Nets mailbag: A Blazers deal for No. 3, Jacque Vaughn’s offense, Ben Simmons and more

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It’s time for the May edition of the Nets’ mailbag. As always, thanks for submitting a question, questions that have been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

Would you trade Mikal Bridges for Anfernee Simons and pick No. 3? Does it make a difference if it’s Brandon Miller or Scoot Henderson? I feel Simons and Henderson are a good return and a good fit even though I love Bridges. — Billy S.

Hey, Alex. Thanks for always doing these. Let’s say Damian Lillard ends up getting traded. What realistic package would it take for the Nets to get him given his age and contract with the assumption that any Dame trade will be made with his influence? Is there a chance we could acquire him without giving up all those Suns picks? If so, I can see Marks being aggressive there, especially with Mikal Bridges’ and Dame’s connection and Marks’ comments about adding a scorer. — Justin H.

I’m combining these questions because they’re related.

Coming out of the combine, my understanding was the Nets aren’t interested in trading Bridges to Portland and would want more than the No. 3 pick and Simons (or Shaedon Sharpe) than just those two assets, if they did. That makes sense, too. If the Blazers are that desperate to help Dame, why not push for more? I don’t think Simons is a good return because he’s an older player and already got paid. Sharpe is younger and on the better deal.

Another question: How do the Nets feel about Brandon Miller and his situation at Alabama? I know it hasn’t affected his draft stock, but the Nets are a team that just got over a ton of headaches. Do they know who is going No. 2? Do they really like one guy over the other? And Bridges hasn’t even played 30 regular season games as a Net. They love him and appear to want to see this through.

That said, I don’t think the Nets have the assets to get Lillard and frankly, I don’t think a deal for him is worth it. He’s almost 33 and isn’t going to win a title in Brooklyn. At least I don’t think so without the landscape around the rest of the league changing. What’s the Nets’ ceiling with him if the East stays as is? I’d say the second round. If he asks out, I think Lillard should go to Miami, where the Heat can hide his defensive liabilities and have him just score. They can win the East with that team. They’re already on the brink of winning it without him.

But to play your game the Nets would need to trade Nic Claxton and Ben Simmons for cap-filler, but that could change because who knows what his physical looks like with those back injuries? Then, maybe four first-round picks? The Suns gave up four for Kevin Durant, who is two years older than Lillard, so why wouldn’t the Blazers start there? And Lillard is an unrestricted free agent in 2025. Will he extend with the Nets and finish his career there? And how does that contract age?

A lot to sort through there. Hence, why I don’t think it’s worth it.

The Nets gave up three of the five second-round picks that they received for Jae Crowder in order to generate an $18 million trade exception. One of the largest in history. Do you think that Sean Marks has a specific plan for this exception? Giving up three second-round picks would seem to indicate that he does. — Mark B.

First, just to clarify, the Nets never got five second-rounders for the Crowder trade. There was a lot flying around Twitter when the news broke, but the Nets got two while the three others went elsewhere in a multi-team deal. I asked around on this and my understanding is the Nets never had all five second-rounders at once. The Bucks were always giving up five, but they were never all heading to Brooklyn. I don’t think it’s in the neighborhood of largest ever as both the Celtics had the record in 2021 for a $28.5 million exception, which broke the Pelicans’ previous record by a million in 2020.

I’m not sure Marks made the trade for Crowder with only the exception in mind. First, the team was changing course and he was trying to get all the assets he could. Crowder has said he never intended to play for the Nets. Second, how could Marks predict what the market is going to be for the summer until Feb. 2024 (when the exception expires)?

I’ve talked to multiple front offices about trade exceptions and they all said they’re something they always strive to have a few of because you never know what the market is going to look like and they’re good to have if a player you want becomes available and the exception helps you get the deal done. I’m sure if the Nets see a player they want and the exception helps them get him, they’ll use it. But they won’t use it for the sake of using it. The team goes into the offseason $10 million below the luxury tax, but re-signing Cam Johnson would put them back into it, plus the repeater kicks in. To bring a player in with such a large exception would likely require some roster gymnastics.

The James Harden trade was a killer. The draft picks given up and the Ben Simmons contract assumed makes both ends now a blunder (two-fold). It put Marks and the team in a box. As unpleasant as it seems, the thing to do is hope Simmons back ailments (or other) are better in 2023-24 and he can work his way toward his former basketball self. Marks should not panic and divest the Dallas and Phoenix draft capital for more aging vets/rentals. Can he resist? How do you see it? — Patrick S.

I have always said I would have loved to see the original 2020-21 Nets go the entire season with a healthy Spencer Dinwiddie alongside Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert and Co. That team was deep. You look at the Nuggets in the Finals right now and they’re led by two alpha dogs in Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray with a ton of firepower around them. That reminds me of that team. Of course, the original Harden trade changed that roster.

