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As NBA Draft and free agency approaches, rumors ... and ‘spitballs’ ... fly

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Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic Photo by Gary Bassing /NBAE via Getty Images

It’s silly season ... and no, we are not talking about the Fake Klay Thompson being offered a deal by the real Nets owner. Nope, free agency when rumors, most of them false or distorted, get big play.

With the Draft just a week away, things are starting to get interesting. For the Nets, of course, the Draft has historically been the time that Sean Marks is most active, starting with his first one in 2016 when he traded Thaddeus Young for the rights to the 20th pick which became Caris LeVert and a distant second rounder which became (wait for it) Kessler Edwards.

[Who’s going first? Check out the latest NBA Draft Odds]

Now, with trades already being revealed, like Tuesday’s deal between the Mavs and Rockets centered on Christian Wood for a late first in the Draft. rumors are picking up. The Nets are notoriously close-mouthed about their intentions, but that won’t stop speculation.

In the last 24 hours, we’ve seen a tweet from JD Shaw of Hoops Rumors that the Nets have worked out Tyreke Evans, the 32-year-old guard coming off a two-year drug suspension, and heard Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer’s speculation that Kyrie Irving’s return may not be so certain after all.

Evans was the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2010 but his production was falling off before he was forced out of the league in 2019 while with the Pacers. Whether he has anything left — or the workout was a favor — remains to be seen. The Nets are interested in adding shooting. As we’ve noted in our analysis of pre-Draft workouts, most of the prospects who’ve been in are either shooting guards or small forwards.

Fischer’s reporting, laid out in an online conversation Thursday with Boardroom’s Eddie Gonzalez, was less certain, which he admitted, but decidedly more interesting.

The Bleacher Report writer opened by saying that he has long assumed that Irving, along with Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons, will all be on the court for training camp. Still...

“I’ve been working on the assumption that all three — Kevin, Kyrie, Ben Simmons — will be there for the start of training camp. However, there’s a lot of talk about Kyrie,” he told Gonzalez. “Definitely some talk about whether they are going to figure out a long term relationship.”

He added that he hasn’t been able to confirm anything specific about Irving and admitted there’s been little coming out of the Nets camp about what’s going on. Irving, too, has been quiet in his online offerings. As Fischer noted and Alex Schiffer wrote Friday, there are a lot of paths the negotiations could take ... but we should know more by June 29. That’s the deadline for Irving to opt out. (Opting out doesn’t mean he’ll test the waters elsewhere in the NBA. Just that he wants an extension.)

Fischer noted that of all the biggest and most serious free agents — Irving, Bradley Beal of Washington, Zach LaVine of Chicago and James Harden of Philadelphia — he thinks Irving “seems to be the oddball in this group,” adding he’s “least sure” of an Irving return.

Of course, as Schiffer writes, “the reality is the Nets and Irving don’t have many options better than each other.” There isn’t a lot of cap space available around the league, particularly with contenders who might want Irving as final piece. And both sides seem to want to get things done. The devil may very well be in the details.

On the Nets other two prominent free agents — Bruce Brown and Nic Claxton — Fischer said that “everyone” among Nets brass seems to be “motivated” to bring Brown back, but he is, again, he’s “not sure about Claxton.” He notes that the Nets did talk to at least one team — the Raptors — about dealing the 23-year-old big at the deadline. He wondered aloud whether the Nets would match if another team offered Claxton a “monster” deal in free agency. June 29 is also a big day for Claxton. The Nets have until then to sign Claxton to a deal as high as $55 million over four years. After that, he’s an restricted free agent.

And what if Claxton does leave? Look first to Day’Ron Sharpe, he said.

“They drafted Day’Ron Sharpe largely with the idea — they liked him — but that he could in theory be Nic Claxton’s replacement,” offered Fischer who noted the Nets like bigs who can shoot the ball. While Sharpe didn’t shoot from deep during his year at UNC, “Everyone talking about how he was shooting the shit out of the ball” during last year’s Draft workouts. Indeed, late in the season, the Nets sent Sharpe to Long Island to hone those deep shooting skills. He shot 33 percent from deep in five games.

Beyond that, Fischer said the Nets apparently have given up on the “old man center” strategy that had them sign or re-sign LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap, whose average age was 35.

The Bleacher Report writer offered one possibility, but admitted he was “spitballing,” aka wild speculation without any inside information. The Nets, he said should consider Mo Bamba, the 7’1” Magic center from Harlem. He’s a restricted free agent in Orlando and word is that the Magic will not pick up his $10.1 million qualifying offer. Bamba has been disappointing and Orlando has the overall No. 1 pick.

“I’m just taking a guess,” Fischer advised. “Maybe that’s a home for Mo Bamba then. Maybe you give him like the lower deal, a one-year deal, like come here on a ‘play it, prove it’ contract in a playoff environment. I have not heard that at all. Please don’t aggregate this. I’m just kind of spitballing. connecting relevant pieces of information.”

Of course, all the Nets would have to offer Bamba is the taxpayers MLE which amounts to no more than $6.3 million this year which would be a pay cut from the $7.6 million he made this year. In theory, they could try a sign-and-trade using their big $11.3 million trade exception but that could get expensive with the luxury tax. Moreover, a sign-and-trade would hard-cap the Nets, something they are have so far, despite their free spending ways, they’ve avoided.

Otherwise, Fischer said the Nets priorities are clear. “They will continue to need more shooting, continue to need someone who can protect the rim.”

How soon might we see real rumors, the kind Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania traffic in? Expect to things heat up after the weekend and then accelerate through Thursday night and the Draft. A piece of advice: It’s going to be wild. As Gonzalez noted, and Fischer agreed, Sean Marks is very active, very aggressive, no doubt even more so after the disappointing season the Nets just experienced.

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