What if Kyrie Irving — who has asked to be traded — gets his wish and is sent to a new team in exchange for a package of draft picks and veterans on expiring contracts?
To me, that would signal that the Nets have decided to blow it up and start over. Which means the next move would likely be to trade superstar Kevin Durant, currently injured, for another package of picks and assets to jump-start the rebuild.
In our game of “What If,” we don’t know who exactly the Nets would be bringing back in one or multiple trades, but while we wait and see how the Nets front office will play their hand, there’s young talent already on the team at whom it is worth taking a closer look.
The first place to look is Ben Simmons. Simmons has never fully recovered the on-court prowess he used to display prior to his falling out with the 76ers almost two years ago. He sat out all of last season, first for mental health reasons and later reportedly for back issues. The back issues have continued to bother him through this season, but he also clearly hadn’t regained the confidence to try to score in the Nets that were: his 5.9 FGA would constitute a dramatic career low, about half of his career average.
But… if Kyrie and Durant were gone and the Nets therefore had zero expectations, in a rebuild, might he start to find his groove again? In the last 40 regular season games he played for the 76ers in 2021, Simmons averaged 14.9 PPG on 10.4 FGA, 6.7 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.6 SPG and 0.5 BPG. He had one game, with Joel Embiid out, where he scored 42 points on 26 field goal attempts! That Simmons hasn’t been seen in years, now, but in this world of “What If,” it’s possible he could make an appearance.
Nic Claxton is the other young starter with the biggest upside. He’s already started realizing it, with an eight-game stretch in January where he averaged 20.1 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 3.1 BPG and 2.1 APG in 34.5 MPG with seven double-doubles and five 20-point outings in those eight contests. Claxton is only 23 years old, is a viable Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and has upside almost regardless of the moves the Nets make moving forward.
The third young, upside play on the roster is Cam Thomas. Thomas is in his second season, and has never gotten the chance to play major rotation minutes at the NBA level. But, he has outright dominated the NBA Summer League for two straight summers, showing a flare for scoring that should play in the NBA. Thomas has averaged 20.0 PPG in 23.5 MPG in his last two outings, has four 15-plus point scoring efforts in his last seven games, and set a career high with 33 points in 29 minutes on Dec. 10. If he suddenly moved into the starting lineup in a feature role, he could make some legitimate noise after the All-Star break.
Simmons is rostered in 81.3% of ESPN leagues, meaning he is available on the free agency wire in about one of every five leagues. His asking price in a trade is on the floor right now, as well. If you have a team that’s either buttoned up and might be looking for depth with upside, or conversely if your team is struggling and you’re looking to hit the lottery, Simmons could be worth acquiring if you can do so on the cheap.
Claxton is rostered in 86.8% of leagues, and as mentioned has been playing well of late, so he is likely just a good trade target in general. I’d try to acquire him as part of a package deal, mitigating risk and also letting you ask for him as more of a secondary player so as not to drive up his trade price further.
Thomas is rostered in only the deepest of leagues, so you could pick him up now and see what happens. I just added him to one of my rosters myself.