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NBA news: Brooklyn Nets roles, Ben Simmons, Patty Mills

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Ben Simmons is a massive X-factor for misfiring NBA giant Brooklyn and could partly be used in a different role for his NBA return. BRIAN LEWIS breaks down the Nets roster.

Training camp is a few weeks away, and the Nets still have roster spots to fill. With the Kevin Durant drama settled and general manager Sean Marks back from a Basketball Without Borders Africa event in Egypt, there should be movement on that front soon.

Marks and Brooklyn have done most of the heavy lifting already, so the remaining moves will likely focus on tweaks around the edges. Trying to predict line-ups and rotations have now gone from premature to possible. And even though there’s no legitimate way to project how the Nets will fill out the 19,680 scheduled minutes this coming season, The Post will try its best guess.

The locks

Kevin Durant — 2,000 projected minutes

Nets owner Joe Tsai held firm against Durant’s trade request — a wise move when you have arguably the best player in the NBA locked into a four-year deal. But after riding Durant for 38.6 minutes per game post-All-Star break and a league-high 44 per game in the playoffs, that has to scale back. Durant’s age (34 on Sept. 29) and recent history suggest he’ll play about 60 games, with massive production in each.

Kyrie Irving — 1,950 projected minutes

After failing to secure the huge $200 million-plus contracts that Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine each got, expect a motivated Irving playing on a one-year deal. With no COVID-19 vaccine mandates in his way, many around the league expect a huge bounce-back campaign from Irving. Still, mandates aside, the injury-prone guard has topped 60 games or 2,000 minutes just once in the past five years.

Ben Simmons — 1,500 projected minutes

As big an X-factor as the Nets have. By Opening Night he won’t have played for 16 months (since June 20, 2021) due to a holdout, and both physical and mental health. Will he be diminished athletically, or the same All-Star and dominant defender he was? What kind of headspace is he in? His minutes could end up far higher or lower; but either way, expect him to play not just point, but small-ball five.

Likely starters

Nic Claxton — 1,300 projected minutes

Brooklyn has cycled through a string of centers in Claxton’s first three seasons; for the first time he finally has a real chance at the job. His frame, conditioning and free-throw shooting might limit his appearances to the 60-game range and his minutes to the low-20s; but with his switchable defense, it’s his responsibility to make them impactful ones. And stay healthy.

Royce O’Neale — 2,000 projected minutes

A reliable 3-and-D ironman, he’s logged at least 71 games every year since his rookie campaign, and 2,000 minutes in each of the last three. Expect that threshold again. O’Neale hasn’t come off the bench since 2019-20, and his defense for a Nets team in desperate need of some could see him become invaluable if coach Steve Nash decides to build a more balanced starting unit.

Potential starters

Seth Curry — 1,700 projected minutes

In all honesty, he could very well start in a more offensive-oriented line-up. He’s coming off off-season surgery, but his career .4395 percentage from 3-point range just edges Joe Harris for the best among all active players and makes him a great complement for Durant and Irving, and an enticing target for Simmons.

Joe Harris — 1,200 projected minutes

In many ways, he’s a bigger, burlier clone of Curry, but with more health questions after having his season cut short by surgery, and then needing a second procedure. The Nets have been adamant about not trading him, his 6-foot-6 frame and .4390 career shooting from deep ensuring he’ll play a huge role. The only concern is how much he can be on the court, and how defenders O’Neale and Kessler Edwards eat into his minutes?

Rotation regulars

Patty Mills — 1,500 projected minutes

A reliable workhorse, much like O’Neale. But the Nets learned a lesson from running the veteran guard into the ground last season, getting diminishing returns down the stretch from the overworked Aussie. Mills almost certainly won’t start, and might not even be the sixth man — but he’s sure to be important in 70-plus games.

Kessler Edwards — 1,100 projected minutes

On a team in desperate need of bigger, more athletic wings, the second-year pro should see plenty of playing time. Sure, they may not be high-leverage minutes with Simmons and O’Neale around to guard the best wing scorers, but he should find a role, especially as his tweaked 3-point shot continues to improve.

Cam Thomas — 1,100 projected minutes

Scouts’ opinions on Thomas were split before last year’s draft, and after his rookie campaign they’re still divided. The volume-shooting guard outperformed his draft slot and proved he can score; but his minutes will be more determined by defense, playmaking and, of course, opportunity/need. Will Curry and/or Mills soak up most of the backup two-guard minutes?

Day’Ron Sharpe — 800 projected minutes

The bruiser from UNC is currently the only natural center on the roster behind Claxton, but poor positioning and a penchant for fouls cost him playing time as a rookie. He didn’t see the floor for the final 20 regular-season games, and just a 22-second cameo in the playoffs. Sharpe must cash in against bigger teams, because Simmons and newcomer Markieff Morris will get their share of runs in smallball units.

Reserves

TJ Warren — 1,050 projected minutes

The veteran has not played since the first four games of 2020-21 due to a left foot injury. After topping 2,000 minutes in three of the four seasons before that, can the Nets wring even half that much out of him this coming campaign? If so — and if Warren can regain a modicum of his old form — his minimum contract will be a steal. But Durant has one forward spot, and there are numbers at the other.

Markieff Morris — 1,000 projected minutes

He got a non-guaranteed prove-it minimum deal last week. Morris won a ring coming off the Lakers bench in 2020 and logged 1,200 minutes for them the following season before injuries limited him to under 300 a year ago in Miami. But he could bring needed toughness and grit while being an enforcer on the floor and a veteran voice in the locker room.

Yuta Watanabe — 500 projected minutes

Another non-guaranteed late signing, Watanabe got the standard deal David Duke Jr. had been eyeing. The Japanese-born forward rounds out the back end of the roster with a proven NBA player. He can defend in a pinch, should Brooklyn face injuries or absences in the rotation.

Edmond Sumner — 500 projected minutes

Between Irving, Simmons and (if needed) Patty Mills, the Nets are deep at point guard. But Simmons didn’t play all last season, Irving frequently misses time and Mills is best served as sixth man/shooter off the bench. Sumner — who likes to push the ball — provides playmaking insurance after playing the point in college.

Alondes Williams — 200 projected minutes

After going undrafted, Williams surprisingly got handed a two-way contract instead of an Exhibit 10. His shaky jumper was exposed in the Las Vegas Summer League, and defenders played off him to take away his drive-and-kick game. He would benefit from a year of seasoning with G League Long Island.

Rest of the roster — 280 projected minutes

This is the number one sure to grow. The Nets have four spots remaining on the training camp roster, and still have a two-way left to offer. Would Duke Jr. grudgingly accept it? There will surely be not just late signings, but roster churn throughout the season, buyouts, etc. Two dozen players logged minutes for Brooklyn last season, and 27 the year before.

– The New York Post

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