Brooklyn Nets should steal rival as cheap, quality free agent center

The Brooklyn Nets have a handful of very clearly defined needs that Sean Marks and the front office need to address this offseason, but they don’t have a ton of financial wiggle room. They need to look for low-cost options that can fill defined roles and improve the defense, and Nerlens Noel seems like a perfect intersection of quality, need, and affordability.

Noel spent last season in Manhattan with the rival New York Knicks.

While he didn’t contribute a ton on the offensive side of the ball, his performance after Mitchell Robinson went down with an injury cemented his status as one of the best defensive centers in the game.

Ian Begley is reporting that the Nets are one of several teams that are expected to have a degree of interest in Noel, as the Mavericks, Raptors, and Hornets will also make a play for him. The Nets have a massive open wound at the center spot, and Noel could go a very long way towards fixing it.

The Nets don’t need to sign prime Shaq to play center.

They just need someone who can rebound, block shots, and finish off easy shots in the paint. Noel, a former No. 1 recruit and No. 6 overall pick, has the ability to make that happen.

Nerlens Noel would be ideal for the Brooklyn Nets.

After Robinson went down in March, Noel averaged 5.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. He was the only player in the league who averaged one steal and two blocks per game this season, which proves his defensive versatility and quality.

Noel is not a perfect defensive stopper, however. Cleaning the Glass (subscription required) shows that the Knicks actually allowed 3.7 points more per 100 possessions when Noel was on the floor last year. Even with that, his individual quality stood out on a crunching Knicks defense, and the Nets should try to pry him away.

The Nets tried in vain to replace the rim protection that Jarrett Allen was able to provide, as their starting center title was passed between a defensive liability in Blake Griffin, a complete liability in DeAndre Jordan, and LaMarcus Aldrige, who lasted just a handful of games before he was forced to retire.

The scoring provided by Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden will help Brooklyn win a good chunk of their games, but they can’t get them to the Finals on their own. Noel will at least be able to secure rebounds and swat away shots, which is something that the Nets really struggled with last season.

Nerlens Noel and Nicolas Claxton is a perfect 1-2 punch.

The idea of Noel pairing with Claxton could make Brooklyn’s backcourt one of the better defensive interiors. Good luck trying to play with any semblance of pace, as two long-armed bigs switching everything could make life tough on opposing teams.

The Nets might be tempted to once again opt for offense over defense, as their additions of Griffin and Aldridge last year and their rumored interest in Kevin Love if he is bought out suggests that they could fill that role with a veteran looking to chase a ring. That’s a fruitful path to pursue, but not at the expense of a defender like Noel.

Marks needs to eye Noel on a short-term deal. Noel gets a role as a potential starter with a team that will assuredly be among the favorites to take home the title next year, and Brooklyn finally can apply a Band-Aid to their most noticeable flaw.

They need to act fast if they want to keep him in New York, as several teams looking to unseat the Nets will make an effort to sign him.