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Sergey Karasev: The trade filler that became a starter

Sergey Karasev won't play vs. Toronto. He has a strained left oblique. But the 21-year-old has shown in the last five games that he can play in the NBA. We look at how he wound up on the Nets

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Back in July, when the Cavaliers were dumping salary to make room for LeBron James, the Nets were driving a hard bargain in the three-team deal with Cleveland and Boston.  The Nets were wiling to give up Marcus Thornton for Jarrett Jack, but Brooklyn, particularly its Russian ownership, wanted more. They wanted Sergey Karasev, then aged 20, who had spent most of last season with the Canton Charge of the D-League.

The Cavs would have preferred to keep him and offered a second rounder or two (depending on who you talk to).  After all, he was young and he had been the high scorer in the Russian League at 19.  He had won a bronze at the London Olympics, the youngest player on any Olympic basketball team.

The Cavs had taken him at No. 19 in the 2013 Draft, three spots ahead of Mason Plumlee, much to the consternation of some of the team's ownership group. In July, a deal looked more difficult.  The Cavs had hired one of Karasev's biggest supporters, Team Russia coach David Blatt, as their coach.  But the Nets didn't relent and the Cavs needed cap space now.  So, he moved from Cleveland to Brooklyn.

Until a little more than a week ago, Karasev was getting little more than late game time and only in blowouts. His father, a Russian great himself and Sergey's coach, told a Russian sports publication that his son "was almost in tears" over his lack of playing time.  Then Bojan Bogdanovic went into a shooting slump and without warning or fanfare, Lionel Hollins started relying on him, first giving him time in the loss to the Cavaliers, then inserting him in the starting lineup.

"Bogey was treading water," Hollins said of Bogdanovic’s recent play, but also said he liked what he was seeing out of Karasev.

"He still was making improvement and showing stuff every day," Hollins said of Karasev. "We were floundering … might as well take a look and see, because you don’t want to trade away a young guy who hasn’t had the opportunity to show what he can do."

In the past five games, Karasev is averaging 8.4 points a game, slightly above what Bogdanovic has, in 23.6 minutes, shooting 47.1% overall, 30.8% from three.  He also showed he is more than just a deep shooter, particularly in this move Monday night.  He is still, as they say, a work in progress on defense, as Dwyane Wade showed Monday night, scoring at will against him early.

Hollins also thinks the change could help Bogdanovic, who is more experienced than Karasev but also four years older.

"He’s shot the ball better," Hollins said. "And his effort is better. And one thing I did tell him: … ‘You’re not playing with the starters, so I don’t expect you to defer to anyone. Just go out and play your game.’ "

What's the upside for Karasev. If you ask him, as we did, he'll tell you it's Manu Ginobili.

"That's my favorite player. That's my favorite player. I like his game," Karasev told NetsDaily, then seemed to draw a parallel between him and Ginobili. "He came here, he had a tough couple of seasons, didn't play a lot. and then because of his work, he just improved every time his game. Now, he wins championships for the San Antonio Spurs and he's very important player for his team. And every year, he's just one of the best players."

As for the Russians, Karasev's development justifies their faith in him, although not at the fevered level seen at the end of the 2013 Draft when one of them suggested that perhaps the Nets should trade the rights to Mason Plumlee and Bogdanovic to Cleveland for Karasev's rights.