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Bruce Brown still bitter about Nets rejection, but Nets happy with Royce O’Neale

NBA: Utah Jazz at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Bruce Brown, 26, is having a good year. The 6’4” Swiss Army Knife is now playing guard for the Nuggets where he’s coming off the bench. As of Saturday, he was averaging 11.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists while shooting 46/40/88. He turned in a triple double, his first, on November 23.

Royce O’Neale, 29, is having a good year, too. The 6’6’ 3-and-D specialist starts for the Nets most nights. As of Saturday, he was averaging 9.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists while shooting 39/42/70. He turned in a triple double, his first, a week earlier than Brown.

Although Nets talked about Brown being a top priority last summer, according to Brown, they didn’t even make him an offer, permitting Denver to swoop in and sign him to a two-year, $13.1 million taxpayers MLE deal. At around the same time, the Nets traded the worse of their two 2023 first rounders and part of a trade exception generated by the James Harden deal to acquire O’Neale who makes $8.5 million this season and is guaranteed $2.5 million on $9.2 million next season, Apparently, the Nets believed that O’Neale was a better piece for their championship pursuit than Brown.

Now Brown is telling the Denver Post’s Mike Singer of his disappointment, indeed bitterness.

“Yeah, people just don’t care what I do,” Brown told The Post reporter in an article published Saturday. “I can play extremely well, I averaged, what, 15 in the playoffs. … They don’t care because I was playing with two superstars, so, it makes no sense.”

Brown told Singer he was irritated because Brooklyn had initially told him they wanted to keep him.

“I was (hurt), but once I’d seen the Royce O’Neale trade, I was like, ‘I’m off their books, for sure.’ Because at first, they were talking about, they didn’t want to go into the (luxury) tax or whatever, but then they said that I was a priority … They wanted me back. They came down to see me in Miami when I was working out. And when I didn’t receive a phone call, I was like, ‘All right.’”

The NBA is a business and Sean Marks has a reputation of being unsentimental. Also, GMs often make decisions on the spur of the moment as new opportunities arise. And the reality is that there was no room, no minutes for the two of them, particularly with Ben Simmons, a short-roller and multi-position defender, on the roster as well.

The Nets could have used their own taxpayers MLE on Brown, just as the Nuggets did, but they didn’t. In fact, they didn’t use it on anyone. Why remains a mystery but considering everything that was going with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at the time — which Brown seemed to allude to — there are a lot of possibilities:

The Nets could have made a TMLE offer to a player who declined to sign not knowing what would happen with KD and Kyrie. In fact, the Nets trade for O’Neale was announced minutes before Durant announced he wanted to be traded. Things were moving fast. Or maybe they just didn’t want to sign someone just to use the TMLE ... and pay multiple times the salary in luxury taxes, as Brown also alluded to.

Moreover, there were other roster dynamics going on in late June and early July beyond KD and Kyrie. Brown vs. O’Neale wasn’t necessarily an one-off in terms of need or money. Marks is and always has been a big fan of what Simmons can do in any one of a number of positions. With so many guards and wings already on the roster and finally healthy, how much was Brown needed at guard and need determines investment. O’Neale was acquired because he can play and defend multiple positions. Brown believes that he can play guard and the Nuggets agree.

“I’ve been like that my whole life, man,” Brown said. “Even if I was ranked high, colleges didn’t want me. There’s a lot of things that went on that kept this chip on my shoulder. It literally won’t go away, no matter what. If I’m playing well, if something crazy happens if I’m like an All-Star or whatever, it still won’t go away. I got something to prove.”

Indeed, the Nets acquired Brown in 2021 at a small cost because the Pistons, specifically Dwayne Casey, didn’t believe Brown could play the point — and said so publicly. In 2021, a year before the Nets let him walk, Brown had tried to get a better deal, but wound up returning to Brooklyn for his contract’s one year, $4.7 million qualifying offer. He had hoped for a deal starting at twice that much but reportedly there were no such offers.

Although Brown believes he has “something to prove,” he ultimately got what he wanted, a solid contract and security for at least two years. The Nuggets, as Singer notes, are happy with him in general and in the backcourt.

The former Nets guard won’t get his chance at a “revenge” game until the second week of March. Brooklyn plays Denver in the Mile High City on March 19, then a week later in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, O’Neale is just one of several off-season deals Marks made that seem to have worked out (while ultimately keeping Durant and Irving.) The Nets took a risk in signing Nic Claxton to a two-year, $20 million deal despite him missing 105 out of 199 games in three previous seasons.

In the midst of the K and K sagas, Marks brought in two players who didn’t play a second last season — T.J. Warren and Edmond Sumner — another risk that appears ready to pay off. And they signed two other free agents who are contributing in Markieff Morris and Yuta Watanabe. Not one of the four getting more than a vets minimum deal. The resigning of Patty Mills at $15.1 million over two years may not have yielded the results fans desire, but he is healthy and there’s plenty of time left.

Nuggets GM Calvin Booth and coach Michael Malone, think Brown is doing well, just as Marks and Jacque Vaughn think O’Neale is doing well. Everyone should be happy.