Since Minnesota star Jimmy Butler recently listed the Nets as one of three preferred trade destinations, speculation about trade scenarios has swirled and even has caught the attention of some players. On Media Day, point guard Spencer Dinwiddie described the situation as “the elephant in the room,” but when coach Kenny Atkinson was asked how he’s handling the uncertainty, he essentially said, “What elephant?”
Atkinson insisted he is “100 percent” focused on developing his 17-man roster. “I’m not paying attention to it,” Atkinson said following the first training camp practice on Tuesday.
On Sunday, an NBA source told Newsday the Nets were not involved in any trade talks with the Timberwolves. But circumstances change quickly, and that might have been because there was a split between Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, who reportedly is pushing to make a deal, and T-Wolves coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau, who has tried unsuccessfully to convince Butler to remain in Minnesota.
A new ESPN report on Tuesday suggested as many as 12 teams might be interested in Butler and indicated Sacramento might get involved as a third team taking on swollen contracts to create future salary cap space. The report listed the Nets, Clippers and Heat as potential trade partners with such contracts to unload.
At the same time, Atkinson and general manager Sean Marks have suffered through two lean seasons while building a core of young assets, regaining control of their own draft picks and positioning themselves to have as much as $65 million in cap space for 2019. Any trade now likely would require them to give up either their own first-round pick in 2019 or the one they acquired from Denver that is protected 1-12, plus the Timberwolves likely would want a top player or two.
How hard would it be for the Nets to sacrifice assets for Butler, who wants a five-year max deal worth $190 million from the team that trades for him?
“I don’t even think of that,” Atkinson said. “I let Sean think of those big-picture things, especially now in training camp. I do know players change in this league, and we’ve had changes in the past.”
That truth was self-evident in July when Jeremy Lin was blindsided by a deal that sent him to Atlanta as part of a move to clear future cap space. The Nets have several players who are in the final guaranteed year of their contract, but Allen Crabbe, who has two years worth $37 million left on his deal, also might be an attractive target.
“Honestly, guys are not really talking about it,” Crabbe said. “As long as I have a Brooklyn Nets jersey on, it’s about us continuing to get better and accomplishing those goals we have set for ourselves for the season.
“I feel secure and I feel like, if anything did come up, I’m pretty sure they’ll pull me aside or notify my agent. But I haven’t heard anything.”
Until a trade involving the Nets materializes, all they can do is continue to work with the deepest roster they’ve had in three seasons, and that’s what excites Atkinson. “I’m excited to see who breaks through again, who makes another step,” Atkinson said. “My main focus is helping those guys get there because I know that will help us with the team picture.”
Just one question: Who will be in the team picture opening night?