Ever since Kyrie Irving famously spoke of the need for a third star on the Nets, there’s been no shortage of speculation over who could play alongside he and Kevin Durant in Brooklyn. But after sources told the Daily News that Brooklyn internally discussed trading for Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal, there’s now some sense of what the team’s thinking is, even if it’s currently just a thought.
Any team would benefit from prying Beal from the Wizards’ clutches, and all indications point to Washington being uninterested in a Beal deal at the moment. But is a trade for a third star even necessary, or is it overkill?
History suggests there is no such thing as overkill — overloaded teams like the 2016-19 Golden State Warriors are the ones that go down as some of the greatest of all-time. If the Nets talked the Wizards into a Beal trade, they would immediately have one of the best trios of all-time.
The problem is Brooklyn’s roster is already overkill, albeit one that is untapped.
With a healthy Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Nets have one of the five deepest rosters in the NBA, virtually two deep at every position. They can trot out two different starting lineups on a moment’s notice: the veterans (Irving, Durant, Garrett Temple, Wilson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan), and the up-and-comers (Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen).
But the Nets haven’t been healthy, not at the top, middle or bottom of the rotation. As a result, this season has been full of more what-ifs than any concrete realities.
With the NBA revving back into gear, teams are rumored to begin the move down to Orlando to begin practicing in mid-June, with games beginning in mid-July. That would mark more than one year since Durant ruptured the Achilles tendon in his right leg, and more than three months since Irving underwent successful shoulder surgery.
There is a scenario where the Nets could return to action in mid-July at full-strength. If so, then we will get a clearer picture as to what this team looks like and what its needs are entering next year.
While it would be nice to have a third star on this Nets roster, it may not be a necessity for this team to win a championship. The Clippers and Lakers — both title contenders this season — have similar situations with two superstars flanked by a platoon of solid role players.
The Lakers wanted a third star to join up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis this season, but the standings prove they never needed one.
Elsewhere around the league you’ll find numerous playoff-bound teams which have pinned their title aspirations on star duos: James Harden and Russell Westbrook in Houston; Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton in Milwaukee; Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia, to name a few.
This all suggests that what the Nets could use more than anything else are players who slot into established roles from top to bottom.
Those roles have been difficult to assess on a Nets roster full of players who can play multiple positions. It’s a reason why — along with Irving’s injuries limiting him to only 20 games this season — this team has underperformed and, before the coronavirus suspension, was on pace to win fewer games this season than last.
One thing is for sure: The Nets need a true four, and not Taurean Prince coming with the cameo. A player like Dallas’ Dorian Finney-Smith — a rugged, versatile defender with a 37% three-point stroke — would work wonders for Brooklyn on both ends of the floor. Another great get would be Jae Crowder, a two-way forward who hits free agency this summer.
But if Beal were to be made available, he would be the best player on the trade market, and could very well be the final piece of the Nets puzzle.
There is not a single player — not James Harden, not LeBron James, not Devin Booker, Trae Young or Luka Doncic — averaging more points per game than Beal since Jan. 1. The Wizards star has been on a scoring rampage to the tune of 33.6 points per game, and he’s shooting almost 50% from the field and 40% from three. This season, he scored 53 and 55 points in back-to-back games.
Both games were losses, and the Wizards find themselves fixed outside the playoff picture as the ninth seed well behind the Orlando Magic.
A three-man tandem of Irving, Beal and Durant would become a championship-contending team no matter which pieces surround them on the roster.
But any deal for Beal would require a number of the Nets’ core pieces in return: That includes at least two of LeVert, Dinwiddie, Allen, Prince and potentially even Nic Claxton, the promising rookie combo big man out of Georgia.
A Beal deal would also require draft compensation: The Nets own the Clippers’ first-round pick this year and each of their own first-round picks after that. If the Wizards are smart, they’ll demand picks in the years that begin after Durant’s contract in Brooklyn ends after the 2022-23 season (Durant has a player option on this year worth $42.7 million that he can opt into at age 34).
Beal has said he won’t request a trade, that he wants to win in Washington and retire a Wizard.
“I hate change. If it happens, it happens. But if I can control it, I will finish in D.C.,” Beal told The Undefeated. “For me, I am kind of loyal to a fault.”
But are the Wizards equally as loyal to their star? More importantly, are the Nets loyal to the pieces that got them here?
Brooklyn has already parted ways with Kenny Atkinson and traded D’Angelo Russell, showing that it’s in it to win it, no matter who goes out and who comes in.
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