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How Spencer Dinwiddie injury could affect Nets, starting tonight

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Golden State Warriors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Nets aren’t saying how long Spencer Dinwiddie will be out until after he undergoes knee surgery scheduled for next week but it seems the likelihood is that Brooklyn’s starting point guard won’t return this season ... and with Dinwiddie holding a player option for next season, there has to be uncertainty about whether we will see him in a Net uniform again.

So where does that leave the Nets now and in the immediate future?

For openers, the question is who starts at point guard if indeed that’s what you want to call the guard playing opposite Kyrie Irving. Monday night vs. the Grizzlies, that’s complicated by the team’s decision to rest both Irving and Kevin Durant which is no surprise. Steve Nash has said he expects to manage the minutes and games his two superstars will play in the abbreviated, condensed and otherwise weird 2020-21 season. It’s likely we’ll see a revival of the Bubble Nets vs. Memphis with Caris LeVert in the lead guard role and other pieces from Orlando’s Finest getting minutes: Jarrett Allen, Timothe’ Luwawu-Cabarrot, Tyler Johnson, Chris Chiozza, etc.

But once things get back to (somewhat) normal on Wednesday vs. the Hawks, how might Nash configure his squad? First and foremost, Kyrie Irving is more of “The Man” than he was before Dinwiddie went down. Pressure is on. Then there’s this: the strength of the Nets has been, other KD and Kyrie, their depth and the strength of that depth can be found in the backcourt. So let’s start there.

Will Nash move LeVert into the starting lineup and give up a lot of his second unit’s offensive firepower or go with TLC, who did average 14.8 points in the “Bubble” and shoot nearly 40 percent from deep, as his fifth starter. Luwawu-Cabarrot, who’s still only 25 and on a partially guaranteed deal, looked ready vs. the Grizzlies leading the failed comeback along with Durant, finishing with 11 points in 12 minutes, hitting all four of his shots, including three three’s. But is he a secondary ball-handler?

TLC got his minutes because another member of the second unit, Landry Shamet, had perhaps the worst game of his life, missing all nine of his shots —eight from deep— and turning the ball over three times in 13 minutes. Shamet will need to improve if the second unit can maintain the team’s reputation as the deepest in the league.

Maybe the Nets will ask more from Johnson who did average 12 points a game in Orlando and exhibited the kind of toughness good bench players need. However, Johnson was -73 in the Raptors four-game sweep of the Nets in the playoffs, which had mostly to do with his defense. Should we expect Jarrett Allen to add some offense to his solid defensive performance? And what about players like Bruce Brown and Rodions Kurucs who in their two year careers have started 154 games combined? We all remember Chiozza’s pre-COVID bench play. Does Reggie Perry, who’s gotten raves all around for what he’s shown in practice, get an opportunity, a crash course? Can they make up for what LeVert or TLC will take to the starting five?

Overall, Dinwiddie was willing to give up his scoring skills to be part of a starting lineup that features two of the most gifted offensive players in the league, this year or any year for that matter.

Now, let’s think longer term. If the Nets determine that Dinwiddie is out for the season, they can apply for a DPE, a disabled player exception. If the NBA’s medical office agrees that Dinwiddie is likely done, the league can give the Nets a DPE equal to 50 percent of his salary meaning $5.7 million. There are restrictions on its use. While the exception can be used to sign a player making up to $5.8 million (there’s $100,000 in wiggle room) or trade for a player making less than that or claim a player off waivers, the player in question must be on an expiring deal. That’s a limiting factor. So is the fact that the DPE doesn’t carry with it an extra roster spot. If the Nets want to use the DPE, they’ll have to find an roster spot, too. (By the way, if the league grants the exception and the player returns before the end of the season, the DPE is still good.)

The Nets found themselves in a similar situation in the 2017-18 season. Jeremy Lin went down in Game 1 with a patella tendon rupture. There was no doubt he was done for the year, but the Nets didn’t apply for the $6 million DPE until January just before the trade deadline. At the deadline, they used the exception in a trade that brought them Dontae Cunningham and a trade exception. The Nets could conceivably do the same thing this season. The trade deadline is March 25. Plenty of time.

But aside from a trade, would the Nets really need the DPE to sign a free agent replacement for Dinwiddie. There are a number of free agents who would gladly accept a vets minimum, players like Lin or Isaiah Thomas or Jamal Crawford. Also, the Nets have the G League rights to Elie Okobo, the former Suns point guard, and could move him onto the Brooklyn roster if they were willing to cut someone else. They liked him enough to give him an Exhibit 10.

There may be other factors. Hopefully, the Nets will simply pick up the slack and move forward, making drastic moves unnecessary. There’s also the luxury tax implications of using all $5.7 million of the DPE. Bobby Marks suggested Monday that with the tax likely to be lessened because of a shortfall in NBA revenues —they’re tied together— that shouldn’t be a factor. (Marks notes that using the full DPE would normally drive the luxury tax payments from $58.7 million to $82.7 million, but with reduced revenues, it would go from $31 million to $43 million.)

Back in 2017, Kenny Atkinson subsequently admitted, there was a bit of a panic after Lin went down and things looked desperate. Cooler heads prevailed and the Nets stayed the course, finding players on their bench to ease the burden. Of course, Atkinson and Marks didn’t have the depth —or superstars— they have now.

So what to expect? Patience initially. But make no mistake: Dinwiddie IS a big loss not just for what he does on the court, but for who he is.