There are folks in some corners of the internet saying if Harden returns to the Rockets, the Nets win the Harden/Simmons trade. Sure, if you want, but I disagree. To me, it’s more of a wash. The Sixers didn’t get any further than the Nets did with Harden (the second round) and Simmons’ being a fraction of his former self was, to me, the beginning of the end of the Durant and Irving era. Maybe that 2027 first-round pick the Nets still have from Philly becomes a game-changer one way or the other, but we won’t know the answer for years. And while Seth Curry and Andre Drummond were fine role players, you don’t make a trade that big only to judge it based on the throw-ins.

So, thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

Now, to the present. As John Hollinger and I recently discussed, the Nets are a bit limited in what they can do. Unless Simmons returns to his previous form, it’s hard to see the team doing much until the remaining two years and roughly $80 million come off the books. I don’t see the need to chase a star right now just to have an alpha dog. What’s the Nets’ ceiling anyway? Winning a playoff series with the right draw?

Unless the Sixers, Bucks and Celtics, heck maybe even the Knicks and Cavs, dramatically change their rosters, it’s hard to see a deep playoff run in the near future. To your point, why mortgage the future – to borrow a Marks’ phrase, for likely limited returns? I think the Nets should be in no rush to star chase and retool the roster for now and see how the rest of the league shakes out.

I’ll touch on this more in another mailbag question, too.

What do you think about sending Dorian Finney-Smith back to Dallas for their 10th pick. With it, the Nets have a chance to get Duke’s big man. — Brian S.

This comes with no offense to Dereck Lively II, who seemed like a great guy at the combine, but to me, it’s not worth it. Trading up for a big man? The Nets just cycled through backup centers last year in an attempt to get Day’Ron Sharpe going and it only went so far. I think the Nets have tried the young center experiment behind Claxton and the old/washed-up guys the year before, too.

If you’re going to sign someone to compete with Sharpe, do a Marks special and sign some diamond-in-the-rough who outperforms their contract or go with an established veteran.

Hi Alex, I’m curious how pressing you see the need for a new starting point guard is for this team. Mikal is clearly the No. 1  scoring option, but he and the team have admitted he still has room for growth as a playmaker. And while Dinwiddie filled the role to the best of his abilities last year, I think all parties involved would be best served with him going back to his more familiar spot in the pecking order.

I’ve seen some mocks where the Nets draft a point guard, but it’s hard to imagine a rookie drafted in the 20s is ready to run an NBA offense. This feels like a role they need a veteran for, and if they strike out on stars like Dame, they should at least get a Tyus Jones, Monte Morris, T.J. McConnell, or someone of that caliber.

What say you? Is this a role the Nets should look to upgrade? Or is the traditional floor general-PG a dying role in the modern NBA? — Ryan N.

I like all of the names you just listed as a mid-level exception signing, though I’m not sure what each player’s market looks like. This is probably an unpopular opinion, but I find the calls for change at point guard a bit overblown. That’s not to say Dinwiddie was Jason Kidd during his return to Brooklyn, but he has said the team was learning each other on the fly and the results were never going to be optimized because you were blending three teams into one.

Drafting a point guard makes a lot of sense. Dinwiddie goes into the season with one year left on his deal, and teams saw how good he looked alongside a superstar in Dallas. If contenders are calling the Nets at the deadline next year for Dinwiddie as a rental, I don’t think that’s a bad problem to have. Now for Simmons. I’m fully in “believe it when I see it” mode with him returning to All-Star form. In a world (likely an unrealistic one) in which Simmons looks like his All-NBA self, trading Dinwiddie suddenly makes a lot of sense, though Simmons’ injury history would still make me a little hesitant.

Should the Nets draft a point guard, I think bringing him into the season with Simmons and Dinwiddie isn’t the worst case scenario. Again, the Nets are likely not going to win the NBA title next year. If it doesn’t work with Dinwiddie, he leaves in free agency next season or gets dealt at the deadline. I don’t see Simmons playing well and having a trade market, but getting more out of him next year than you did this year is a reasonable goal to have.

I’d say if there’s a point guard available in the 20s, take a shot and bring them in with the other two. If not, sign a vet, especially as a form of Simmons’ insurance and if all three are contributing and therefore one is expendable, that’s not a bad outcome either.

We’ve seen a lot of debate about the value of head coaching with the recent fires of Monty Williams, Mike Budenholzer, Doc Rivers and Nick Nurse. Do you believe Jacque Vaughn can go head-to-head with someone like Erik Spoelstra? Seems to me like the Nets didn’t run a ton of plays or move off ball. Do you expect the Nets to be creative offensively or will they be an isolation-heavy team that tries to win it defensively? — John Y.

I think that’s more of a question to be answered this season. Vaughn took over a year ago with a staff he didn’t hire and a team full of drama. His time in Orlando was complicated as well given they were tanking and suddenly changed their mind and fired him shortly after deciding to contend.

