As the Brooklyn Nets trend toward championship contention, the San Antonio Spurs stray farther away from it, which makes them ideal trade partners.
As the San Antonio Spurs sat idly and allowed the 2020 NBA Trade Deadline to pass them by, they accepted their fate. Sitting at the 11th seed in the Western Conference, the Spurs are more likely to visit the draft lottery than the playoffs for the first time in 23 years. In his first full season as a general manager, Brian Wright decided to let their personnel work through their issues and see where they fall at the end of this 82-game journey.
Meanwhile, veteran wing DeMar DeRozan is in the midst of arguably his best season with a big decision of his own looming in the offseason. DeRozan must ponder whether to decline his $27.7 million player option in a less talented free agent pool or to re-up with the Spurs and try to earn big money next summer.
The 30-year-old is shooting the highest percentage of his career at 53 percent on 16.5 shots per game—a feat that only four other players (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Deandre Ayton and Zion Williamson) can boast this year. It’s highly uncharacteristic for a natural two-guard to post this level of efficiency, so DeRozan could leverage this season into a sign-and-trade opportunity with San Antonio instead of the two obvious routes.
DeRozan’s time in the Alamo City has served him well. He’s learned a lot from the expert coaching staff led by the illustrious Gregg Popovich, but it wouldn’t be surprising for him to seek a team that better suits his timeline.
Enter the Brooklyn Nets—an organization whose timeline was accelerated vastly with the duality of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant joining the roster before this past offseason. According to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, league executives believe that the Nets will explore trades centered around Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert this offseason.
If Brooklyn wants to accelerate its chance of competing for a title, then adding a star talent like DeRozan would be a great way to do it. Most teams are shifting away from the ‘Big Three’ dynamic and have instead built around two key stars, but turning that duo into a triad of deadly offensive talent would assuredly set up the newest contender in the East.
Next: Centering a deal around Caris LeVert
Centering a deal around Caris LeVert
The best-case scenario of any deal sending DeRozan to Brooklyn this offseason would center around wing Caris LeVert. Now in his fourth year out of Michigan, LeVert looked to be a borderline All-Star before suffering a prolonged injury at the height of his glory. The 25-year-old recovered nicely and is in a great stretch as the featured player in Brooklyn.
Through his last seven games, the career-11.8 point per game scorer is averaging 23.1 points on impressive shooting splits (43.2/42.9/92.3) while stuffing the stat sheet and coming alive as a defender. He’s dishing out 4.7 assists per contest in that span while grabbing four boards and corralling 2.3 steals nightly.
When playing as a primary ballhandler and running a portion of the offense for his team, LeVert unlocks new sides of his play. He’s a three-level scorer with a strong feel for the game and a handful of point guard skills for a stocky, athletic 6-foot-6 wing. He’s playing a lot of 2-guard for the Nets this year but has spent 73 percent of his career-NBA minutes at the small forward.
If the Spurs were to return LeVert in a deal, they’d have a legitimate running-mate for starting point guard Dejounte Murray that alleviates some of the ballhandling duties while spacing the floor out of assisting their perimeter defense. A lineup consisting of Murray, combo guard Derrick White and LeVert with a healthy dose of Lonnie Walker IV off the bench would cause hell for opposing backcourts.
LeVert’s extension begins at $16.2 million next year, which works decently out well in establishing a sign-and-trade with DeRozan. In all likelihood, DeRozan would sacrifice some annual salary to join a team of that caliber bringing his season-long pricetag to somewhere in the $22-26 million range and the expiring cap on the Nets’ sheet would make up the difference.
If the Nets hold onto LeVert, he’d fall victim to the system and become a simple spot-up shooter and occasional playmaker. That’d be a waste of his talent and Brooklyn knows it, especially considering they traded combo guard D’Angelo Russell to make the KD deal happen in the first place. The Nets more than likely need to part with some youth to become a true contender and DeRozan is a worthy trade target in that endeavor.
Next: Should the Spurs go after Jarrett Allen?
