Instead, both Teague and Birch left the Magic, the former signing with the Bucks and the latter joining the Raptors.
Hindsight, assuredly, is 20/20.
The Nets got wide-eyed when Aldridge became a free agent and made a big splash ahead of their big needs. In signing him, after signing Blake Griffin, after trading for James Harden, after signing both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the Nets got greedy. And as they struggle to get healthy, with two-thirds of their star power out nursing leg injuries, the Nets remain as hungry, as starved as they were at the start of the season.
Aldridge is many games removed from retiring due to a heart condition, a circumstance neither he nor the Nets could have ever seen coming. The Nets replaced him by signing Euroleague point guard Mike James to a 10-day contract, proving an additional big man wasn’t necessary in the first place.
“We have four or five guys that can play the center position, so when we lost (Aldridge), it wasn’t like a major need,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “He was a guy that we thought gave us an advantage, so we went after him, got him, and when we lost him, I don’t know that there was a need for us to get another center.”
The Aldridge signing was offensive overkill for a team that desperately needed a defensive paint presence. Or veteran depth at the point guard position.
Aldridge was neither. He was an offensive threat who scored 22 points in an April 7 matchup against the Pelicans, but he also lacked the mobility today’s NBA demands of the modern five man. He’s never been known for defense, and when given the chance to set the tone on that end, the Nets became, in Aldridge’s words, passive.
In the head coach’s words, the Nets are back to square one. Stars are in and out. Players are still getting used to each other. Nash is still learning on the job (though one might posit learning should never stop), and the Nets look like a diet version of the juggernaut that assembled in mid-January.
Not the best place to be with just 12 games to go before the playoffs come around and there’s no quick fix to their issues either.
James is revered in some circles as one of the better ball-handlers and scorers at the point guard position. But if he was as good as advertised, wouldn’t he already be on an NBA team, not joining one as a last-ditch effort amid a wave of injuries?
James became the first-ever NBA G-League player to sign a two-way contract when he joined the Phoenix Suns in 2017. He averaged 10 points and four assists through 31 games before the Suns waived him two weeks into his new deal. He signed with the Pelicans shortly after before requesting waivers to play overseas.
Nets GM Sean Marks favors players with something to prove. James most recently averaged 14.7 points and about four assists for CSKA Moscow but has not played NBA basketball in almost four years.
Elsewhere on their roster, Spencer Dinwiddie continues to ramp up his rehab from the partial ACL tear he suffered at the beginning of the season. While Marks said he’d never bet against Dinwiddie, it’s difficult to envision him playing real minutes when he has yet to rejoin the team, just to be around them in pursuit of a championship.
“I know he’s still right in the thick of his rehab. He’s very dedicated, doing all the work and is ahead of schedule on all that stuff, but I’m not sure when the date is, if it’s playoffs, before the playoffs,” Nash said on April 10. “But I know there is the plan for him to come back and be around the guys when he gets the bulk of his rehab done.”
As for the center spot, well, there’s Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Green, Nic Claxton and Reggie Perry. Jordan is featured in the rotation, once again, after he was banished to the bench for five games once Aldridge arrived in Brooklyn. That’s the status quo, plus Griffin, for a team that’s desperately needed interior help since trading Jarrett Allen to Cleveland.
Free agency is over. There are no more buyouts coming, and if they do, those free agents can’t play in the playoffs, anyway. The market is dry. What the Nets have is what they have.
Then again, what they have, as has been the case all season, lies in what they don’t have. Point guard depth doesn’t become as big an issue when Tyler Johnson returns from his knee injury. If Durant and Harden can get healthy, and their Big 3 strings together some semblance of consistent play as a unit, it’ll be tough to slow the Nets down, no matter who they missed out on by running down on Aldridge in free agency.
And if they can’t stay healthy, then the Nets never stood a chance in the first place.