The Brooklyn Nets introduced Jordi Fernandez as their next head coach Wednesday at HSS Training Center. While Fernandez spoke about the hiring process and coaching philosophies, his most eye-opening quote came when asked about unrestricted free agent Nic Claxton.

“I believe he’ll be Defensive Player of the Year for us. He’s a priority this summer,” Fernandez said of Claxton. “He fits perfectly with what we want to do moving forward.”

Claxton's impending free agency is among the Nets' top storylines this offseason. The 25-year-old enters the summer as one of the top centers on the market. Multiple league executives told ClutchPoints they expect Claxton to command a deal in the range of $20 million annually.

Nets general manager Sean Marks didn't mince words when asked where Claxton ranks among his offseason priorities.

“Nic is the number one priority for us. There's no doubt about that,” Marks said. “We hope he's a Net for a very long time. We hope we can continue to build around him and build with him. It's been fun to watch Nic develop from his days at Georgia then coming all the way through here. I think he's scratched the surface of who he could end up being one day.”

“I love the challenge of him being Defensive Player of the Year. Nic and I have talked in the offseasons about similar accolades, Most Improved Player, Defensive Player, All-Defensive team, and so forth. I think he has the skill set and the mindset to be able to put himself in those positions if he continues to work and continues to develop.”

Claxton had a quiet start to his career after the Nets selected him 31st overall in 2019. The Georgia product bet on himself in 2022, signing a two-year, $17 million contract. Since then, he's quickly climbed the ranks of the NBA's top defensive centers. Claxton ranks fourth in the league in stocks (steals + blocks) over the last two seasons, trailing only Anthony Davis, Brook Lopez, and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Eight teams project to have cap space this summer: the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz, Toronto Raptors, Oklahoma City Thunder, Charlotte Hornets, and San Antonio Spurs. Claxton said during his exit interview that he is excited to test the waters of free agency.

“We’ll see. At the end of the day, business is business. I’ll have to weigh my options,” he replied when asked whether he's confident he'll re-sign with Brooklyn. “I’m an unrestricted free agent, so it’ll be my decision, at the end of the day. So I’ll have to talk with my family, my agents, pray about it, and see if that’s the best fit.”

“This is my first time being an unrestricted free agent, it's definitely a blessing. The situation that I was in this year, I had a lot of different feelings, a lot of different emotions, just knowing the whole contract situation. But at the end of the day, I trusted in my body, I trusted all the work I put in over the offseason, and now that time is here, so we'll see what happens.”