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As trade deadline nears, surging Nets have option

The Brooklyn Nets are 16-5 over the last 6-plus weeks, matching the 2nd-best record in the NBA over that span. So what can they add at the trade deadline?

The Brooklyn Nets have turned their season around since losing eight straight games in late November and early December. Since ending that streak with an overtime win over the Toronto Raptors, the Nets are in rarefied air indeed with a 16-5 record.

This extended run has taken Brooklyn from the depths of the Eastern Conference standings to sixth place and in serious playoff contention mode.

The Nets were 8-18 before beating the Raptors on Dec. 7 and are now 24-23, leading the seventh-place Miami Heat (22-22) by a half-game and holding a one-game edge over the Charlotte Hornets, currently eighth at 22-23.

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For the record, that 16-5 run since Dec. 7 is tied with the Indiana Pacers for the second-best record in the NBA over that span, bested only by the Milwaukee Bucks, who are 17-5 since that date.

Over the past three seasons, as the trade deadline approached, the discussion was centered around which veterans the Nets could look to move in a quest to secure future assets.

In 2016, the Nets didn’t made any trades — having reassigned former general manager Billy King in early January and hiring Sean Marks to take that role in mid-February, instead buying out veterans Andrea Bargnani and Joe Johnson.

At the deadline in 2017, however, Marks moved Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough to the Washington Wizards, getting back Marcus Thornton (waived the following day), Andrew Nicholson (traded five months later for Allen Crabbe) and a first-round pick that turned into Jarrett Allen.

Last season, Marks flipped Tyler Zeller to the Bucks for Rashad Vaughn and a second-round pick that turned into Hamidou Diallo, who was traded to Charlotte as part of the price for dumping Timofey Mozgov.

Three days later, at the deadline, Vaughn was sent to the New Orleans Pelicans for the expiring contract of Dante Cunningham.

But this year is different. The Nets are legitimately in the playoff race. Basketball-Reference.com projects Brooklyn with an 84.7 percent likelihood of reaching the postseason (and a 0.4 percent chance of reaching the NBA Finals, incidentally). ESPN’s Basketball Power Index estimates the Nets with an 85.5 percent probability of being a playoff team.

So that has fans — and Marks in all likelihood — wondering what help could be available at the trade deadline to help give Brooklyn a boost.

Many analysts have been predicting a quiet deadline, something I’ve believed to be the likely outcome for awhile, as capped-out teams looking to clear space for this summer’s free agency bonanza are wanting to shed contracts, not take them on.

When most of the league wants to sell, buyers are going to be hard to find.

But there is one player out there who should pique the interest of the Brooklyn Nets.

He’s averaging more than 18 points per game this season, has a couple of game-winning shots on his resume and is a dynamic two-way player with good defensive tools.

And the best part is that it shouldn’t take any significant assets to get him, because they already have him on the roster.

Caris LeVert has been out since Nov. 12 after dislocating his right foot. While coach Kenny Atkinson won’t commit to a return date beyond “sometime,” Atkinson did tell Brian Lewis of the New York Post that the third-year wing is making progress.

“I’m not going to speculate. I don’t want to give you something and be wrong. That’s the last thing I want to do. No specific update. [He’s] progressing. I know he had another great workout [Friday]. That’s as far as my medical background goes, but progressing nicely.”

Atkinson confirmed that LeVert is doing individual work with assistant coaches and has participated in every basketball-related activity outside of live scrimmages or five-on-five contact drills.

The Nets, as is their way, have not projected any time table for LeVert’s returns, but medical experts speculated that a return could be feasible in two to three months, with the long end of that projection falling right around the trade deadline and All-Star break.

LeVert’s return would have the same effect at this point as getting a new player in a trade, with the added bonus of not having to give up anything in terms of assets — present or future — to get the adrenaline burst.

He had played in 14 games before he was hurt and Brooklyn was 6-8 with him, at a time when they were still doing things such as coughing up big leads and finding creative ways to lose games in the late going (the Nets had blown double-digit leads in losses to Detroit, New Orleans and Houston before LeVert went down).

After losing 10 of the first 12 games LeVert was sidelined, the Nets are now 18-15 without the player who had been their leading scorer and top perimeter defensive option before being injured.

Sometimes the best moves a team can make are the ones that don’t get made. The Nets’ run over the last six weeks has been fueled as much by the synergy of the team and their believe in each other, things that can be disrupted by adding a new personality to the mix.

Caris LeVert already is part of that synergy and his return could provide the Brooklyn Nets with the needed boost for the stretch run, without having to surrender anything in return.

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How is that not a win-win scenario?

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