With the NBA season on pause because of the COVID-19 virus, it’s anything but business as usual for the Nets, who recently announced that four of their players have tested positive. But whenever general manager Sean Marks goes to work in earnest on preparing for next season, one question looms larger than all others, including his decision on a new coach.
Marks must decide whether he is content simply to add superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to the current mix once they are healthy after completing rehab from previous injuries, or does he try to put together a megatrade for a third star, as Irving suggested in January before his season ended after playing just 20 games?
If Marks goes the trade route, ESPN NBA analyst Bobby Marks, who once served as assistant GM of the Nets, believes the biggest trade chips are Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert, who split time with Irving in the backcourt for the few games all were healthy.
“I think Dinwiddie provides the ultimate insurance policy for Kyrie,” Bobby Marks said in a recent interview with Newsday. “Do you trust Kyrie to stay healthy? I don’t know the answer to that question. On the other hand, Dinwiddie will be technically on an expiring contract (with a player option at the end of 2020-21). He’ll likely opt out. He can be extended starting in December, and are you comfortable having your two point guards making north of $50 million per year?
“Spencer has shown he can start in the league. I don’t think he’s a top-10 point guard, but I think he’s probably in that next tier, the 10-15 range. I think Caris still has so much upside and he’s got a great contract, so Caris has more value than Spencer.
“But if you are looking to upgrade the roster, somebody’s got to go. You’re basically staring at Spencer and Caris…In regard to Dinwiddie, it’s probably something they would have to look at to see what his value is out there.”
Four days before he was replaced as the Nets’ coach, Kenny Atkinson acknowledged the difficult questions facing the organization about using three ball-dominant guards together. Atkinson noted that LeVert and Dinwiddie worked well with former Net D’Angelo Russell, who had an even higher usage rate than Irving, but Irving’s suggestion that the Nets need more pieces points to a trade for more frontcourt help.
When Atkinson was asked about the danger of trading Dinwiddie, who has been active for 276 of his 294-game career with the Nets, compared with LeVert missing 103 games of his 315-game career, he said, “He is very durable, and that’s why he’s so valuable to our team. I think both Kyrie and Caris have had some bad luck. I know how hard they work. But I understand the question. Spencer…is so highly valued because of how durable he is.”
Assuming the Nets try to hang on to LeVert, they might have to add a sweetener into any deal featuring Dinwiddie and draft picks. The most obvious is third-year center Jarrett Allen, according to multiple NBA sources. If the Nets try to add frontcourt help, Allen would be a replacement piece in a trade with another team. Bobby Marks previously has suggested the Nets could target Magic forward Aaron Gordon, while others have speculated about the availability of Hawks forward John Collins, a longshot because of his high value.
But there might be another way for the Nets to get the help they need. “Who’s going to be that one team or two teams that either want to rip it down or want to re-tool the roster?” Bobby Marks said. “Is it Philadelphia? Maybe. I don’t know. You’re kind of in a wait-and-see mode to figure it out.”
Will Allen be dealt?
It was believed the Nets were fully committed to the development of third-year center Allen as a foundational building block for the future. But when interim coach Jacque Vaughn started veteran backup DeAndre Jordan over Allen for the two games he coached before the season was suspended, it hinted at a possible shift within the organization.
When Durant and Irving signed with the Nets, they brought Jordan along as part of a three-player package. Although Atkinson often finished with Jordan in the fourth quarter, Jordan started only four of the 54 games he played under Atkinson, which might have contributed to locker-room unrest.
Former Net Jared Dudley told Newsday before the Nets played their last game against Dudley’s Lakers in Los Angeles that he thought benching Allen was a mistake. “It makes sense to start Jarrett Allen because he has more trade value, he’s younger, his potential is higher at this stage of his career,” Dudley said. “Why would you not want to tap into it?
“Now, DeAndre, you might play him in the fourth quarter. But I don’t think that’s the main factor they parted ways. I just think, eventually, you could have traded Jarrett Allen in the summertime and got pieces for him. But you cannot do that if he’s only playing 18 minutes.
“His value is not going to be the same as when he’s playing 25 to 28 and he’s getting blocks on Sports Center and people say, ‘Hey, we’ll take this young guy.’ Jarrett Allen still has another level he can get to right now. DeAndre Jordan and guys of that age are set at who they are.”