Last summer, we saw the league shift towards a two-star tandem approach. Anthony Davis was acquired to team up with LeBron James on the Lakers. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joined forces with the Clippers. Russell Westbrook was acquired by the Rockets to form an MVP backcourt with James Harden. The Brooklyn Nets also joined the fun by uniting Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
The Nets are striving for a championship next season as Durant and Irving will finally share the court. To achieve that goal, Brooklyn has a pivotal offseason ahead.
Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks has publicly stated re-signing Joe Harris, one of our top-ranked free agents this offseason, is his top priority. Other transactional moves like exercising Garrett Temple’s $5 million team option and guaranteeing the $1.8 million salary for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot are expected. But there are other looming questions for the organization as one rival Eastern Conference executive noted.
“I love what Sean has done with that team, and he has a few choices to make,” the executive told HoopsHype. “My theory is everyone is available for the right deal. Can you keep both Spencer (Dinwiddie) and Caris (LeVert)? Do you have to get assets for Jarrett Allen since you can’t pay him? How much do you pay Joe Harris? The bigger question is, who is your coach that will agree to play the players you keep.”
Dinwiddie is on the books for $11.4 million next season and is then expected – barring injury – to decline his $12.3 million player option for the following season and become an unrestricted free agent. Allen will earn $3.9 million next season before entering restricted free agency.
Jacque Vaughn did a remarkable job with a depleted Nets team and went 7-3 after taking over for Kenny Atkinson before being swept by the defending champion Toronto Raptors in the playoffs. Vaughn worked closely with Irving and LeVert before games during the season.
Ty Lue and Gregg Popovich have also been linked to the Nets. Lue won a championship coaching Irving during the 2015-16 season in Cleveland. Marks played for Popovich and worked with him in San Antonio as a coach on the bench and in the front office.
However, arguably the biggest question for the Nets is whether LeVert is capable of being the third star behind Durant and Irving, or if the team will look to package him and other players to land a better star and form a super team in an attempt to win the title.
HoopsHype spoke with five executives, two scouts, and two former teammates of LeVert on the condition of anonymity to get their takes on whether the Nets should keep LeVert as their third star or use him in a trade package to land another player.
Five of those polled said to move LeVert for a bigger star. Some even named potential trade targets. The remaining four believe Brooklyn already has a third star to complement Durant and Irving effectively.
LEVERT IS BROOKLYN’S THIRD STAR
LeVert has shown glimpses of star potential in his young career thus far.
The former Michigan Wolverine has improved his scoring average every season since entering the league and shot a career-best 36.4 percent from three-point range last season. He’s also hit multiple game-winning shots over the years as a closer for Brooklyn.
Next season, his role will change, with the ball primarily in Durant and Irving’s hands. Durant has publicly praised LeVert as a player and trained with him previously before becoming his teammate. Irving and LeVert are both represented by Roc Nation and have a bond off the court.
Due to LeVert’s selfless attitude, ability to be a playmaker or slasher off the ball, and willingness to defend the opponent’s best wing scorer, there’s a belief he could mesh well with Durant and Irving from some talent evaluators.
“I think you can win with LeVert,” one Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype. “They need that third scorer. I think it’s up to him to learn how to adjust and play with KD and Kyrie. KD is efficient enough and learned a lot playing with Golden State. If KD is on the bench and LeVert is on the floor, you’ll need Caris to score more. KD learned how to co-exist with Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson) on the floor. I think he’s grown in that area. KD probably can help LeVert in that area showing him how he can score on the floor with him and Kyrie.”
To help balance out the trio, LeVert could become a playmaker and scorer off the bench carrying Brooklyn’s second unit. In doing so, he could be a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
“I think they can build with LeVert,” one Western Conference scout told HoopsHype. “He would be an ideal third option given his skill set. He might be better suited coming off the bench when Durant and Irving are back. With his ability and competitiveness, he can spearhead the second unit. That would be a tremendous luxury to have him leading your second unit. He is a very talented player who can score, and he also gets everyone involved. I would try and find a way to keep him since he is so impactful and effective.”
