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The struggle for space and time at the bottom of Nets roster

Sacramento Kings v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

If and when the NBA returns to play, the Nets will have a decision to make. As we noted in the past, if the front office and coaching staff want to play Chris Chiozza in the post-season, they will have to sign him to a standard NBA contract.

Chiozza averaged 10.5 ppg in five games —four of them wins— before the break. Problem is he’s still on his two-way deal and two-way players are prohibited from participating in the playoffs. That means someone else will have to be waived ... unless Sean Marks and Long Island GM Matt Riccardi can think of something else. And the rest of the season is cancelled, that will be easier.

The most likely cut, IF there is one, is Theo Pinson the 6’7” second year guard who was himself a two-way last season. Although a fan favorite for his enthusiasm on the Nets bench, has had a tough year. As Brian Lewis notes Sunday...

After having been a Swiss Army knife as a collegian and rookie (logging just 4 percent of his 2018-19 minutes at point guard, per Cleaning The Glass), Pinson was asked to run the Nets’ second unit and to be Spencer Dinwiddie’s lone backup for much of the season.

Pinson’s shooting (29 percent), 3-point percentage (18.8) and offensive rating (81) all took steps back from his rookie season. His offensive rating was the worst in the NBA for players who topped 20 appearances, according to Basketball Reference.

Is that a fair assessment of a player who made big improvements in key areas last year while playing for Long Island and who had a sterling reputation as a facilitator and defender on North Carolina’s last NCAA title team?

Perhaps he’s better suited to be a 3-and-D specialist with a little facilitator thrown in ... if the Nets want to invest in the 24-year-old. He has a team option for next year at $1.7 million. Pinson does have the “D” part down and despite this year’s 3-point shooting numbers , he did shoot nearly 39 percent last season in the G League when he was given a lot more responsibility.

Whatever the reason his game dropped off, the Nets shunted him to the end of the bench at season’s end in favor of Chiozza. While Chiozza racked up 96 minutes in those five March games, Pinson played only 16 with two DNP-CD’s.

That choice between back-up point guards won’t be the only personnel issue that will need attention in the coming weeks and months. Dzanan Musa played only 39 minutes with Brooklyn his rookie year. This season he made an appreciable jump, spending ten times as many minutes —404— on the Barclays Center court. He may have averaged 4.5 points and spent some time in Uniondale, but there were flashes of what made him a first round pick in 2018.

Musa is currently guaranteed the third year on his four-year rookie deal, but will need to be renewed for 2021-22 shortly before the next season starts, whenever that is. That would mean a jump of $2.0 million to $3.6 million. Will the Nets be willing to pay him that when they’re staring at years of luxury taxes? Or will they have faith in their ability to develop the 6’9” wingman who after all will only be 22 in 2021-22?

As Lewis notes, Musa has bigger issues to deal with now. He’s stuck in Brooklyn. His family other than his brother, Denis, are 4,300 miles away in Bosnia. It may as well be a million, with all the travel bans and restrictions he’d have to negotiate to make there.

Sean Marks said this week he has spoken with Musa and his two other similarly-situated international players, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Rodions Kurucs.

“I had a conversation with the three of those guys [Tuesday] night together. They are coping, and their families are coping with this. But that’s really difficult,” Marks said. “Their families are completely separated. They’re not in the same time zone, they’re in completely different countries, and obviously there is a travel ban in place. So, these guys cannot go home.”

Musa has busied himself working out on the rooftop of his Brooklyn apartment building, his face protected by a mask. More importantly, he’s been working on getting needed medical supplies to his hometown of Bihac in Bosnia, the site of the country’s first coronavirus case.

Bottom line for those at the bottom of the roster is that they are in worse limbo than their teammates, the anxiety of the coronavirus outbreak an added weight for young men also concerned about their future.