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5 biggest questions surrounding Nets for 2022-2023 season

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The Brooklyn Nets head into the 2022-2023 season with several question marks. Following a drama-filled postseason and summer surrounding Ben Simmons, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, there is well-deserved skepticism regarding the team’s stability.

In this article, we address the five biggest questions surrounding the Nets heading into this year.

5. Do the Nets make a move for another center?

Putting aside Brooklyn’s big three drama for now, the Nets have a far deeper and more versatile roster than they did last season. Despite this, backup center remains a hole following a busy offseason.

Brooklyn’s center rotation consists of Nic Claxton, Day’Ron Sharpe, and small-ball option Markieff Morris. When assessing Claxton’s injury history, it is evident that the Nets could use another dependable option at the position. The 23-year-old played just 79 games over the last two seasons. If Claxton goes down, can the Nets rely on Sharpe with just 32 games under his belt? Or Morris who played 17 games last season and is not traditionally viewed as a center?

Acquiring an experienced big man as an insurance policy for Claxton should be a priority. Hassan Whiteside remains a free agent after playing 65 games for Utah last season. Jakob Poeltl could be a trade target. The six-veteran had the best year of his career in 2021-2022 and has played over 65 games in each of the last five seasons. The Spurs are in full tank mode following the Dejounte Murray trade and Poeltl is on an expiring contract. San Antonio should be looking to move the big man for draft equity.

If Claxton is available and you look more towards fit, the Nets need a floor-spacing big to play alongside Simmons. Morris fills that role for the time being. If the Nets look for an upgrade at the position, Indiana’s Myles Turner is viewed as the first choice on the trade market. Turner can protect the rim and shot over 33% from three on 4.4 attempts per game in each of the last two seasons. DeMarcus Cousins is also available as a free agent. The four-time All-Stat shot 32.4% from three with the Nuggets last season. Cousins exceeded expectations in Denver’s first-round series against Golden State, averaging 10.6 PPG while shooting 19-29 from the field and 4-6 from three.

Brooklyn may not make a move until the season is underway, but the Nets should be assessing their options at Center on the free agent and trade markets.

4. Who is Brooklyn’s fourth-best player?

There are several choices when assessing Brooklyn’s top player outside of the big three. Claxton, Joe Harris, Royce O’Neale and Seth Curry all come to mind as impactful contributors in prior years for playoff teams.

Claxton has the tools as a perimeter defender and rim-runner to make a substantial impact this season. However, his fit as a non-shooter alongside Ben Simmons will likely play him off the floor at the end of playoff games. That takes him out of this conversation.

Given Brooklyn’s big three of All-Star ball-handlers, Harris sticks out as the top shooter on the roster. The six-year Net shot a career-high 47.5% from three on 6.4 attempts per game in his last full season. He should see even more open looks this year with Simmons, Durant and Irving orchestrating the offense and distributing.

While Curry is on par with Harris as a shooter (both are exactly 43.9% from three on their careers), Harris has more size and length at 6’6″. This allows him to hold up defensively against bigger scorers. It also allows him to attack the rim at a much higher rate. Just 5.3% of Curry’s shots came at the rim last year as opposed to 17.1% for Harris in his last full season.

O’Neale has a strong case as one of the team’s top perimeter defenders. The five-year vet is also an above-average shooter at 38.1% from three for his career. If he can approach 40% from deep playing alongside Brooklyn’s big three, O’Neale may be the choice here. However, Harris has the more well-rounded offensive game and presents the team’s top floor-spacing option, giving him the nod for the time being.

3. Can Kyrie Irving stay on the floor?

Irving’s availability issues in Brooklyn are well-documented. The seven-time All-Star played just 20 games his first year with the Nets before having season-ending surgery on his shoulder. He played 54 games the following season with two extended absences for personal reasons that drew national media attention. And his refusal to comply with New York’s workplace vaccine mandate caused him to miss over half of Brooklyn’s games last season.

When on the floor, Irving is among the most impactful players in the league. The guard has averaged 27.1 PPG and 6.0 APG on 49% shooting from the field and 40.6% shooting from three while in Brooklyn. But the New Jersey native has missed more games than he’s played in during that span. To make matters worse, his absences during the last two seasons have come with wide scale media scrutiny, hurting team chemistry and forcing teammates to answer constant questions.

2022-2023 is different than the last three seasons for one reason: it is a contract year for Irving. Brooklyn’s refusal to offer a fully-guaranteed max contract forced the 30-year-old to opt into the final year of his contract without a long-term deal. This season, Irving has more long-term financial incentive than ever before to remain available and productive.

However, last year proved that financials are not always at the forefront of Irving’s mind. The guard sacrificed over $17 million of his salary while refusing to comply with the vaccine mandate. But this season has larger implications, and Irving’s overall commitment level will be among the top factors in Brooklyn’s ability to contend.

2. Can Ben Simmons return to his All-Star form?

This has been the question on the nation’s mind since training camp last season.  Simmons has not appeared in an NBA game since he infamously passed up a wide-open dunk in a Game 7 loss to Atlanta during the 2021 playoffs. That was 15 months ago.

Simmons successfully forced his way out of Philadelphia, landing with Brooklyn at last year’s deadline. However, the three-time All-Star did not appear in a game for the Nets, citing a back injury as the reason for his absence. Despite this, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Simmons and his agent Rich Paul said he still had “physical and mental hurdles” to overcome before taking the floor during Brooklyn’s first-round sweep against Boston.

Simmons did have back surgery in May and is expected to be 100% for training camp. The question now remains: is he mentally ready to play in an NBA game? If the answer is yes, he steps into a different and unique basketball setting. The 26-year-old swapped out a post-dominant top option in Embiid for two elite ball-handlers and three-point snipers in Irving and Durant. This should alleviate scoring pressure for Simmons, allowing him to focus on his strengths as a perimeter defender and distributor.

Overall, playing third fiddle to Irving and Durant in Brooklyn presents a far less demanding job than what Simmons was tasked with in Philadelphia. It is unclear how much that will help his mental state as he attempts to return to the court. If the Nets receive the version of Simmons from his last regular season, they will be positioned to contend in a loaded Eastern Conference.

1. Can Kevin Durant and Steve Nash co-exist after the ultimatum?

Brooklyn put the storyline that rocked the NBA offseason to rest, for now. In an August meeting with Owner Joe Tsai, Durant called for his head coach to be fired, along with General Manager Sean Marks. Tsai did not waver in his stance following the meeting, publicly voicing his support for Nash and Marks on Twitter.

Durant ultimately rescinded his trade request and will return alongside Nash in 2022-2023. But will everything be easy-breezy in Brooklyn following such a development? Did the team sit in a circle and sing kumbaya to forget one of the stranger situations in recent NBA memory? It’s difficult to envision that being the case.

Nash had a prior relationship with Durant and both will put their best foot forward, at least publicly, as Brooklyn starts the season. But what happens if we fast forward 10 games into the year and the Nets are 4-6? Is Nash’s leash shorter following Brooklyn’s compromise with Durant? If not and the team continues to struggle, does Durant’s trade request come back?

The hope is that Brooklyn builds chemistry during training camp and starts quickly, utilizing the tremendous overall talent of the group. These are the biggest questions facing the organization in 2022-2023. The season begins in just over a month and the answers will slowly begin to reveal themselves, on and off the hardwood.