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Aldridge: Nets shouldn’t ‘overreact’ to Celtics sweep, suggests Nets make bid for Isaiah Hartenstein

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Phoenix Suns v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

In a survey of teams that got manhandled in the first round, David Aldridge suggests the Nets are not that far from returning as a contender next season and that Sean Marks shouldn’t “overreact” to the Celtics sweep. The veteran NBA reporter, now with The Athletic, also suggests the Nets make a play for Clippers 7-foot free agent Isaiah Hartenstein.

For Aldridge, the Nets big problem last season was defense ... and continuity...

The Nets were one of the worst defensive teams in the league the last three months of the regular season, and it didn’t change against the Celtics, who had an offensive rating of 121.9 in the four-game sweep. Brooklyn’s inability to find a quality big other than Nic Claxton it could trust with meaningful minutes made Boston a uniquely bad matchup, but that would have been a problem against just about any Eastern Conference team in a postseason series. As it was, Boston played Daniel Theis and Robert Williams together and bludgeoned Brooklyn on the glass without paying any price at either end of the floor. And the Nets’ lack of continuity, an issue all season, was especially acute against the Celtics, who’ve been pulling in the same direction since December.

As for the “fix,” Aldridge says the Nets shouldn’t “overreact,” noting that Boston’s length would’ve caused problems for a lot of Eastern Conference teams. So, he says the Nets have to get bigger ... and that won’t be easy with so many of their bigs free agents. Aldridge is also concerned about where Ben Simmons will be in his rehab once the season opens in early October.

It’s easy to overreact to one series. Very few teams have the kind of length the Celtics used to great effect to make Kevin Durant miserable. But the Nets have to get bigger. (Someone like the Clippers’ Isaiah Hartenstein would indeed be a great target with the taxpayer MLE.) But, then, just when you think Simmons will be a full-go next season, the Nets announce he’s undergoing a microdiscectomy Thursday, putting his status for the start of 2022-23 in question. Simmons is an elite wing defender and passer when he’s right. And that’s exactly the kind of player the Nets need to complement Durant and Irving. But, now … who knows? If Simmons gets back to form, and you add Harris’ sharpshooting — and, his cutting — back as well, the Nets should be right back in the championship mix talk when next season rolls around — as long as Irving is all-in, as he insisted he will be following the Celtics’ sweep. The Nets have no choice, now, but to believe him.

Hartenstein is a player a number of pundits, including Aldridge’s colleague, Alex Schiffer, have identified as a possible free agent target for Brooklyn. Indeed, last off-season, there was a lot of reporting that the Nets and Hartenstein had mutual interest. The Nets instead went with Paul Millsap who was in the midst of a disappointing season when he was traded to Philly in February. Hartenstein signed a two-way deal with the Clippers, then was converted to a standard NBA contract in January. He wound up averaging 8.3 points and 4.9 rebounds with shooting splits of 63/47/69.

He’s an unrestricted free agent and there’s some doubt the Clippers would match any significant offer. The Nets, of course, can only offer the taxpayers MLE of $6.4 million to Hartenstein who turned 24 on Thursday.

Back in March, here’s what Hartenstein had to say about his future.

“It’s a tricky situation, but I want to be here,” said Isaiah, who on February 22 signed on with CAA, the agency that also represents fellow Paul George, Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard. “If it’s close money-wise, like, I’m definitely staying. If it’s a big difference, then I’ll have to think about it. But my plan is to play here.”

Meanwhile, Kristian Winfield takes a look at where the Nets stand with Kyrie Irving’s contract. Irving has said repeatedly he wants to return and there appears that the Nets want him back. But as Winfield notes, the devil could be in the details. Specifically, Irving has an opt-out clause in his contract. He can opt-out and sign an extension or play one year at $36.9 million. As Winfield notes, therein lies the catch.

If he opts out of the final year of his deal and seeks a new, long-term extension in Brooklyn, the Nets can begin baking in incentives for games played.

Irving played in just 29 games last season, which means 30 or more games played next season is deemed unlikely by collective bargaining agreement bylaws. The Nets can incentivize a maximum of 15% of Irving’s salary through unlikely bonuses. They can also tier those bonuses in 5% increments with a contract structure that could see Irving earn 90% of his salary by playing at least 52 games, 95% by playing in 62 games, and the full 100% by appearing in 72 games or more.

These incentives would be included over the entirety of his deal.

That, of course, would be good for the Nets or anyone concerned about Irving’s record of missing games with injuries or over political issues. If he opts in, plays one year on the $36.9 million, then he’d be a free agent next summer. His max deal then would be a little less but presuming he plays well and in a lot of games, he’d be able to get a deal without incentives.

If Irving opts in, he leaves that $15M on the table, but the Nets would be unable to bake in new incentives based on games played. Because he would be signing an extension on a previous contract, the Nets wouldn’t be able to add new unlikely incentives.

This option has a drawback, however: length of the deal. If he opts in, he will be on a one-year deal until agreeing to an extension. Irving has proven injury-prone, and opting in without the guarantee of a contract extension leaves him susceptible to a depressed market if he suffers a significant injury next season.

No matter what the final resolution, Winfield writes, the Nets and Irving seem like they both have few options other than a return.