Nets’ Starter Name-Dropped in ‘Wild’ Trade Scenario for Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard

Brooklyn Nets

Getty Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers.

The Brooklyn Nets have quite a few decisions to make this offseason.

Among the most pressing is what to do with restricted free agent Cameron Johnson and the answer could get complicated rather quickly.

“Attach picks to Johnson and (assuming he agrees) he can become the financial centerpiece of a bid for Damian Lillard,” wrote Dan Favale of Bleacher Report on May 9 while offering up ‘wild’ potential offseason moves. “Maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves look to balance out the roster and recoup draft equity by making Karl-Anthony Towns available. What if the Chicago Bulls shop Zach LaVine? Or if the L.A. Clippers give up on the Kawhi Leonard and Paul George era?”

Brooklyn has been linked to each of LaVine, Lillard, and Towns in recent weeks and even months with the Nets and Bulls engaging in trade talks for the 28-year-old two-time All-Star before this past season’s deadline, per Matt Moore of the Action Network.

Lillard, 32, is friends with and a fan of Bridges – and Johnson – and attended Game 3 versus the Philadelphia 76ers with his Portland Trail Blazers in the offseason.

Towns, 27, is a link made via an NBA executive, per Heavy Sports NBA insider Sean Deveney.

All three would bring an interesting new dynamic that the Nets need from elite scoring to playmaking to size with each possessing some combination of all three traits. George and Leonard are both interesting cases if they’re even available, though both would add to the defensive identity the Nets leaned into after trading Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

George, 33, averaged 20-plus points for the eighth straight season in 2022-23. But he also failed to make at least 60 appearances for the fourth consecutive season highlighting the issue with potentially acquiring either him or Leonard.

Leonard, 31, might be an even more extreme case having missed all of last season and then tearing his meniscus in the first round of the playoffs this season against the Phoenix Suns.

In each of these cases, the Nets would likely be giving up more than just Johnson too.

Nets Urged to Build Around Mikal Bridges

“They should be more compelled to read deeply into Mikal Bridges‘ post-deadline detonation and continue prioritizing their immediate outlook,” argues Favale. “It just so happens they’re set up to do exactly that.

“Brooklyn only starts to fall short in the tangible building block department. If Bridges is off limits, that leaves Nic Claxton or restricted free agent Cameron Johnson. The latter is more useful in blockbuster scenarios, since he’ll be treated as a larger salary. And while he’s already 27, teams from all timelines can use plug-and-play shooters with trace floor games who don’t torpedo the defense.”

We know that they view Bridges as a building block. The questions only come in when factoring that into Johnson’s value.

Johnson averaged 16.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.4 steals in 25 regular season games after being traded to the Nets. He also shot 46.8% from the floor and 37.2% from deep before stepping up in the postseason averaging 18.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists on 50.9% shooting and 42.9% of his threes.

Combine that with his strong perimeter defense at 6-foot-8 and it is easy to see why could be in demand this offseason.

But the Nets don’t sound ready to let him go either.

Nets Want to Keep Cameron Johnson

Not only is Johnson a solid player, the Nets technically gave up a lot to get him (as part of a package with Bridges, Milwaukee Bucks free agent Jae Crowder, and draft capital) in the trade for Durant.

On top of that, he is also close with Bridges whom he said will factor into his decision-making.

“Yeah, I’d say so,” Johnson said during his exit interview on April 23 via the Nets’ YouTube channel. “That’s my twin…The continued opportunity to play with him would be very cool to me.”

Johnson is expected to generate enough interest to come away with a contract worth upwards of $20 million per season. While the Nets sound eager to keep him in the fold, they would have to make additional moves to accommodate Johnson at that price and remain under the luxury tax threshold.

Of course, if they’re going star hunting, they likely won’t mind the luxury tax anyway.

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