With the way Nic Claxton has simultaneously become one of the Nets’ most important pieces and one of their biggest bargains, fans are predictably already worrying about holding on to him long-term.
Though the Nets can’t extend him proactively this offseason — because of the nuances of the collective bargaining agreement — they can take relief in the knowledge that their emerging young center wants to be around for the long haul.
“It’s human nature. It’s just in our business, you never really know what’s going to happen as far as trades, contracts and everything,” Claxton, 23, told The Post. “But I’ve been here four years, and Brooklyn has been a huge [time], played a huge role in my growth. And I would love to be here.
“But we’ll see how that shakes out. I’m just taking it day-by-day, have a great summer working out and figure all that stuff out later.”
Claxton has blossomed into one of the NBA’s best defenders and one of its most improved players. After going into this past summer as a restricted free agent, he signed a two-year, $17.2 million deal to stay in Brooklyn.
He will be an unrestricted free agent after next season (only players coming off rookie deals are restricted), and because he signed a two-year deal instead of three, the Nets can’t extend him with a season left on his contract.
That contract looks like a steal. Claxton closed March with 14 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in the Nets’ 124-107 victory over the Hawks on Friday night. That boosted his averages for the month to 12.7 points, 10 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.
Claxton’s newfound reliability that is making the Nets view him as a long-term building block.
“The biggest thing I point to is the availability,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “You just look at the amount of minutes he’s played this year, definitely highs for him. That’s always a question you’re going to have about an athlete: Are they going to do it over and over again when you invest in them, you believe in them and you want them to be a part of growing with you going forward?
“So he’s proven that he can suit up, play against different dudes — that’s whether it’s a big, whether it’s an agile guy, whether it’s someone that is twice his size — and figure it out. And that’s because of availability.”
After the Nets traded James Harden, Claxton went through an adjustment period, bereft of the easy lobs he was getting. Now after dealing both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving this February, Claxton had to adjust again.
“At the beginning of this year up until the trades, I pretty much mastered that role. I figured it out, I was picking my spots, and it was just was natural, it was easy,” Claxton told The Post. “And then boom, the trade happens, it’s a whole new team. So it was definitely an adjustment period, and I had to figure it out.”
In Claxton’s first nine games after the trades of Durant and Irving, he averaged 7.1 points and 8.4 rebounds, shooting just 49 percent and posting a minus-4.4. But in the 11 games since coming into Friday, he had averaged 14.5 points and 9.8 boards, shooting 69.4 percent and posting a +0.3.
“[Doing] what was going to be best for the group, [he] had to compromise some things he does well,” Vaughn said. “For awhile we tried to put him in drop coverage. Is that best for him? He had to compromise a little bit: What’s going to be best for the group? So I give him an extreme amount of credit for just being unselfish and understanding that we’re trying to figure this out.
“Then he learned — ‘OK, I’m going to be able to handle the ball a little bit, I’m going to be able to rebound, I can bust out, dribble and I’ve got four dudes who I can spray the ball to. So that’s pretty good for me. I can still command the defensive end, block shots, rebound the ball, and I can still be a threat at the rim with Spencer [Dinwiddie] or Mikal [Bridges] handling the ball.’ So it’s a learning process.”
By: Ny Post