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Don’t Look Up: Nets lack of size hurt them. How do they change that?

Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets - Play-In Tournament Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

This is the weekend when Nets fans had hoped to be getting ready for the NBA Finals. Now, they and the team are sitting at home or lying on a beach wondering what the hell happened?

There are a lot of reasons why the Nets failed in their first round series vs. Boston: injuries, lack of continuity and chemistry caused by those injuries and other absences, and as acknowledged by virtually everyone: a lack of length. Big athletic teams like the Celtics overpowered them underneath, slapped away their shots and otherwise dominated the smaller Nets.

Brian Lewis on Saturday laid out just how big the Celtics were compared to the Nets, looking at the relative wingspans ...

All seven Celtics that had started at least four playoff games entering Friday (Robert Williams 7-5 ½, Al Horford 7-0 ¾, Jaylen Brown 6-11 ¾, Jayson Tatum 6-11, Grant Williams 6-9, ¾, Marcus Smart 6-9 ¼ and Daniel Theis 6-11) have longer wingspans’ than Brooklyn’s third-biggest starter (Bruce Brown)...

Of the seven Nets who logged the most minutes in the first round, only two (Durant and Nic Claxton) had wingspans over 6-9, per CraftedNBA.com. Three of them (Irving, Mills and Seth Curry) measured in at 6-4 or less, disadvantages compounded by a level of defense that is less than stout.

In the NBA nowadays, you can only go so small, as both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving noted in his post-game press conference, cited by Lewis.

“Standing in front of their guys, they had bigger guys,” Durant said. “We look up and Seth Curry or [Goran] Dragic is boxing out a seven-footer. They play hard, but they’re just smaller.”

“This is a league that’s getting younger, that’s getting more athletic, that’s getting taller,” Irving said. “It’s getting more competitive, and these young guys are hungry out here. And you see it; I can feel it. It’s an added motivation. You get swept like [we did], didn’t play as well as I would’ve liked. Now we just look to the future as a team and what we can accomplish the next few years and get excited about that.”

Steve Nash attributed the Nets losses to that lack of length as well.

“Our guys wore down and tired, and it was a big battle having three or four 6-2 guys on the court in the playoffs,” Nash said. “[It’s] a challenge.

“We asked them to battle, [and] can see them trying to hide some facial expressions when we’re telling 6-2 guys you’re guarding the center. But our options were limited…At the end of the day they were just more physical, bigger and stronger at every position.”

How to fix it? For starters the Nets should have Ben Simmons, with his 6’11” height and 7’0.5” wingspan, and Joe Harris, who’s four inches taller (and stronger) than his replacements, Patty Mills and Seth Curry, back on the court. The Nets will also need to return Claxton and maybe Andre Drummond, but both are free agents.

The consensus in the media is that LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin, won’t be back. In fact, the only bona fide big on the roster come June 30 will likely be Day’Ron Sharpe, all of 20 years old and eight NBA starts.

Lewis believes the Nets will use their $6.3 million taxpayers MLE and/or their trade exceptions to get that situation rectified.

Marks should be adding a big wing defender even if he has to use the mid-level exception (starting at $6,3 million) or one of his trade exceptions (the largest of which is more than $11 million) to do it. The Nets also have a first-round pick (No. 23) they could draft with or use as part of a trade package.

A lot of names have been thrown around in speculative settings but only one qualifies as a big: Isaiah Hartenstein, the Clippers 7’1” Isaiah Hartenstein, but he may be too pricey considering the Nets salary cap restrictions.

It’s possible that the Nets think that if they sign their own free agent big(s) and get big minutes 1-through-5 from Ben Simmons, the length problem won’t be so bad. In that vein, Lewis also reports Simmons is doing well and his recovery from back surgery “is on pace.”

After undergoing a microdiscectomy on March 5 in L.A. for a herniated disk in his back, Simmons was expected to start a rehab program after three weeks of recovery. I’ve been told he’s right on schedule, with a source close to Simmons adding, “Ben is progressing well and is in great spirits.”

The source implied that not only is Simmons’ recovery on pace for him to be ready by training camp, but his mental health issues — which he cited in declining to play in Philadelphia this season, and spoke about upon his arrival in Brooklyn — may be improving as well.

Increasingly it looks like Simmons is the player who the Nets see as a difference maker. As Marks said at his end-of-season press conference. “There’s a gaping hole and he fits some needs,” one of which is length.