The Nets biggest investment this off-season was in Nic Claxton. Brooklyn signed Claxton to a two-year $20 million ($17.5 million guaranteed) contract, a deal based more on future returns than past accomplishments. Although the 23-year-old seven-footer has had flashes and some short stretches of success, the Nets believe he can become more than that: their starting center, a solid defender who has some offensive potential.
Now, with the two big question marks — in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — erased, the Nets hope that Claxton can get beyond injury and illness. He’s well aware of what’s expected of him, as he told Brian Lewis earlier this week.
“I’m an OG now,” said Claxton, one of the longest-tenured Nets as he enters his fourth season in Brooklyn. “So I feel like there’s a lot more that’s going to be put on my shoulders. …I’m ready for the challenge. I’m ready for everything that’s going to come with it.
“Honestly it doesn’t [change my approach]. I mean, I still got to show up every day. I know probably a lot more will be asked of me, so I’ve just got to be ready,”
Claxton, of course, has only played a little more than 1,500 minutes in 94 games since being taken 31st in the 2019 NBA Draft, but half of those games and 893 of those minutes came last season when after a bout with an undisclosed non-COVID illness, he finally got on track. Of his 20 career starts, 19 came last season.
His ability to switch on to everyone 1 through 5, first seen at the end of the 2020-21 season, made him a valuable commodity on defense.
“He’s such a versatile defender. He’s guarding [Clint Capela] one minute, he’s guarding Trae Young the next,” said Steve Nash following a win over the Hawks last December. As for his offense, Nash noted that he’s in the NBA to play D.
Then there was his free throw shooting. In Game 4 of the Nets closing loss to Boston, he went 1-of-11 at the line, missing his first 10. However, Clax also went 6-of-6 from the field that game, scoring 13 points, grabbing six boards and blocking three shots. If he had only met his season free throw average — 60.9 percent — he would have walked away with 19 points and the Nets might have saved a win.
Claxton told Lewis that he is indeed working on his free throw shooting, both with Nets assistant Ryan Forehan-Kelly and his Texas-based personal trainer, Tim Martin.
“Just my overall game — of course, free throws,” Claxton said about his off-season work. “Working on my shot, getting stronger, and then just continuing to build off these last few years.”
Martin has posted several short videos of Clax this summer…
He also seems more serious, more mature, which the Nets would appreciate. He told Lewis about how he learned of Kevin Durant’s decision to first ask for, then rescind a trade.
He was horseback riding in the Dominican Republic when he heard about the request, he told Lewis, and he was just leaving a morning workout when he found out about KD’s change of mind.
“I got the news (Tuesday) like everybody else, and I’m excited,” Claxton told The Post. “It’s exciting knowing he’s coming back on board with us. I feel like we’re going to have a really, really good group. So, we’ve just got to get everybody together and lock in.”
As for the team’s overall prospects, Claxton was careful to distinguish between what the team has on paper and what they can do on the court.
“On paper, we definitely have some of the best talent in the league, but as we’ve seen in the past, it takes more than that,” Claxton warned. “So we’ve just got to come together and just all work towards the same goal, which is winning the championship.”
Part of that he said will be about focusing solely on basketball once camp opens a month from Saturday.
“We just have to be able to shut out the outside noise,” Claxton said. “Since I’ve been here, it’s always been something. But we just have to be able to shut that out and just focus on everybody that’s inside the building and focus on getting better, building on and off the court. … We’ve just got to come together and come together as a unit.”
That Game 4 meltdown aside, Claxton improved his free-throw shooting from 48.4 percent in 2020-21 to 58.1 percent last season, including 60.9 as a starter.