Off the court, LeVert has made a positive impression with teammates who’ve shared the locker room with him.
“I wouldn’t trade Caris; he’s great, especially at the price range he is at right now,” one of LeVert’s former teammates told HoopsHype. “He can take over a ball game and is loved by everyone in the organization, especially his teammates. The East still isn’t overly great. No need to take on the extra salary and personality when they should have no problem getting to the finals out of the East.”
LeVert, who just turned 26 years old, is signed through the prime of his career. He’s signed for the next three seasons for $52.5 million, as noted on Brooklyn’s salaries page.
His manageable salary, and the upcoming free agencies for Dinwiddie and Allen, could make him more valuable to keep long-term.
“I think they’ll do what they can to achieve both,” one rival Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype. “ Keep LeVert and use other pieces to achieve another potential star around their current two or three, if you include LeVert. It’s definitely going to be interesting to see how it plays out. Their window is now.”
TRADE LEVERT FOR A THIRD STAR
LeVert has been a proven playoff performer when given a primary role for the Nets averaging 20.7 points, 5.9 assists, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.1 steals in nine postseason games over the past two seasons. Coming off his best year, some view it as the perfect time to sell on LeVert’s stock.
“LeVert’s assist totals in the bubble have likely opened some eyes throughout the league,” an Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype. “However, his career sub 35 percent from deep and foot issues aren’t ideal. The Nets are somewhat in a tough spot as the third star needs to be non-ego, defensive-minded, and a floor spacer, which is easier said than done.”
During both playoff runs, we’ve seen LeVert act as a primary playmaker either in isolation or pick-and-roll sets at the top of the key. With Durant and Irving, Levert will have the ball in his hands dramatically less.
“He is not a third star,” a Western Conference executive told HoopsHype. “He needs the ball and takes away from KD and Kyrie. He can’t shoot when he’s off the ball. In crunch time, he won’t be guarded if all three are on the floor.”
By comparison, there may be better fits on the trade market that would be worthwhile for the Nets to explore.
“I love Caris, that’s my guy, but if you can get Bradley Beal, you make that trade,” another of LeVert’s former teammates told HoopsHype. “Maybe even Jrue Holiday. Anybody besides that, I keep him.”
Beal, 27, is signed for $63.3 million combined over the next two seasons. Following that, Beal has a $37.3 million player option for the 2022-23 season, per our Wizards salaries page. Washington’s goal, however, is to get back in the playoffs next season with Beal and the return of five-time All-Star John Wall anchoring the backcourt. The Wizards have also made re-signing Davis Bertans, one of the league’s top three-point shooters, their top priority in free agency, which shows a further commitment to winning next season.
Holiday, 30, is signed for $26.1 million with a $27 million player option for the 2021-22 season. Having shared the backcourt with Lonzo Ball in New Orleans this past season, he’s shown the ability to handle either guard position on offense while being named a two-time All-Defensive Team member by locking up on defense as a primary on-ball defender. Former Nets assistant general manager Trajan Langdon is the general manager for New Orleans, which is also worth noting.
“Caris to me is a really good third star that continues to get better on both ends,” one Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype. “However, Jrue Holiday would be a great compliment for those guys on the floor playing with the ball, creating, playing off the ball, making shots when needed, and defending the best players, as well as a locker room balancer.”
Acquiring either Beal or Holiday in a trade would be costly, but worth it for a team competing for a championship now. Washington is reluctant to move Beal and would need to be blown away by an offer. New Orleans could look to sell high on Holiday, but his veteran presence is invaluable to the team’s young core.
Both players have dealt with injury issues in their careers, similar to LeVert.
“If Caris can stay healthy, he’s good enough, but health as always is the key,” one Eastern Conference scout told HoopsHype.