of success and are happy for him to get a contract. The reality is he was probably out, we couldn’t probably have re-signed him anyway. Looking at the marketplace, he probably would have gotten a lot of money, and it would’ve been a huge gap compared to some of the other priorities.
"So that was part of the decision in being able to let something like that go. Obviously, the other part is James Harden is a special, special player. But no question we still root for [Allen] and support him."
Asked if he has been surprised at all by Allen’s play this season, Nash said, "No, we know he’s got a bright future. He’s a terrific player, and I think he’ll have a great career here in Cleveland."
Allen figures to have his hands full trying to protect the rim Monday night because Kevin Durant returns to the Nets’ lineup after a one-game absence to rest his sprained right shoulder. Harden has been attacking the basket ferociously in a recent five-game stretch that has seen him get to the foul line for at least 11 attempts in four of those games. He has averaged 28.4 points per game over that span as the Nets (12-5) climbed into a tie for first in the Eastern Conference with the Bulls.
The key is for the Nets to figure out how to sustain that success without injured three-point shooter Joe Harris (sprained left ankle), defensive specialist Bruce Brown (left hamstring tightness) and backup center Nic Claxton, who still is recovering from his own bout with a non-COVID-19 illness.
The Nets have received solid contributions from the supporting cast, but the one player who has stood out is Patty Mills stepping into the starting lineup in place of Harris. Starting with the game in which Harris was injured and three subsequent starts, Mills has averaged 20.0 points per game while shooting 21-for-37 from three-point range (56.8%).
The extra playing time seems to have helped Mills find his shooting rhythm after a previous cold stretch. "He’s been such an incredible force for us this year with his play, his spirit, his energy, all that has been outstanding," Nash said. "He’s been great for us. He’s going to go through stretches where he doesn’t make shots and then he’ll bounce back out of it and be himself.
"Whether he’s starting or not, I’m not sure that has as big an impact as just time. But you can make the case that he’s shot the ball better. Maybe it’s the opportunities, the rhythm that comes with starting."