The Brooklyn Nets have been a pleasant surprise in the NBA this season. Seen as a team looking on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Nets find themselves in sixth place in the East (29-27), just a few hours before the NBA's trade deadline.
The Nets' success has transformed them from a seller at the trade deadline to a possible buyer. Entering Monday's meeting, Brooklyn has gone 20-8 in its last 28 games and is fresh off of a successful January that saw the team post an 11-4 record and the fourth-best defensive rating (106.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) in the NBA.
The franchise has several paths it can pivot to as the deadline approaches.
Stay the course and focus on 2019 free agency
While Brooklyn has played well, the team would face the Philadelphia 76ers if the season ended Monday morning. They will likely have to face one of the 76ers, Bucks, Toronto Raptors or Boston Celtics in the first round.
The automatic tough first-round matchup could cause Brooklyn to shy away from trading assets at the deadline and focus on 2019 free agency as the next chance to upgrade the roster. Stars such as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard will all be available. The Nets potentially could have cap room for a maximum salary player -- as much as $46 million -- depending on their willingness to renounce their rights to restricted free agents D'Angelo Russell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. By standing still at the deadline, the Nets could focus on gaining playoff experience for their younger players.
Make a move to improve playoff hopes but keep an eye toward free agency
A deep backcourt rotation that features an All-Star in Russell, Joe Harris, Shabazz Napier, the injured Spencer Dinwiddie, Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert seems set. The Nets really have upgrades already on the way with LeVert likely to return soon and Dinwiddie expected to return later in the season after undergoing surgery on his right thumb. Center has also been solidified by the tandem of Jarrett Allen and Ed Davis.
Brooklyn could use an upgrade at the power forward position. The Nets have started Jared Dudley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and rookie Rodions Kurucs at the 4, and they could use an upgrade if they want to make some noise in the playoffs.
Former Net Thaddeus Young (12.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals) has been a huge factor in the Indiana Pacers' elite defensive season. After Pacers All-Star Victor Oladipo's devastating injury, Indiana could opt to become a seller. The veteran Young has an expiring contract worth $13.8 million.
New Orleans Pelicans 3-point ace Nikola Mirotic is also available after Anthony Davis' trade request. Mirotic is in the final year of a two-year, $25 million deal that he signed with the Chicago Bulls in 2017. Since both players are free agents after this season, a protected first-round pick or two second-round picks could make a deal happen.
A much lower price would be asked of forward JaMychal Green. Lacking the explosive scoring and shooting ability of Mirotic and the veteran defensive presence of Young, Green could also be a nice fit. He's shooting well on 3s (39.6 percent) and is on an expiring contract of $7.9 million. A second-round pick could be enough to convince Memphis not to lose Green without obtaining something in return.
Pursue a trade that eliminates 2019 cap space but improves team's short- and long-term goals
While the Nets are currently NBA darlings, there are still questions about the Nets' attractiveness as a major free-agent destination. General manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson have been praised for their efforts in picking the right players and developing a strong culture for a franchise that lacked a true direction a few years ago. Brooklyn could punt on free agency and pursue players on long-term contracts.
The Orlando Magic re-signed Aaron Gordon to a four-year, $76 million deal this past summer. The continued development of forward Jonathan Isaac leaves Gordon's future with Orlando in limbo. Gordon (15.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists) is a combo forward with a diverse skill set. Acquiring Gordon would probably take a substantial trade offer considering he is still just 23 years old. Gordon's youth and talent would require at least one first-round pick and maybe some other young players such as Kurucs and Hollis-Jefferson.
A much more expensive option would be Dallas Mavericks 26-year-old forward Harrison Barnes. Barnes has a player option for $25.1 million next season and also comes with an 8 percent trade kicker that increases his salary. Though he is pricy, Barnes is a solid scoring option as a combo forward. He's currently averaging 17.8 points while shooting a career-high 39 percent on 3-pointers.
Dallas potentially would want to remove Barnes' salary to free up space to build around Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. Brooklyn may be able to acquire Barnes by dealing an expiring contract such as Dudley and Carroll.