Should the Spurs go after Jarrett Allen?
While LeVert is a no-brainer, there’s another talented young player for the Spurs to consider that may end up on the trading block: 21-year-old center Jarrett Allen.
Standing at 6-foot-11 with a long reach and high vertical leap for a player of his stature, Allen is an ideal, young center to bring into the fold. Though he hasn’t become much more of a scorer in his third season, Allen is an exceptional rim defender who’s learning how to effectively use his body at this level. To make him even more enticing as a fit with the Spurs, Allen is a native of Austin, TX and went to the University of Texas for his lone college season.
Allen is a fearless rim protector, blocking the path of anyone on their way to the basket and using his 7-foot-6 wingspan to deflect shots and deter rolls into the paint. His defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) is at a career-high 3.4 and his total rebounding percentage is up to 18.7 percent.
More so than anything, Allen is a freak athlete who consistently pushes his limits and plays with a chip on his shoulder. His activity would make waves for a Spurs team trying to recover some semblance of an identity.
The biggest deterrent to including Allen in a deal is that the Spurs already have a player in a very similar role with restricted free agent Jakob Poeltl. While the 24-year-old is the more efficient shot-blocker at this stage, Allen is more advanced for his age and won’t need a contract until the Summer of 2021.
Many within the Spurs fanbase have grown attached to Poeltl in his 133 games for the silver and black, but Popovich still seems unsure of his role. He played a pivotal part in the Spurs’ seven-game series against the Denver Nuggets in the first round of last year’s playoffs but hasn’t seen much of a boost in his role since.
Poeltl averages only 17 minutes per game for the Spurs this year—a number that continues to fall as the season progresses. Allen is a fail-safe of sorts when compared with Poeltl. Allen has more time to develop, doesn’t need to be paid until after Rudy Gay, Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge’s contracts come off the books and already seems to be a more complete scorer.
Next: Crafting a deal that makes sense for both parties
Crafting a deal that makes sense for both parties
Since the Jarrett Allen factor could depend on the timing of the trade and Poeltl’s restricted free agency, there are two mock trades to consider for the two parties. We’re operating under the assumption that DeRozan gets the same deal that his teammate, LaMarcus Aldridge, has been playing on this season: two years, $50 million with an additional $24 million player option in 2022. That comes to a grand total of $74 million for three years of DeRozan’s services.
No matter what, DeRozan and LeVert would be swapped in this deal. The $16.2 million that LeVert earns next season, combined with the $15.5 million coming off the Nets’ cap sheet next year would allow more than enough space for DeRozan. Brooklyn could re-sign a handful of their expiring players using Bird Rights while using the mid-level exception to flesh out their team.
Should the Spurs require Allen in a return, sending Trey Lyles to Brooklyn gives the Nets a player to replace that salary while adding a quality veteran to fill the gap. He’s quietly been a pleasant surprise for San Antonio this year, refining his three-ball and showing off exceptional rebounding ability. Still, it’d be worth moving on to bring Allen home to Texas.
This move also frees up cap space for the Spurs to use on free agents, or to allocate to the future. White will be up for a rookie-scale extension of his own in a similar price range to that of Murray and LeVert.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) February 23, 2020
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Trading DeRozan to Brooklyn for LeVert, and potentially extras, helps both parties set up a clear and defined route for the future. This is an investment in the future of Spurs basketball and helps the Nets buy into a win-now mindset so that their pursuit of a championship with Irving and Durant is no longer a pipedream.
As the injury-prone Irving makes his way back from shoulder surgery and Durant readjusts to life in the NBA, having a steadying presence like DeMar would alleviate some of the pressure on those two. DeRozan is familiar with the Atlantic Divison and thrives against Eastern Conference competition, so this would be a great opportunity for him to showcase his talent for a winning team.
Meanwhile, a rejuvenated Spurs team would finally be in a position to smear the writing off the walls and go all-in on the youth movement.
Going young is scary, but it’d be a ton of fun to watch and would make a mediocre season like the one they’re having more palatable for the yearning fans.