After three years of making moves on the periphery to lift his team out of the abyss, Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks struck it big this summer by adding Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency. It was a major haul, but it comes with questions like: how long the Nets will have to wait for Durant (who's recovering from the Achilles tear suffered in Game 5 of The Finals)? Will he ever be the same player again? And, will Irving bring the Boston Celtics' chemistry issues of last season with him to Brooklyn? But the Nets have a solid (and still developing) supporting cast around their two new stars, with time to grow before they add Durant to the mix.
> 30 Teams in 30 Days: Brooklyn Nets
The Nets created cap space by trading Allen Crabbe and the No. 17 pick to Atlanta in a deal that brought Taurean Prince to Brooklyn … Also traded the No. 27 pick for the No. 56 pick (Jaylen Hands -- unsigned) and a future first rounder … With the extra cap space they created, they were able to land both Durant and Irving in the first hours of free agency, with DeAndre Jordan tagging along ... Worked out a sign-and-trade deal that sent D'Angelo Russell to the Warriors … Lost key veterans DeMarre Carroll, Ed Davis and Jared Dudley, but added Wilson Chandler (who was later suspended 25 games for violating the league's Anti-Drug Program), David Nwaba and Garrett Temple … Signed Caris LeVert to a three-year, $52.5-million contract extension that kicks in next year … A few days before camp opened, Marks said that "the expectations are that [Durant] will be out for the year."
1. Culture vs. talent. Acquiring Durant and Irving was a coup, but the culture that the Nets have built over the last three years could suffer with the integration of two star talents with complicated personalities. It will be fascinating to see if the entire roster can stay on the same page, both on and off the floor.
2. A third star in the making. The Nets had to part ways with their All-Star (Russell) to add their two new All-NBA talents. But they retained the best two-way player on last season's roster. LeVert had a terrific start to the season before suffering a horrific injury in mid-November. And after struggling to get his rhythm back post-injury, he was the team's best player in the playoffs, averaging 21 points on an effective field goal percentage of 57.5 percent. If he can build off that and remain healthy, LeVert could emerge as a third star in Brooklyn.
3. A hole at the four. Durant's absence and Chandler's suspension leave the Nets thin (both literally and figuratively) at the power forward position. Rodions Kurucs started 46 games as a rookie, but is still raw and is facing an assault charge in court. Whether or not that affects the season, the 6-foot-8 Prince could get the bulk of the minutes at the four until Chandler returns. The Nets may be forced to play super-small or, perhaps, Jordan and Jarrett Allen together. "It'll play out through competition," coach Kenny Atkinson said.
MAN ON THE SPOT
The Nets have shown statistical improvement in each of Atkinson's three seasons in Brooklyn. He's clearly been the right coach for developing young players and getting them to buy in. But he's now got a new kind of team, with two superstars and with some of those young players entering a new phase of their careers. Atkinson clearly has the support of Marks, but the coach must prove himself once again, this time showing that he can make the most of a more talented group.
Kyrie Irving | 23.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 6.9 apg
Has a championship and is entering his ninth season, but still must prove that he can be a leader.
Joe Harris | 13.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.4 apg
The regular-season league-leader in 3-point percentage struggled in the playoffs (4-for-21 on 3s).
Caris LeVert | 13.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.9 apg
Shot 8-for-20 (40%) on pull-up 3-pointers in the playoffs. Adding that to his ability to get to the rim would make him tough to guard.
Taurean Prince | 13.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.1 apg
Ranked 10th in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage (42.8%) among 102 players with at least 200 attempts last season.
DeAndre Jordan | 11.0 ppg, 13.1 rpg, 1.1 bpg
Led league in defensive rebounding percentage last season, grabbing 31.5 percent of available defensive boards.
Jarrett Allen | 10.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg
One of the league's best rim protectors. Has struggled against stronger bigs, like two -- Joel Embiid and Enes Kanter -- within the division.
Spencer Dinwiddie | 16.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 4.6 apg
Fifth in points per possession (1.05) on isolations last season (minimum 100 isolation possessions).
Rodions Kurucs | 8.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.8 apg
The No. 40 pick in 2018 Draft has length and versatility. He had a surprise rookie season, starting 46 games.
THE BOTTOM LINE
With Durant expected to miss the entire year, the Nets might not be any better than they were last season. They've swapped Russell for Irving and have lost some important veterans off the bench. But a healthier season and continued development from LeVert could make a big difference and put Brooklyn in the mix for a top-four seed in what should be a weaker Eastern Conference.
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