The start of the NBA’s new league year is just around the corner on Aug. 6, when free agents can officially begin signing. For the Nets, it promises to be the beginning of a busy period.
Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks said as much in June, when he indicated the 2021-22 version of the Nets would look much different than last year’s version.
This offseason’s free agency class is headlined by Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul, but those bigger names aren’t who the Nets will be chasing — not with a top-heavy roster that already includes the max contracts of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
Instead, Brooklyn will be pursuing role players who are nonetheless crucial pieces for a team that will have its sights set on a title run next season.
With that in mind, one veteran big man recently all but spelled out his desire to play for a team like the Nets.
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Cody Zeller Wants to Play for a Contender Like the Nets
But he might as well have.
Zeller, a free agent and the No. 4 overall pick in 2013 who has played his entire career with the Charlotte Hornets, described his ideal role for wherever he lands next. Everything about his description screamed Nets.
“I’m looking at, in my mind, (joining) a team that’s a top four in the conference,” Zeller said. “(A team that is) playing for home court advantage. They aren’t playing to make the playoffs, they’re playing to have home court advantage and then anything can happen once you get in the playoffs. In my mind, that’s a winning team. Even if that means me playing 15, 20 minutes as a backup center on a team like that, that would be my ideal role in free agency.”
It’s clear Zeller would be happy landing in Brooklyn. And it’s just as clear that the Nets could use his services.
Zeller averaged 9.4 points per game (on 55.9 percent shooting), 6.8 rebounds and 20.9 minutes in 48 games last season for the Hornets. In Brooklyn, he’d provide the defensive-mindedness and interior depth that could be an all-important piece for the contending Nets. Zeller, who started 21 games last season for Charlotte, would also be a capable starter for Brooklyn in the event it was struck by another rash of injuries.
In short, the 6-foot-11 center has the appearance of a solid fit for the Nets.
If the Nets are able to offload DeAndre Jordan’s hefty contract in a trade, they’ll be better suited to target players of Zeller’s caliber in free agency.
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NBA’s Pace Has Helped Zeller
As a seven-year NBA veteran, Zeller has seen the game change pretty significantly since he entered the league as a rookie.
It’s been in his favor, the 28-year-old explained.
“It’s changed like crazy,” Zeller said. “I think back to my rookie year. For one, Al Jefferson was Third-Team All-NBA my rookie year, and he was rolling. I think we had at least 10 games in a row where we held opponents under 90 points, and a lot of it had to do with our pace of play because every time that we came down, we were posting up Al, throw it in to Al, cut off of Al. He’d take a few dribbles, throw in a little right-hand hook and then we run back on defense with six (seconds) on the shot clock. You think how the NBA has changed, there’s no post-ups anymore. Teams are scoring 120 a night. It’s fast paced. I think the change has really helped me and fits my game even more than what it was when I came in.”