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Short-handed Nets are gearing up to play positionless basketball in Orlando


The cat’s out of the bag: The Nets are so short handed, they need players to play multiple positions.

And no, we’re not talking your average one playing the two, or three playing the four. With only one true center on the roster, Brooklyn’s lineup can look drastically different any minute Jarrett Allen steps off the floor.

“It’s been a point of emphasis for sure. I think as soon as we saw that we weren’t going to have our initial roster, we had to be creative in thinking about what scenarios might present themselves,” Nets interim coach Jacque Vaughn said. “So that is maybe a guy that played the three or four playing the five. Maybe a guy that usually plays the three plays the four, so we’ve mixed around with that some and will continue to do so.”

Both Joe Harris and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot are expecting to see time at the four, and Rodions Kurucs is anticipating more time than ever before at the five. Caris LeVert is set to see the brunt of his minutes as point guard, and the Nets are expected to shrink in the blink of an eye.

“I love it, actually. They’re allowing me to fight down there in the paint and give some hits, fight for rebounds and stuff like that. I kind of like that,” Cabarrot said. “It’s been good so far. Of course, it’s going to be good when we have the four men coming in and the five man. ... It’s pretty much the same for me and it’s been good. It like it. It’s fun. We’ve been playing really fast in transition and all that, so it doesn’t really matter the 2 or the 3 or the 4. It’s pretty much the same.”

Brooklyn has no choice but to assume this position. Once DeAndre Jordan tested positive from the coronavirus and subsequently withdrew from the NBA’s restart in Orlando, the Nets became one of the smallest teams not named the Houston Rockets. But they also lost Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler to the coronavirus as well, and rookie big man Nic Claxton also opted to forego the Orlando restart in favor of shoulder surgery.

Brooklyn was able to sign Lance Thomas, Justin Anderson, Jamal Crawford and Donta Hall as substitute players, but none are true centers and, with the exception of the super-scoring Crawford, all project to play out of position. The Nets also signed combo guard Tyler Johnson after waiving Theo Pinson

“We’re going to be careful and strategic in bringing Jamal and Tyler along to catch up with the rest of them so they’ll sit out some practices and sit out some drills and while that happens we’ll need bodies to play different positions for us,” Vaughn said.

Hopefully it works in Brooklyn’s favor. The Nets are holding onto the East’s seventh seed by a thread, and a finish at eighth hurts them in two ways: First, it puts the Nets in position for a potential play-in tournament should the Wizards win enough games to close the gap from six games behind to four. Second, it gives the team extremely unfavorable odds in a first-round playoff series against Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks.

It would behoove the Nets to win at least five games, which would keep them out of a potential play-in tournament should the Wizards miraculously go undefeated in Orlando. Brooklyn’s schedule includes two games against the Magic, and one each against the Wizards, Celtics, Bucks, Trail Blazers, Clippers and Kings. Even if the Nets didn’t lose players to COVID-19, they’d still find it tough to win five without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving suited up.

Vaughn is coaching for his job, the interim head coach after Kenny Atkinson’s dismissal in early March. Implementing some positionless basketball could help him — so long as the team sees some checks in the win column.