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In new Nets paradigm, who plays where and when may not matter that much

Brooklyn Nets v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

We don’t want to make too much out of it, but on the other hand, we can’t dismiss it either because it is the mantra coming out of training camp: The Nets are going to have a very deep roster with a lot of flexibility and they intend to use it ... at least as long as it works.

The tyranny of the 1-through-5 designations seems a bit outdated when the roster includes so many players capable of playing so many positions. Steve Nash has said he intends to use Kevin Durant at every position. Counting him, there are five players on the Nets who have experience playing the 5: KD, Jarrett Allen, DeAndre Jordan, Nicolas Claxton and Jeff Green. Another eight played some minutes at the point last year: Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Chris Chiozza, Jeremiah Martin, Landry Shamet, Tyler Johnson and Bruce Brown. Whew.

Is Irving a 1 or a 2 under the system that was first advanced by Hubie Brown, not Dr. James Naismith? Is Durant a 3, 4, or 5? In his rookie year, he predominantly played the 2. The list of possibilities goes on and on ... and it’s not accidental. Sean Marks has built a roster —and a coaching staff— with flexibility and fluidity in mind.

Starting line-ups are likely to change all the time, too, Nash has said, and not just because of COVID-19 or hamstring issues. The rookie head coach seems to relish the idea of switching things up. Who’s going to start at center, for example? The 22-year-old Allen or the 32-year-old Jordan? The mobile young player or the three-time All-NBA veteran.

“I haven’t made any hard and fast decisions,” Nash said via a Zoom call Tuesday. “I think we have to stay ready and be fluid, night-to-night it could change, I haven’t made any decisions...

“If I’m going to start D.J., it’s because he’s had a long history of being a very good defender himself,” Nash said. “He also is a threat rolling to the basket and sucking in the defense and a vertical threat.

“They are both guys that are going to play, both bring similar but slightly different personalities to their profile. I like them both and both will play a role for the team.”

Similarly, what about Caris LeVert? The 26-year-old averaged 25/7/5 in leading the Nets to a shocking 5-3 record in the “bubble” while playing the 1. Nash has spoken openly about moving into the sixth man role, a la Manu Ginobili who won Sixth Man of the Year and four rings playing all over the backcourt.

“Still working through it,” Nash said of his rotations Sunday, again declining to reveal much other than he likes his options. “Caris is a starter. Will he start for us? I’m not sure yet. He’s so good with the ball in his hands that there’s a case to be made that he plays that (Manu) Ginobili role...

“There’s a thought that he could have more reps with the ball in the hands if he captains the second unit for huge portions of the games and then plays with the starters in moments where you’re close. All that stuff is to be figured out. But great decisions for a coach to have.”

The key, of course, is sacrifice as everyone from LeVert to Timothe’ Luwawu-Cabarrot to KD has said... repeatedly. And beyond personal sacrifice, there has to be a commitment to team. There’s a bit of a difference.

Jarrett Allen admitted being miffed when he had to give up the starting center job after Jacque Vaughn replaced him in the starting lineup just before COVID-19 shut the league down. With DJ out because of a positive COVID test, he said that during the “bubble,” he “wanted to show I could be a starter again (and) that I was capable of playing against playoff-level teams, against any competition.” No dis of his teammate who had acted as a mentor throughout the season.

Similarly, Jordan spoke about how he watched Allen’s success with pride.

“Seeing JA down there, being able to anchor the defense and talk as much as he did... watching those games, and talking him throughout the bubble,” said Jordan. “I thought it was awesome. He really took on that role. He was pretty much going to be the only big man down there that we had... He took it like a pro. I’m happy that he did and he was successful, and I’m excited to see what affect that has on this season.”

Can it work? Of course it can. Marks also has chosen his players wisely in terms of character as well as talent. That is, if they win. If they don’t, then who knows. There are a lot of egos, a lot of guys (two in particular) who will have their own opinions. So, we will continue to watch, read the tea leaves (who’s got minutes?), etc. Should be fun.