Nets Shuffle to Start the Second Half
By Tom Dowd
Jeremy Lin is back. Bojan Bogdanovic is gone, and the rest we’re going to figure out as we go along once the Nets get back on the court Friday night in Denver. After eight days off around the All-Star break, Brooklyn tips off the second half of the season with an eight-game, 16-day road trip.
In the interim, GM Sean Marks dealt Bogdanovic to the Washington Wizards, along with Chris McCullough, in exchange for a lottery-protected first round draft pick, forward Andrew Nicholson and guard Marcus Thornton. After waiving Thornton, the Nets picked up swingman K.J. McDaniels from the Houston Rockets shortly before Thursday’s trade deadline.
The Bogdanovic trade — coinciding with the return of Lin — reshapes the Nets in the short term, but the deal was made with an eye on the future.
Brooklyn now has two first round picks in the 2017 NBA Draft projected to be in the 20s. While the pick is lottery protected, the Wizards seem safely playoff bound after winning nine of their last 10 games before the break to improve to 34-21 and move into third in the Eastern Conference. The current standings would give the Nets Washington’s No. 24 pick and Boston’s No. 26 pick through a pick swap.
If Marks doesn’t move to package the picks to move up into the top half of what’s projected to be a strong draft, the Nets will be selecting twice in an area where they’ve had success recently. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was the No. 23 pick in a draft-night trade with Portland in 2015 and the Nets opted for Caris LeVert with Indiana’s No. 20 pick in the Thaddeus Young trade last June. Marks also did well with Isaiah Whitehead at No. 42 in a trade with Utah. Two more additions will continue to expand the Brooklyn youth movement.
But for now, the Nets move on without one of their most significant contributors for the 2016-17 season. Bogdanovic played in 55 of the Nets’ 56 games, starting 54 and averaging 26.9 minutes per game. Only Sean Kilpatrick has played in as many games and only Brook Lopez averages more minutes per game.
Bogdanovic was averaging 14.2 points per game and leading the Nets in total 3-pointers made and attempted for one of the most prolific 3-point shooting teams in the NBA. Without the 6-foot-8 Bogdanovic, and with the 6-7 Hollis-Jefferson primarily considered a 4 man, there’s a hole at the small forward spot.
Randy Foye has started the last 13 games at shooting guard, where Sean Kilpatrick (24 starts) and Joe Harris (10) have also had opportunities. This may also be the time for, if not a starting spot, a significantly increased role for LeVert.
Barring a smallish three-guard lineup, the lengthy rookie is the most natural fit for the forward spot. After making his NBA debut on Dec. 7 following rehab from foot surgery, LeVert has been averaging 20.1 minutes per game while making one start, that against Indiana on Feb. 3. He’s averaging 6.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.
“He’s earning more minutes,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “He’s feeling more comfortable. Again, we have to find the right niche for him and the correct amount of minutes, the correct lineup where he feels more comfortable. We want to give him more responsibility, but we don’t want to go over the top. We don’t want to go past that line where you’re overwhelming him. That’s up to us to figure out. My gut is it’s just gonna keep building to more minutes. That’s where it’s trending.”
With Lin’s return, there may also be a change at the point guard spot, where Spencer Dinwiddie has started 15 of the last 18 games. Lin has played in just 12 games overall, and seven of the last 51, sidelined by hamstring strains. He last played on Dec. 26 in a win over Charlotte. In that time, Lin was averaging 13.9 points and 5.8 assists per game.
Atkinson was unsure if Lin would start against Denver, but the opportunity to open the second half with his opening night point guard back in the lineup for the first time in eight weeks was appealing.
“It’s part of the fresh start, seeing him with Brook,” said Atkinson. “If we can do that, I think that would be ideal. But above that is Jeremy’s health and how that works in with his minutes. My gut is even if the minutes are a little … we can really probably work it where he can get with that first unit and get with Brook. We need to feel that out.”
They’ll also have two more forwards to work into the mix and give a look to in Nicholson and McDaniels.
But for Lin, who spent the All-Star break working out in rainy California, there’s a singular focus for the final seven weeks of the season.
“Win as many as we can,” said Lin. “We’ve only won nine games. That hurts everybody in the organization. At this point I could really care less about a lot of stuff other than this team needs to win. They need to feel what it means to win. They need to build a winning culture. My only goal is to get as many wins as we can.”