With the Nets going into win-now mode as soon as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving suit up next season, many have opined that they’ll search for a third star. But the growing sentiment around the league appears to be that — with those two on the roster — Caris LeVert is close enough to make them a contender.
Durant even seems to think so himself.
“[LeVert] is definitely better than I thought. He’s different,” Durant said on the Play for Keeps podcast. “He can score that thing. He can pass it, strong, he’s quick.
“His thing is about being efficient, and I think that’s what you’re seeing. The shots he’s taking now, it’s like all in his lane. It’s not a lot of 3s. A lot in the midrange, getting to the cup. I think his IQ is what surprised me the most for the game.”
The rest of the NBA saw what Durant did during LeVert’s emergence in the bubble. He averaged 25 points, 6.7 assists and five rebounds during the restart, and bumped that to 20.3 points, 9.5 assists and six boards in the playoffs.
While Stan Van Gundy told The Post that the high-usage LeVert might be best suited coming off the bench, he’s reached a level where the Nets might not need a big offseason move to contend.
“FYI- Brooklyn has their 3rd star- Caris LeVert,” tweeted former Nets assistant GM Bobby Marks, now with ESPN.
Locked up to a three-year, $52.5 million deal that kicks in next season, LeVert is the Nets’ most valuable trade chip. Trying to land a star like Bradley Beal — likely a fool’s errand — would start with him, and include picks and other players.
“If you can get him you take him. You do that,” an Eastern Conference scout told The Post. “[But] if you’re not able to do that and you do have KD and Kyrie you should still be one of the contenders in the East, one of the best teams in the conference. Other than Beal …”
The scout trailed off for emphasis. And his point was valid.
With Durant leaving Golden State for Brooklyn, Big 3s have been replaced by Dynamic Duos (the Lakers, Clippers, Houston, etc). The Nets should have that.
And the Nets’ third-star options are limited. New Orleans’ Jrue Holiday is 30, under contract for $25.3 million next season and can opt out after that. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo came back from a horrible right knee injury to average 14.3 points (worst since his rookie campaign) on career-low shooting splits of 39.4 percent and 31.7 from 3.
So is upsetting a roster before Durant and Irving have played a second together wise? Or even needed?
“KD and Kyrie should make you an instant contender in the East, especially with the other parts, Caris, [Spencer] Dinwiddie, [Joe] Harris,” Jalen Rose told The Post. “I like to gauge success based on realistic expectations. And for me if you have a healthy KD and Kyrie in the East, you should be able to go toe-to-toe with the Bucks and the Celtics and the Raptors.”
Rose called LeVert his “little brother,” and said while a bona fide star like Beal would put the Nets squarely in the title mix, he doubted that Wizards owner Ted Leonsis or GM Tommy Sheppard would let him go.
“You already have him under contract. That was the question mark: Can you resign Bradley Beal with John Wall injured at his number? And he committed to stay, so you’re not going to go trade him after he just averaged 30 points this year,” Rose told The Post. “I love Sean Marks, played with him in Phoenix. And Tommy Sheppard, he was in Denver when the Nuggets drafted me. I’ve known both of those gentlemen for a long time, got a lot of respect for them. But if you watch the Wizards, you’re not taking those phone calls.”