Vaughn has had as good of a basketball education as you can ask for. He was coached in college by Roy Williams, drafted and played his first few years under Jerry Sloan and later spent time under Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich. Not a bad list. A lot of play installation is done during training camp. This coming year will be Vaughn’s first in Brooklyn with this group. I’d like to see how he does after a full preseason, likely balanced roster and no sudden direction change (such as trading both franchise players mid-season) and see how he does. Can he outcoach those guys down the stretch in a tight game? Let’s see if the opportunity presents itself this season and how he does.

To your first point on all the recent firings, my takeaway from that is it’s not worth speculating on a coach’s future anymore. This has clearly become a “what have you done for me lately” business. The coaches you named have been some of the winningest in recent years. If they don’t get security or the ability to have a down year then who does?

OK, I know this will sound crazy in light of the current Nuggets–Lakers series, but could/would/should the Nets at least entertain a reunion with D’Angelo Russell either via the mid-level exception or sign-and-trade with the Lakers as part of balancing out their wing rotation? — Glenn G.

You’re not crazy, but I don’t see it. Haven’t there been enough 2018-19 Nets reunions recently? I thought Russell looked great with the Lakers as an off-ball shooter and playmaker, but not enough to warrant a return to Brooklyn. He just showed he’s better as a supporting cast member on a playoff team. Dinwiddie has said that 2019 team reached its ceiling as a group before Durant and Irving arrived. Does bringing D’Lo back really raise this current team’s much more?

I admittedly haven’t watched Russell religiously since he left Brooklyn, but I haven’t felt like he’s done much more on the teams he’s played on since, aside from the Lakers. And I understand he wasn’t exactly an aid in the conference finals. Minnesota underachieved to me and that stint with the Warriors was a wash because of all the injuries they had around them. I think there’s an argument for bringing in someone new and seeing how it goes instead of another alum they know what they’re getting in.

Why are so many Nets fans afraid to retool? I see too many fans wanting to trade Bridges and tear everything down forgetting we don’t own our own draft picks. I admire Nets fans for not being Knicks fans thinking we’re trading for and signing every star but come on. Milwaukee has issues, Philly and Boston are in turmoil. Who is to say Marks can’t address some needs this summer, we get a healthy Ben Simmons and can make and advance in the playoffs? —Questioner with no screen name

I don’t speak for the fanbase and I learned in a college class called Intimate Relationships that mind-reading is detrimental to relationships of any kind. Including the reporter/fan relationship. I was told that class was an easy A and I somehow finished with a B+. So, I’ll tread carefully with my answer.

I’ve touched on the Simmons’ situation enough throughout this answer so no need to rehash, but I would just say common sense says tanking is the preferred way after contention ends because it’s the path of least resistance and lowest expectations. In other words, tanking won’t hurt your emotions as a fan the way trying would no? You go into the year knowing the team is going to be bad, root for losses in some ways, and the real wins are in how the young players develop and who is worth keeping for the long haul versus trading for them for more picks/assets.To me, retooling is the messiest of them all right? Contention is easy. Title or bust aspirations or something similar. But what does success retooling look like?

I think there are a lot of different answers. Maybe retooling leads to contention. Maybe it leads to tanking. It’s somewhat of a form of purgatory and I think human nature (there is where I do speak for myself) is to prefer things cleaner and outlined. Easier to understand, so to say. Retooling is murkier and harder to evaluate.

Look at the Sixers. They tanked for years and we are still talking about how “The Process” has yet to yield even a conference finals appearance. Easy to conclude it has only worked out so well for them.

Teams that have retooled? The answers are all over the board and only so comparable team to team. So I would just say it’s easier as a fan, especially one who has been through everything the Nets have thrown at you in recent years, to say, “I’ve been through enough with this team. Just call me when they have some lottery picks to get excited about,” instead of, “We’re trying to run it back and get better with a team that was roughly .500 last year.”

That’s my two cents but understand if others feel differently.

Isaiah Stewart could be available and could help us as a rebounder. Any Nets rumors for him? And would a couple second rounders be enough? — Alain J.

I looked into this and am told the Pistons aren’t interested in dealing Stewart. Not sure where that report came from, but I trust who told me.

If you are the head coach on opening night, and Ben Simmons is still on the roster and healthy, what position are you playing him at 1-5? Are you playing him with Claxton? —Thing 1

Answering this because I’m a huge Dr. Seuss fan, Thing 1. I say bring Simmons off the bench opening night and make him play his way into the starting five. The Simmons/Claxton numbers got better over the course of last season, but are more irrelevant now that the players around them have changed. Try it again and see how it goes this time around.

Alex, for once I’m stumped on what to ask you. I guess I was curious about Rayan Rupert who you quoted as a fan of Bridges. Where in the draft is he expected to go? And could the Nets find a way to snag him? — Corey C.

Our Sam Vecenie has him going 26th to the Pacers in his latest mock draft, so he could be there for the Nets. Most of the projected lottery picks tend to go in that range. After that, the parity picks up.

(Photo of Mikal Bridges and Jacque Vaughn: David Sherman / NBAE via Getty Images)

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