The Brooklyn Nets open their 2021-22 training camp in San Diego on Tuesday, with their first preseason game soon to follow in Los Angeles against the Lakers on Sunday, Oct. 3. It’s been an active summer for the Nets, with just seven players remaining from the playoff roster.
The visit to the Lakers will be the first of four preseason games before the Nets tip off the new season in Milwaukee on Oct. 19. Let’s take a look at five things to watch going into training camp as the Nets take the court:
DURANT AND IRVING AND HARDEN OH MY
This will be the first training camp together for Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden, the superstar trio whose time together on the court last season turned out to be fairly limited. Between the regular season and playoffs combined, the three played 13 games (not counting Harden’s one minute on the court before leaving Game 1 against Milwaukee) and 332 minutes together, with the Nets going 10-3 in those games. In the five-game, first-round playoff series win against Boston, the Nets had a 136.9 offensive rating when Irving, Durant, and Harden were on the court together, outscoring the Celtics by 64 points in their 130 minutes. All three averaged at least 24.0 points per game in the series, the first time three teammates had done that since the run-and-gun 1984 Denver Nuggets. The Nets still set an NBA record last season for offensive efficiency in scoring 117.3 points per 100 possessions, and it all raises the tantalizing question of what the ceiling is for this team with Durant, Harden, and Irving together with a full preseason behind them.
The arrival of Patty Mills gives the Nets something they were lacking for nearly all of last season once Spencer Dinwiddie was injured — a third lead guard. After the trade for James Harden, the two that they had — Irving and Harden — were both in the starting lineup, so Steve Nash staggered the two of them, playing Harden major minutes with the second unit and getting strong production out of those lineups. The presence of Mills alleviates playing Harden with the second unit as a necessity, but will it continue as a choice? Beyond those three, how deep will the Nets go in guards and how do Bruce Brown and Jevon Carter fit into the rotation? Brown was a revelation as a finisher out of the pick-and-roll, scoring at the rim and also rebounding at a profile well beyond his 6-foot-4 height. Carter arrives from Phoenix with a defensive reputation similar to Brown’s — he was the national defensive player of the year twice in college at West Virginia — but with some better 3-point shooting numbers and at 6-foot-1 a little less size.
The late summer roster machinations reshaped Brooklyn’s look at center. Out was DeAndre Jordan, back in was LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge started all five games he played for the Nets last season before abruptly retiring due to an irregular heartbeat. After being cleared medically to play, he re-signed with the Nets. Griffin, a midseason pickup like Aldridge, moved into the starting lineup late in the season and started Brooklyn’s final six regular season games and all 12 playoff games at center. Absent the move for Aldridge, Griffin would have seemed the favorite to remain the starting center. With Aldridge back in the mix, is that starting slot back up for grabs? And does Aldridge’s arrival free Griffin up to play both the 4 and the 5 as he did when he first joined the Nets in late March?
How will Brooklyn’s two first-round picks fare in their first NBA training camps and where do they fit in the plans for the upcoming season? The late-summer pickups of LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap crowded the frontcourt with veteran options. Aldridge gives Brooklyn a third center, along with Blake Griffin and Nic Claxton, ahead of the 6-foot-11 Day’Ron Sharpe, the 29th overall pick. Sharpe lived up to his reputation for rebounding at Summer League, raiding the offensive boards in particular as he averaged 8.3 rebounds and 7.8 points in 20.2 minutes per game over four games. Cam Thomas is looking at a similar crowd in the backcourt, fronted by the James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Patty Mills trio. But Thomas raised expectations with his electrifying performance at Summer League, where he was named Co-MVP. Thomas showed off not just with serious numbers — 27.0 points in 28.8 minutes per game — but came through in taking and making tough, clutch shots.
TWO-WAY SPOT STILL OPEN
The Nets go into training camp with one of their two-way slots still open. Over the summer, they signed rookie Kessler Edwards, one of their three second-round draft picks, to one of the spots. Edwards, the 44th overall pick, averaged 13.7 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting 43.7 percent at Pepperdine last year. The 6-foot-8 forward is 21 years old. Since the two-way contract was introduced for the 2017-18 season, the rules around it have evolved. Originally, players were limited to 45 days with the NBA club — including practice days — but for the 2021-22 season they’re eligible to play 50 NBA games. Rookie free agent David Duke Jr. and third-year forward Devontae Cacok, who played 21 games for the Los Angeles Lakers over the past two seasons, have also been signed and will be in camp with Brooklyn. Keeping the spot open for now also keeps open the possibility of signing a late cut from another squad as they did with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot two years ago.