The further removed the Brooklyn Nets get from the end of the season the more into the weeds the trade rumors go.
“The Brooklyn Nets’ experience with Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant shouldn’t put them off chasing stars entirely, but it should have taught them to prioritize reliability in their pursuits,” writes Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report. “That makes Damian Lillard, so far a one-franchise player whose loyalty borders on superhuman, an intriguing change of pace.”
– Damian Lillard
Lillard, 32, is a known fan of both Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson. He caused quite a stir by showing up to the Nets’ Game 3 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers just days after video emerged of him partying it up with Bridges.
His presence was later revealed to be more coincidental than anything as he was in New York for other business and tried to get tickets to a New York Knicks game too.
A seven-time All-Star and six-time All-NBA selection, Lillard averaged a career-high 32.2 points with 7.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds on .463/.371/.914 shooting splits. As Hughes notes, it has long been a foregone conclusion that Lillard would stay in Portland. But recent comments from the star make it sound like the situation could soon come to a head.
Lillard is owed more than $216 million over the next four years and has said he wants the Blazers to pick a lane, be it to compete or rebuild meaning he is not all the way out on the Portland or the organization if he even is at all.
But the bigger hurdle for Brooklyn could be Nets general manager Sean Marks’ eagerness – or lack thereof – to go star-chasing again.
Perhaps he would change his tune for this particular package since he would get to keep Bridges, Johnson, and the Nets don’t control where those picks will land.
What the Nets Would Be Giving Up
“Dinwiddie and O’Neale are starters on expiring deals the Blazers could flip for more draft equity,” Hughes writes. “A key for a franchise that hasn’t attracted free agents and must build through the lottery and trades. “
The 30-year-old Dinwiddie averaged 16.5 points, 9.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.1 steals in 26 games with the Nets during the regular season after being traded from the Dallas Mavericks along with Dorian Finney-Smith, the aforementioned first, and a pair of second-rounders (2027, 2029) for Irving just ahead of the deadline.
Despite his showing as a playmaker, former Nets assistant general manager Bobby Marks was adamant that Brooklyn should avoid extending Dinwiddie barring a team-friendly deal.
O’Neale, 29, has already been the subject of trade rumors along with Finney-Smith.
“The Nets have cornered the market on 3-and-D wings,” an NBA executive told Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. “While many rival executives around the league are convinced Bridges isn’t going anywhere, there’s a belief the Nets could break up their surplus of wing depth and trade either Finney-Smith or O’Neale. Various teams around the league, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, are expected to pursue potential 3-and-D wings this summer.”
O’Neale averaged a career-best 8.8 points and connected on 38.9% of his triples adding 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists – also a career-high – for good measure.
As for Claxton, the NBA’s leader in field goal percentage during the regular season?
“The Nets should consider offering another pick or Dorian Finney-Smith instead of Claxton, whose defensive mobility and shot-blocking make him an ideal Lillard complement,” argues Hughes noting Claxton is, “the kind of difference-making center he’s never really had in Portland.”
Claxton, 24, heads into the final year of his contract having averaged 12.6 points, 9.2 boards, 2.5 blocks (second-most in the NBA), and 1.9 assists this season.
Ben Simmon An Unlikely Alternative
“Ben Simmons is another candidate to move,” Hughes points out. “But if the Nets used him as the main matching salary, their pick outlay would get prohibitively larger. The 2016 No. 1 selection may be at a point where teams would want assets attached to take on his salary.”
Simmons missed the final 34 games of the regular season after being shut down with inflammation in his back.
He is expected to make a full recovery by the start of next season. Unfortunately for the Nets, unless a team is keen on taking on reclamation projects, Simmons’ 6.9-points, 6.3-rebound, and 6.1-assist per game stat line belie the fact that he is owed more than $78 million over the next two seasons.