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Offseason review: Brooklyn Nets

Between Ben Simmons, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant there’s more than enough drama or 12 teams in Brooklyn. But what if they all play and just mesh?

Brooklyn Nets v Miami Heat Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Amid the most dormant part of an NBA cycle, we at Liberty Ballers will be sizing up the Philadelphia 76ers’ 14 Eastern Conference foes. Next up are the Miami Heat.

Previously on our offseason review series: Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards, New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and Miami Heat.

The Brooklyn Nets have had a very, very quiet offseason.

There hasn’t been a ton of activity, little news, and really no national reporters have spent much time talking or thinking about them at all. OK, just kidding. The Nets have had about as wacky a summer as you can imagine. On the other hand, you know they have Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons so the summer they had was also arguably pretty low key.

Time hop back around draft day, as Brooklyn GM Sean Marks decided to defer the pick he obtained in the James Harden trade last February from Philadelphia until 2023. That decision left Daryl Morey holding his own draft day pick, which along with Danny Green (rehabbing from knee surgery), he used to trade for former Grizzlie De’Anthony Melton. Then Memphis used the pick to select Colorado State’s David Roddy at No. 23. The Nets used the pick to target Utah’s Royce O’Neal, all of which would later precipitate Windy’s legendary goating:

Now Rudy Gobert is a T-Wolf and Donovan Mitchell is a Cavalier.

Where was I? Right. Then Marks also selected Trevor Keels, 42nd overall.

Still, the entire NBA Draft had this big shakeup vibe because there’d been rumblings of Kyrie Irving perhaps changing teams heading into it. Is this real, or was this just Irving’s camp trying to get the most money and years possible out of Nets owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai after a tumultuous, controversial 15 months?

Kristian Winfield and Jake Fischer both pointed to a possible looming issue last spring.

And everything escalated quickly.

It’s hard to figure out all the details, but around this time we’d heard that Irving was open to being traded to the Lakers, Knicks, Clippers, Heat and Sixers. We’d later hear the Lakers and even the Sixers and Mavs were “suitors” and then that they weren’t suitors. We’d hear Irving might consider taking a near-max pay cut and playing on a $6M MLE with the Lakers, before hitting FA next summer. By not making Irving happy, what did the Nets brass risk in terms of pissing off both of the mega stars that chose them, a floundering franchise barely recovered from the Billy King-Celtics debacle, over everyone back in 2019?

Ultimately, the Nets did make what sounded like a significant offer to the Duke product who hit basically the most clutch shot in NBA history, perhaps with some missed-games insurance baked in, that Irving (obviously, coveting a max) didn’t go for. Kevin Durant may have tried to exercise a bit of influence behind the scenes. But just how much, that’s hard to decipher too.

Kyrie folded his hand and opted into a one-year deal to stay put as trade rumors continued to swirl and tweeted Kyrie things.

The way the Nets leadership group didn’t cave won support from some fans frustrated with Irving’ lack of availability over his Nets tenure, and the reasons for his extended and sometimes mysterious absences.

Still, in hindsight, you get the sense that Irving opting in led to some long-lasting acrimony between upper management and the team’s key stars.

And all of this was just tremors before the full on earthquake that would halt the entire offseason.

Nets fans had only about a few hours to dream of running it back with Irving set to return before KD made his trade request, setting the NBA ablaze. Quickly teams like the Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat, and Toronto Raptors emerged as favorites to land Slim Reaper’s services. Rumors of Kyrie to the Lakers for Russel Westbrook and draft compensation started picking up steam too. Secondary markets froze.

We’d hear KD preferred the Suns and Heat. Somewhere in there, I suspect the Sixers quietly offered what amounted to two first-round picks (amending protections on previously traded picks in order to offer the 2029 first) Tobias Harris, and Tyrese Maxey for Durant but were quickly shot down. If I’m right, Tyrese has dodged a few trade bullets now, at least Toronto and Brooklyn, if not Houston as well. But no one was really in the ballpark. Had a team like the New Orleans Pelicans put Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram on the table, or had the Toronto Raptors offered Scottie Barnes? Well now, then things might be pretty different today.

The KD dynamic changed at least in part when Indiana made a play for DeAndre Ayton making it difficult for the Suns to build an offer. We would learn that Boston even included Jaylen Brown, Derrick White and a first-round pick for KD, and when KD delivered an ultimatum (to keep me or both Sean Marks and Steve Nash) there was a stretch not long ago it really felt like the dreaded Celtics might get their guy here.

But then something changed. Maybe tempers cooled. Maybe KD vented on Twitter and got some stuff out of his system. Maybe he said bleep it, nowhere I go will offer me a better shot at a chip.

And now Durant is supposedly on the same page again with Brooklyn. And the Nets are running it back.

Before this mess, the Nets started the offseason third in the East (behind only the Celtics and Bucks) per Draft Kings odds. Then they plummeted all the way down to +2900 to win the title come early July when things were seemingly in chaos. Their odds have since risen like Lazarus all the way back up to +310, behind only Boston to make the 2023 NBA Finals. Oddsmakers love them some Nets.

Rival fans got to enjoy months of making fun of the Nets, and now they’ll have to deal with just how good they might be if they’re all healthy and playing — still a bigger if for them than many other units, to be fair. But the dang East is stacked, smack dab amid Joel Embiid’s prime.

All throughout that drama, the team, who really had no incentive to rebuild anyway since most of their own picks are Houston bound from the 2021 Harden deal, kept trying to build a contender.

We noted they shipped out a first for Royce O’Neal.

They brought back Patty Mills and Nic Claxton. Seth Curry, Joe Harris, and Ben Simmons are all returning from offseason surgery.

For some reason, I’m still not sure why, they let Bruce Brown go to Denver. They signed T.J. Warren. Now they profile as one of the best shooting teams in the NBA. The closest thing to this spacing Shangri-La lineup Simmons has ever had included JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli, and Ersan Ilyasova.

And they’re armed with that protected 2027 Sixers pick, and as Nets Daily’s Chris Milholen recently told our Jas Kang on Sixers Daily, “I know for a fact and I’ve known from sources [the Nets are] not a finished roster.” Who might they be eyeing next?

Given the questions of how Simmons and Claxton may fit together as non-shooters, (Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and some All-NBA shooters might be their template) or their defensive weaknesses on the perimeter, they may look to upgrade frontcourt. Myles Turner seems like a natural target as he’d provide Simmons some extra spacing and take pressure off him defending bigs.

They really have no incentive whatsoever to hoard their remaining assets. They may have pissed off both their superstars who feel less proud to rep the white and black today, however you feel about KD and Kyrie, let alone Simmons.

But maybe winning would make everyone forget. Let’s hope for the Sixers’ sake, they continue concocting ways to not play much together.