The Nets off-season is undefined right now. It could be a disaster in that Paul Pierce walks, Andrei Kirilenko returns overseas, Alan Anderson tries to get paid, Kevin Garnett retires, and Andray Blatche does indeed leave.
It would be unbelievable if five key contributors to the Nets second round appearance seek greener pastures. However, one man, Andray Blatche, has already put one foot out the door. Blatche said he plans to decline his player option with the Nets worth a little more than 1.4 million and test free agency. So, lets act as if Blatche isn't coming back.
That leaves a big hole in the Nets rotation. Blatche played the most minutes of any Nets big man last season, despite missing four games for still unexplained "personal" reasons. He anchored the Nets' second unit on offense and saw a lot of minutes with the Nets starters. The lineup of Blatche, Deron Williams, Shaun Livingston, Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce played the fourth most minutes during the regular season, posting a +/- of 10.9 in 110 minutes. Blatche was used often when on the floor, posting a usage rate of 25.6% this past season. In comparison, Brook Lopez had a usage rate of 27.1% before he injured his foot. Looking at the whole season, If anyone filled in for Lopez, it was Blatche.
Mason Plumlee emerged as the team's most capable backup big man in March and April, but it was Blatche who kept the team afloat as the team adjusted to their small-ball system. Blatche also proved to be a formidable player most of the time during the postseason while Plumlee seemed to hit that dreaded rookie wall.
The Nets are almost certainly not going to find another player like Blatche for the same price. The Nets stole a struggling talent who had an attitude issue for nothing ... and had the Wizards pick up most of his salary. They likely won't get that lucky again.
Who replaces Blatche if he leaves? Well, Brook Lopez will take back his minutes and then some, probably receiving minutes from Garnett as the former Celtic continues to see his role diminish. Plumlee will likely be ready for a consistent role as the team's sparkplug off the bench, or possibly starting alongside Lopez if Garnett maintains his rapid downward trend.
The key to the Nets frontcourt rotation may come from an unlikely source though. Mirza Teletovic will likely be given more responsibility in year three with the Nets, especially if Blatche doesn't return. Teletovic spent his breakout sophomore season as a gunner who spent more than 46% of his possessions as a spot-up shooter, per Synergy Sports Technology. If the Nets are without Blatche, Teletovic will need to become more of a traditional power forward. The Bosnian most certainly can with his build, 6'9", 256 pounds, but the question is will he?
Teletovic posted up his opponent on only 4.3% of his possessions this past season, and wasn't all that successful. Teletovic is too dependent on his jump shot-for good reason-and he does not use his quick first step to get past bigger defenders. Teletovic is able to bully smaller defenders when he gets a mismatch, but if he were to play power forward next year, he must be able to get around bulky defenders, for he will not be able to get off his patent jumper as easily as he does beyond the arc. Teletovic can play with his back to the basket. He showed off some fine moves during the season and proved to be a capable post player when he played for the Bosnian national team last season. One move that is particularly exceptional is his spin move at the low block.
The Nets could be in good shape if the team loses Blatche. With Lopez coming back and Teletovic having the ability to play some minutes with his back to the basket, the Nets could maintain their small-ball units, but eventually, teams will figure it out. The team needs to have players who can play in the post to keep defense's honest.
Something that must be mentioned-even though it seems unlikely at this point-is what happens if Garnett decides to retire. Then there are issues. The team will be without two major cogs to the Nets success last season. Both Garnett and Blatche were the team's two small-ball bigs who spaced the floor, which Plumlee couldn't. Garnett also was the team's defensive anchor despite being a shell of his former self.
The Nets then have two options. Option 1 is to try and package a deal around Bojan Bogdanovic's draft rights or Marcus Thornton's now expiring $8.6 million dollar deal for a power forward. Bogdanovic doesn't seem to be a realistic option for Brooklyn at this point and Thornton—even though he was solid for the Nets in his half-season with the team—has now become Kris Humphries of last year, a talented young asset who has value as an expiring deal.
Option 2 is to get into the draft. Billy King said that the team has had "conversations" about getting into the draft last week when he spoke with the media. The Nets can target teams that have a surplus of picks in this draft to try and acquire a pick to select a versatile power forward who can space the floor similar to Garnett and Blatche, but that prospect would be a huge drop off from KG and "Dray Live." Getting a pick, however, will not be easy.
I'm in favor of option 2 ... IF the Nets can swing a deal without ruining the rest of the rotation. The Nets can use fewer assets to get into the draft and having the ability to develop a young talent as opposed to getting used goods already.
The Nets 2014-2015 season rests in the hands of their frontcourt's decision making. Blatche may not be back, and that is a blow the Nets can handle, but if KG decides to pull the plug on his career, the Nets may be in trouble.