In the month of January thus far, Brooklyn Nets rookie Day’Ron Sharpe has become an important rotation piece. Glued to the bench in the season’s first few weeks, he has taken advantage of how seriously short-handed the team has been and started the last four games, averaging 9.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in only 18.8 minutes per game this month.
It is of course a small sample size, and one that came about through necessity rather than choice. But apparently it was enough to put Nic Claxton on the trading block.
On the “Hoop Collective” podcast, according to RealGM, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that the Nets have “dipped their toe into the trade market for Nic Claxton,” even though he had been the starter until his own absence through a hamstring injury. Citing Sharpe’s play and Claxton’s upcoming free agency, Windhorst said the team may be “thinking about trading him.”
This is in line with a December 2021 report from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, who stated that the Nets have in fact been gauging Claxton’s value since the last draft. So, why are they doing that? Did Sharpe really make Claxton expendable already?
Why Trade Claxton?
Claxton is one of the few significant trade assets for a Nets team that, as things stand, cannot deal a first-round pick until 2028. With the Big Three also not on the market, much of the rest of the roster is made up of veterans with little trade value, due to their contract situation (usually one-year minimum salary deals) and the diminishing returns veteran players yield.
Being one of the better teams in the league (and still the favorite to win the Eastern Conference, per FanDuel) means that second-round picks will come in the #50-60 range, and those are not much use in trade, either. The recent days of tradeable excess such as Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert are gone.
The asset cupboard now contains the three rookies from the 2021 draft (Sharpe, Kessler Edwards, Cam Thomas), potentially Joe Harris if he is also deemed expendable, and Claxton. And considering he is, as Windhorst said, heading for free agency himself, thus having the least team control over his future – and faced with having to give him a huge pay day when already yielding such an enormous payroll – Claxton makes sense as a trade candidate from a purely business point of view.
That said, there is no purely business point of view, and Claxton is a valuable and quality player. He is an efficient paint finisher, a lob threat, a transition option, and a versatile defender who can cover ground with his speed while also being able to protect the rim. There are Joakim Noah vibes to Claxton’s game, and, injury absences notwithstanding, he has become only better as time has gone on.
Can Sharpe Really Replace Him Already?
To be sure, Sharpe is undoubtedly an NBA caliber athlete, too, every bit the run-and-jump lob threat type that Claxton is. He came into the league ready to rebound, run, roll to the rim and jump over the top of it, and he has been doing so in this January stretch.
Head coach Steve Nash has also been effusive with his praise of Sharpe’s wider skillset, too, saying in a January 16 article on NBA.com:
He’s got some natural gifts. He has a nose for the ball around the basket and on the boards. He’s physical, he loves to throw his weight around underneath the basket, which is a positive for us. So that rebounding, physicality, he has great hands, he has a real knack for finishing around the basket as well. For a young player, he’s an excellent passer for a center. So a lot of skills we can use and a great piece for our team to develop.
Nevertheless having another good option at the position is not the same as saying the position is overstocked. It was only last season that 6-foot-4 Bruce Brown was having to take emergency stints at center – the Nets, surely, are not overstocked in the front court.
The Nets have used Kevin Durant a fair amount at the center spot this season, and although veteran option LaMarcus Aldridge has contributed well (13.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game), fellow seniors Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap look to be coming to the end of their careers. The fact that the Nets have the oldest team in the league should also mean that the young, athletic big man who can rebound outside of his area, get out to shooters (remember DeAndre Jordan) and cover ground on switches is not only useful, but important for doing all the things that others cannot.
Certainly, there will be a good trade market for Claxton. But it is less clear what the Nets could get in return for him that would be of more immediate and long-term use to them than he is. The Nets had a similar situation recently with Jarrett Allen, a young athletic big due a big pay day, and they traded him before paying him. But at least that time, they got back James Harden.