The Brooklyn Nets decided to go with a younger roster this year, and focused their offseason on rebuilding their frontcourt with the re-signing of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, as well as the acquisition of power forward Thomas Robinson. The Nets also drafted small forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and power forward Chris McCullough in the first round.
With the frontcourt now pretty much set for the near future, Brooklyn (0-4) can turn its attention to their backcourt issues this offseason — specifically at point guard. The Nets will likely have to go the free agency route, as their top pick in next year’s draft is owed to Boston with no protection.
Chris Herrington of the Commercial Appeal is reporting that the Nets will likely make Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley their top 2016 free agent target. Conley currently is the top ranked point guard and third best available 2016 free agent, according to Hoop Rumors.
Conley has increased his value as a lead guard the past two years. The 28-year-old followed his career year in 2013-14 with his second best season last year, despite dealing with a handful of ailments — that included injuries to his right foot, wrist, both ankles, and facial fracture. He finished the season averaging 15.8 points along with 3.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists.
Conley has been the best player this season for Memphis (3-2) thus far this season, and the Nets already had gotten a first hand look at him — Conley’s best game of the early going in the Griz’s 101-91 victory over the Nets, on October 31, according to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN. He dissected the Nets with precision passes, hesitation crossover dribbles, left-handed 3-pointers, and right-handed floaters.
Conley finished with 22 points, on 7-of-12 shooting, including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc and eight assists. He is averaging 13.4 points, 7.0 assists, and 3.0 caroms through five games. Conley is shooting 41 percent from the floor and 1.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Conley is making slightly more than $9.588 million this year but will likely command a max contract, starting at $24.9 million and possibly more if the cap exceeds $89 million that is projected.
Currently, the Nets don’t have a starting point guard among the trio that is on their roster. Jarret Jack, who has been tabbed as the team’s starter, is a veteran journeyman who is better coming off the bench.
Jack is putting up good numbers this year, as he is a focal point of the Nets offense. Through three starts, the 32-year old is averaging 14.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 6.7 assists, as well as 3.0 turnovers. Jack is shooting 41.5 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Shane Larkin is a kind of an intriguing reserve guard, though the Nets are his third different team since being taken with the No. 18 overall selection by the Atlanta Hawks in 2013. The 23-year-old is averaging 6.3 points and 3.8 assists while shooting 52.2 percent from the field through the first four games. The Nets got a glimpse of what Larkin is capable of against recently against Milwaukee (November 2) as he made all five of his shots to finish with 10 points to go along with three rebounds in 18 minutes of action.
Sloan is an end of the bench type player. The 27-year old has appeared in two games this season and has missed all five of his shot attempts. The Nets are the fifth-year pro’s seventh different team, though he has had two stints with Cleveland and New Orleans. Sloan had his best season of his career last season with Indiana, averaging 7.4 points, 3.6 assists and 2.7 caroms in 53 games, including 21 starts.
Could Conley actually end up in Brooklyn next year?
It is highly unlikely, as Memphis has every intention of keeping Conley, per Yahoo Sports, and the Griz owns Conley’s Bird rights — which means the Grizzlies can go over the cap to retain him. In addition, Conley has spent his entire eight-year career in Memphis.
However, Conley has a strong relationship with Nets head coach Lionel Hollins that dates back to when Hollins was the head “honcho” with the Griz. Mazzeo wrote that Conley said Hollins was “like a second father almost to me.”
If the Nets strike out with Conley, a trade may be their best option, as the 2016 point guard class is pretty weak. Brandon Jennings (Detroit Pistons) and Rajon Rondo (Sacramento Kings) lead the remaining unrestricted free agents, while Jordan Clarkson (Los Angeles Lakers), Tony Wroten (Philadelphia 76ers) and Dion Waiters (Oklahoma City Thunder) top the restricted free agent list. Wroten and Waiters aren’t true point guards, but may be among the Nets’ best options.
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