Nets GM= Sean Marks speaks to the media before a game...

Nets GM= Sean Marks speaks to the media before a game against the Knicks at Barclays Center on Nov. 9. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Just a few weeks ago, it seemed like a done deal that the Nets were going to blow up this team before the trade deadline.

Kyrie Irving was suspended, Ben Simmons was lost, Steve Nash had been shown the door, the defense was nonexistent and the Nets’ outside shooters were both timid and unproductive.

Kevin Durant, of course, was still great, which had the rest of the league salivating as they anticipated that he would renew his trade demands if things continued to go downhill.

However, since Jacque Vaughn took over, the Nets have managed to regain some of their footing. Under Vaughn, the team had gone 8-5 and entered Monday night’s game against Orlando at Barclays Center with a chance to reach .500 for the first time since the second game of the season.

The Nets, of course, were built to win championships, not be a .500 team. They have to decide whether this roster still can be a contender or whether it is time to bite the bullet and rebuild. That’s why the next eight games, beginning with Monday’s game against the Magic, are so important.

Approximately a third of NBA players are ineligible to be traded before Dec. 15. That’s the first day players who signed new contracts during the offseason are eligible to be traded. That means the Nets have a couple of weeks to take a good, hard look at their team and decide whether they want to make one final run with this group.

Vaughn doesn’t like to talk about the big picture. He finds it counterproductive. That philosophy seems to be working for him in that by taking one day at a time, he has managed to go from interim coach to a head coach with a contract through the end of next season.

“We really haven’t tried to say this is where we are, this is where we should be,” Vaughn said before Monday’s game. “We’re more matter-of-fact-like. Today’s game is the most important. I’m not trying to summate the 20 games that we’ve played and where we should be in 40 games. That’s not the way I look at them.

“We are trying to search [for] excellence and get away from complacency. So today’s game matters going in that direction. We are going to get the most and pull the most out of this group. What that is, I don’t know.”

Vaughn may not be looking to summate — don’t you just love that word? — the Nets’ past 20 games, but you can bet general manager Sean Marks is.

Durant’s trade value will never be bigger than it is between Dec. 15 and the Feb. 9 trading deadline. He is under contract for four more years, which means he will be 38 when it ends. Still, a contender could pick him up and get multiple playoff runs out of him, including this season. The longer the Nets wait to deal him, the larger the possibility that he might suffer some sort of injury that could hurt his trade value.

There are some signs that things are trending in the right direction. Simmons has flipped a switch and is beginning to look like the Simmons of old. Seth Curry’s shots are starting to drop and his surgically repaired ankle is strong enough that the Nets are starting to play him in back-to-backs. Yuta Watanabe has developed into a legitimate outside threat. And T.J. Warren, who averaged 19.8 points in 2019-20, the last full season he played, is expected to be back on the floor for the first time in nearly two years.

On paper, the Nets have everything it takes to be a contender. Yet that’s been the case since Irving and Durant joined forces. The next couple of weeks could decide whether they make one last run.


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