It’s tough to rate the overall performance of Mason Plumlee from the 2014-2015 season. After what Brooklyn Nets fans hoped was a breakout summer, the season started at an agonizingly slow pace for the ex-Blue Devil. Plumlee didn’t garner his first start until the middle of January, and previous to that he had played an average of just 4 minutes per game that month.
What happened next was a joy to watch for Nets fans everywhere. Seemingly overnight, Plumlee transformed back into the first-team All-Rookie that he was in his previous year, & the USA Team center that he was the summer before. Over the next two months, Plumlee averaged 14.6 points & 8.3 boards. He was the Nets’ version of DeAndre Jordan. He ran the floor like a gazelle. He could fly high enough to reel in any alley-oop, and he used that same ability to alter shots while protecting the paint on defense. He set solid screens and attacked both sides of the glass with ferocity. He was fulfilling the prophecy of the new age center. Crash the boards, run the floor, dunk the ball, à la Tyson Chandler.
But as quickly as he appeared, he vanished. The Brook Lopez of old arrived, almost completely wiping out any trace of Plumlee. Cue: the evaporation of Plumlee’s trade stock. Lopez found his rebounding touch that had not been around since his first three seasons in the league when he averaged just around eight boards. His scoring had always been his strong suit, but now it was that much easier thanks to the pick and push he ran with Deron Williams.
The Nets have openly voiced their desire for Lopez to opt back in to his $16.7 million player option, and with him playing at a high level, there just isn’t any room in the rotation for a player like Plumlee. Lopez is most effective at center, so as a result of that we saw coach Lionel Hollins attempt to sustain Plumlee’s value by giving him minutes alongside Lopez. What a disaster that was. Plumlee doesn’t have the skill set to play the power forward position at a high level and the parts of the game that he does excel in are far too similar to Lopez.
Bringing Lopez back would continue to drop Plumlee’s trade value because from what we’ve seen there just isn’t an effective way for them to play together. So should they trade him to get a higher pick in the draft? That depends on a lot of things. How high could they go? Who could they target? Does the team on the other end even need a player like Plumlee?
To put it in perspective, we know Plumlee’s accolades: First-Team All-Rookie, and a member of Team USA. But we also know that if the Nets can manage to bring Lopez back, Plumlee would be ineffective in their system. So the question that remains is, what type of player would be effective in their system, and at what (reachable) pick would a player like that still be available on the board?
Firstly, when looking at the Nets roster from top to bottom, their most glaring needs are youth & athleticism. They currently have five guys age 25 or below and only two of them played meaningful minutes this season (Markel Brown and Mason Plumlee). Secondly, assuming the Nets trade Plumlee and resign Lopez along with Young, they are left needing a backup front-court player. One would assume they would attempt to attain either an athletic small forward or center. They still have Mirza Teletovic as a restricted free agent, so assuming he’s healthy he could continue to be their backup power forward. Some of the players projected to drop outside the lottery that Brooklyn could use are Sam Dekker (Wisconsin), Montrezl Harrell (Louisville), Christian Wood (UNLV), or Justin Anderson (Virginia). To corral any of the aforementioned players, Brooklyn would have to jump from their current position at pick 29, to around 18-24.
At first glance it may not seem worth it to trade Plumlee (and the 29th pick more than likely) to go up a few spots that wouldn’t even land you in the lottery, but it actually just might be. If Plumlee is dealt, I would see it more as a huge “I’m Sorry Brook” sign, hand crafted by Nets management. They would be saying: “we’re sorry for all the criticism that’s been thrown your way” along with “we’re sorry you got benched for a couple of months this season” as well as “look, please come back, we’re molding the team to fit around you.” And if everything pans out the way Brooklyn hopes, Lopez would come back, Plumlee essentially would be traded for a player that would fit better alongside Lopez and the team addresses two of their most apparent needs (for their one new player, at least).
Let’s not forget though, that they could ship off Plumlee, and Lopez could still opt out to take his talents elsewhere. Is the risk worth it? I say it is. The team’s win percentage has gone down with each passing season since the arrival in Brooklyn. A new influx of players is needed. Why not start now?
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