Inside On What The Nets Plan to Do In Wake of The Caris LeVert Injury & Why GM Sean Marks & HC Kenny Atkinson Can’t Be Patient Anymore (Video)Read Now
The Brooklyn Nets take on the Miami Heat tonight at Barclays Center in the team’s first game since the injury to their star guard and leading scorer Caris LeVert. The ex-Michigan Wolverine was having a breakout season in his third year, is the team’s go-to guy and showed the potential of being an all-star in this league. That all came to what initially seemed like a dramatic halt on Monday night in Minnesota as LeVert landed badly under the basket an appeared to fracture every bone in his ankle. In what can only be described as a miracle, LeVert was examined by the team’s orthopedist and the diagnosis is a subtalar dislocation of the right foot. He will be back at some point this season after completing his extensive rehabilitation program. While that’s certainly good news, general manager Sean Marks, and head coach Kenny Atkinson were quickly reminded how the hopes for an entire season and franchise hinge on the thinnest of margins. It is with that sobering reminder, Marks and Atkinson will do what they must to keep the team focused on this season, but come the summer of 2019, do everything within their power to stockpile this roster with top-tier talent. The time is now.
For the first time since 2013 the Nets own their first round pick, and while the thought from many might be the Nets should tank and hope to land one of the Duke Blue Devils’ star freshmen, Marks and Atkinson don’t believe in tanking. They will be pushed hard and will compete for their sidelined teammate. Truth be told, the Nets likely don’t believe in tanking because they are confident in their drafting ability. After all the team selected LeVert in 2016 with the 20th pick and drafted Jarrett Allen in 2017 with the 22nd pick. No doubt Marks and company believe they can identify gems and franchise building blocks no matter where they select. Now comes the important part for both men. How do they ensure, they are in the best possible position to attract top-tier free agents this summer?
First thing’s first, who are the keepers on the roster as currently constructed? We already mentioned Allen and LeVert. Allen Crabbe will exercise his player option next season and take the $18.5M owed to him as he likely won’t get that on the open market. Good news is, that’s an expiring deal that could be used in a trade package at some point next season if needed. Sharp shooting Joe Harris is in the first year of a two year deal, so he’ll also be back. Everyone else is either a restricted free agent or unrestricted. Whether or not they are on the Nets next season depend on how they perform the rest of this season and at what price the Nets can bring them back at. That’s especially important with D’Angelo Russell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. In Russell’s case, he has the opportunity to prove skeptics and doubters wrong with LeVert out as he will likely inherit those crunch time minutes. Atkinson has not trusted Russell thus far this season, but he may have no choice now. This is it for Russell, it’s now or never.
Once it’s decided they can look towards the free agent class in 2019 and determine who their top targets are. This is a roster devoid of top talent and if playoffs are the goal, the Nets need to attract some players. They have space available for two max salary players, and in order to attract the best of the best, they need to show serious promise. Players around the league have taken notice of LeVert and to a lesser degree Allen. If they both make a leap (which Caris was doing prior to the injury), with the culture Marks and Atkinson have built, Brooklyn is a preferred destination. They’re certainly in better shape than their rivals across the bridge.
While they would never publicly admit this, the LeVert injury has shifted the perspective for Atkinson and Marks. A season that started with so much promise, has soured a little. It’s the NBA, so they have a long way to go until the finish line, and until then they will preach next man up, one game at a time and the common cliche’s we’ve come to expect. But I suspect within their offices and in team meetings, Marks and to a lesser extent Atkinson (given his job as head coach) have their eyes focused on 2019. What can this roster look like with a top wing talent like Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard? Too lofty a goal? What about Tobias Harris or Khris Middleton? Niokola Mirotic would be a nice stretch 4 in Atkinson’s offense…
Regardless of whom they select the time is now for Brooklyn to accelerate this franchise forward and cement the roster with top-end talent and young cornerstone pieces. Teams like the Celtics, 76ers, and Bucks look poised for long-term success. With the right players in place, the Nets should be able to compete in what has rapidly become a pretty good eastern conference.
Prior to the game Kenny Atkinson and Sean Marks addressed the media and talked about the team’s short-term and long-term perspective, given the loss of Caris LeVert.