Andray Blatche is so much more to the Nets than trade bait

Andray Blatche dunks on Jared Sullinger. (NBA.com)
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From a long-term perspective, the Brooklyn Nets should probably look to trade Andray Blatche, which, rumor has it, they're considering.

The 6'11" center, 26, signed a one-year contract with the Nets this past summer after getting amnestied by the Washington Wizards. The idea behind the contract for Blatche was to show the league he could still produce at the level he had earlier in his career.

So far he's done that. As Brook Lopez's backup, Blatche is having the finest season of his career to date, posting career highs in field goal percentage, rebounding percentage, and using 26.5 percent of his possessions, more prolific than anyone on the team but Lopez.

Accordingly, the Nets, who are over the salary cap and don't own Blatche's Bird Rights, will have their offer to Blatche this summer limited to the approximately three years, $9 million they gave to Mirza Teletovic last summer (the vet exception). That also means shuold the Nets wish to make that offer to a player at another position, for instance, one the team's best player doesn't also play, they can't even offer Blatche that much.

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Considering how rare top-flight centers are in the N.B.A., Blatche should get plenty of offers beyond what the Nets can give him. So trading him now, possibly for a draft pick, is better than losing him for nothing, right?

Well, yes, but: this season's Nets have to be taken into consideration as well. And keeping Blatche may be their best path to a sustained playoff run.

Consider the game against the Miami Heat, one the Nets ultimately lost, 105-85. The best sequence the Nets enjoyed against the Heat all night came when Blatche played power forward alongside Lopez at center. Not surprisingly, the same was true in the following game against the Chicago Bulls. Neither the Heat nor the Bulls (who, it must be said, were playing short-handed) had any real interior defensive answer for a pair of highly-skilled interior scorers like Lopez and Blatche, playing at once.

This Nets team has two players in the league's top 20 in Player Efficiency Rating: neither Deron Williams nor Joe Johnson is one of the two. The two are Lopez, who is fourth, and Blatche, who is fifteenth. Deploying only one of them at a time deprives the Nets of a combination few in the league have at any position, let alone a pair of twin towers that create matchup nightmares.

And neither Lopez nor Blatche are the kind of interior players chained to the basket; Lopez has moves to get there, as does Blatche. Making an offense work with the two of them is far from impossible.

Exactly what the struggling Williams and Johnson backcourt can give the Nets remains an open question. In subsequent years, the pair may be healthier and more well-adjusted than they are now.

But Williams, beaten up, and Johnson, already 31, may also never be as good as they are now. That is a scary thought, given the four years the Nets are committed to each player after this one at max-contract money. 

It also means finding a way to maximize what the Nets accomplish this season is paramount. And an underperforming backcourt isn't really an advantage the Nets hold over other Eastern Conference contenders. But maximizing a pair of top-20 P.E.R. interior players would give the Nets a weapon none of their opponents possess.

So far, the Nets haven't played Blatche and Lopez together much; the pair played 42 minutes all season together entering the Miami game. Nor can they be blamed for it; no one could have expected the gift Blatche has provided thus far, let alone that Lopez would become one of the league's best offensive players.

But that's what the Nets have; if they intend to make a run in a wide-open Eastern Conference, getting Andray Blatche as much playing time at power forward next to Brook Lopez appears to be the likeliest path toward doing so.

An offense built around the two bigs should also open up the floor for Williams and Johnson; if the two guards are going to recover their past form, this would seem to offer a better chance for it.

What the Nets probably shouldn't do is trade Blatche for a draft pick, who in a best-case scenario, turns into a player as effective as Blatche is right now, to help a Nets team down the road that is older and, in all likelihood, further than they are now from championship contention.

Elsewhere in New York sports:

KNICKS

The Knicks have trouble with quick point guards, and head to Minnesota Friday night to face Ricky Rubio, who has 25 assists over his past two games.

Steve Novak will participate in the three-point contest All-Star Weekend, James White the dunk contest.

METS

The Mets finalized a one-year deal at less than $1 million guaranteed with Brandon Lyon, pending a physical. He should help them quite a bit.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Iona lost again, 105-104 to Marist in two overtimes. In a week, the Gaels went from just a few seconds away from first place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to a three-way tie for third.

SOCCER

The Red Bulls beat Malmo F.F., 3-2, in preseason play. Watch it here.