While not as overtly disastrous as their crosstown rivals, the Nets lack for direction. Their best players, most overpaid, are either in decline or difficult to rely on due to injury. Brooklyn owes so many first-round picks as a result of previous deals that rebuilding through the draft would be impossible. There seems to be no way forward for the Nets save through the NBA’s uncomfortable middle—a state in which the team’s bloated cap sheet can accommodate little more than marginally competitive but ultimately fruitless play.
Until the contracts of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams clock out, the best Brooklyn can do is to maneuver the limited assets at its disposal in ways that facilitate growth. The Nets aimed for that in trading big man Mason Plumlee, once rumored to be something near untouchable, to the Blazers in exchange for No. 23 pick Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and veteran guard Steve Blake. Portland will also receive Pat Connaughton, selected with the No. 41 pick.
Hollis-Jefferson at the very least gives Brooklyn a defensive edge that its current roster lacks. The wings, in particular, have been accommodating to Nets’ opponents. Hollis-Jefferson projects to be the kind of cross-positional defender who could help resolve some of Brooklyn’s defensive limitations in time. He’s long, strong, and tenacious—an ideal starter kit for a defensive-minded role player. Whether that’s enough of a return for Plumlee is debatable, though as long as Brook Lopez remained an integral part of the Nets’ playing rotation, Plumlee’s value would be hedged by his circumstances.
Portland saw Plumlee, who has two seasons remaining on his rookie deal, as a piece of its auxiliary frontcourt. LaMarcus Aldridge’s free agency looms over the Blazers organization. Should he fulfill the messaging of the rumor mill and sign elsewhere, Plumlee (along with the recently acquired Noah Vonleh) would be able to sop up minutes for a transitional team. In the case that Aldridge did return, Plumlee’s rim-running offense and energetic defense could make a nice counterpoint. Plumlee straddles the line between insurance (for Aldridge and free-agent center Robin Lopez) and complement.
In a way, Plumlee would be most valuable to the Blazers only if things take a turn for the worst this summer. The departure of either Aldridge or Lopez would be significant for a team that staked its competitive claim based on the strength of its starting five. One of those starters, Nicolas Batum, is already gone. Another, Wesley Matthews, will entertain his own free agency. The more that the Blazers as we knew them dissolve, the more opportunity and production might be in play for Plumlee. Regardless, the opportunity to land a rotation-worthy big making a mere $1.4 million next season is a smart value play for a team in Portland's position.