Who will Nets target in trades to help them vs. Celtics, Bucks?

Who will Nets target in trades to help them vs. Celtics, Bucks?

The Brooklyn Nets are in turmoil, posting the NBA’s best record in their last 14 games (11-3). After a 5-1 start that left head coach Steve Nash fired, Brooklyn is just a half-game behind Cleveland for third-place finish in the Eastern Conference.

With that, we’ve answered some questions from Brooklyn fans in another episode of the mesh mailbag.

Which players will the nets target around the trade deadline and who could they potentially buy? [email protected]

The Nets have two main needs that set them apart from the better Eastern Conference teams. The first is a guard/wing that can challenge goal scorers at the attack point. Brooklyn is extremely limited in this area outside of Ben Simmons. Kyrie Irving has never been known for his defense and Seth Curry is also severely undersized. Royce O’Neale has received many calls, but he struggles to protect faster ballers and is better off the post. Joe Harris has held his own this season but isn’t a reliable defensive option.

Chicago has plummeted to 11-16 and may have to go the entire season without a Lonzo Ball. Alex Caruso steadily cemented his reputation as a high-energy defensive back off the bench during his stint with the Bulls. I’d keep an eye on Caruso’s $9 million salary if it continues down there.

Brooklyn’s second need is a big stretch to complement Ben Simmons. The Simmons-Claxton pairing has been looking better lately, but it still causes problems during a playoff series when the game slows down and the ground compacts. The Nets have reportedly been in talks with Atlanta about a trade between John Collins and Joe Harris. I wrote about my struggles with this trade in a recent article, detailing Collins’ shoddy 3-point shooting, tweener size, and defensive inconsistencies as reasons Brooklyn should look another way first.

Much like Caruso, Nikola Vucevic could be a target for the Nets if Chicago blows it up. Vucevic is a career 34.9 percent shooter from 3-pointers and offers some secondary creations as a post-scorer. The big man also ranks seventh in the league in rebounding (10.6 per game) and would provide a huge boost to a Brooklyn team nearly dead on the glass. The Bulls gave up Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and two first-round picks for Vucevic in a trade that looks worse by the day as their title hopes dwindle. It wouldn’t be surprising if Chicago tried to reclaim the 32-year-old’s value.

Kyle Kuzma is another intriguing target. Kuzma has an expiring $13 million contract for a struggling Washington team, offering extra size, defensive versatility and three points. The 6-foot-9 forward is averaging a career-high 21.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Kuzma offers confident outside shooting and a secondary creator who can attack the rim from dribble, something the Nets don’t do nearly enough.

Kelly Olynyk is another big player that makes sense for Brooklyn if Utah finally enters Victor Wembanyama’s sweepstakes. Olynyk is shooting a career-best 44.7 percent from 3-point land and has a mid-size $12.8 million contract. The big man could land the Jazz another first-round pick should they try to turn him over.

Brooklyn’s pool of trading chips begins with Joe Harris. If the Nets want to land a significant piece, Harris’ $18.6 million salary will be key to getting there. Another option would be to box Nic Claxton ($8.5 million) and Seth Curry ($8.5 million), but the Nets would likely hesitate to take Claxton given his defensive versatility and steady improvement in a team-friendly deal for sale. If Brooklyn is looking for a smaller hunk like Olynyk or Kuzma, Curry could be packed with Cam Thomas and/or Day’Ron Sharpe and a first-round pick. The Nets have their first 2023 or Philadelphia’s first 2027 to use for a potential deal.

What’s been the biggest surprise for Brooklyn so far in the season? -Stephen C

The biggest surprise for me was undoubtedly Yuta Watanabe. The 28-year-old has had a career year at 3-pointers and is proving to be one of Brooklyn’s best full-backs. Watanabe has shot 52.1 percent from long range on 3.0 attempts in his 16 games.

The Japanese product propelled Brooklyn to victory earlier this year with two fourth-quarter wins, scoring nine points on 3-of-3 shooting from 3-land in Portland’s fourth quarter and 12 points on 4-of-5 from deep in the last frame against Memphis. There’s reason to believe Watanabe’s 3-point shooting will revert to mean. The forward was a 35.2 career shooter from deep on 1.6 attempts coming this season.

But what’s particularly encouraging about Watanabe is that even when he’s struggled with his shooting, he’s made a significant impact. Brooklyn’s last two wins are great examples. Watanabe shot 1 of 5 from beyond the arc against Indiana but made two massive plays down the stretch. With 2:40 left, he snagged an offensive rebound from his own missed free throw and joined Patty Mills for a three-pointer to give the Nets a four-point lead. On Brooklyn’s next possession, he grabbed another offensive board with a second left on the shot clock and incorporated it to extend the lead to six.

Watanabe shot 1 of 6 to 3 points against Washington but still managed to force his impression in the game. The Net’s first-year defense activities were a revelation. He can challenge high-level ball carriers on the boundary, knows how to position himself off the ball, has a great understanding of when to help or hit on drivers, and is often in the fast lane.

All in all, Watanabe’s 3-point shooting, defense and bustle on the boards should see him moving forward a significant chunk of Brooklyn’s rotation.

Do you think the roster currently being created is capable of beating the Bucks or Celtics in a 7 game streak? [email protected]

Anything is possible when Kevin Durant plays at this level surrounded by competent role players Brooklyn seems to have this season. However, I think the Nets are a move or two away from becoming a legitimate threat to either Boston or Milwaukee in a seven-game series.

Kyrie Irving recently had significant struggles against Boston’s fierce defense outside of Game 1 of last year’s playoffs. Also, Brooklyn’s supporting actor had big problems last time he met Boston. Similar to last year’s playoffs, the Nets could benefit from a secondary shot creator to take pressure off Durant and Irving. Seth Curry is probably Brooklyn’s best non-star creator. However, Curry’s lack of size and defensive flaws make it difficult to play against bigger teams like Boston or Milwaukee. This was evident in Brooklyn’s final duel with the Celtics, when Curry was quickly played off the floor and committed four fouls in just under three minutes. TJ Warren continuing his upward trend and eventually returning to his old form would go a long way.

But on the subject of Curry, the Nets have three undersized guards — Curry, Patty Mills and Cam Thomas — who can’t hold up defensively in a series against Boston or Milwaukee. Both teams boast extremely long and athletic lineups that would relentlessly hunt down any of these guards in Brooklyn’s Switch-heavy defensive system. The Nets should look to field a selection of these players along with draft compensation in a large or versatile wing/forward package to add size against the Bucks or Celtics.

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