Nets trade 1st-round pick, pointing toward free-agent spree

NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets made another move pointing toward a possible free-agent spending spree, trading first-round draft pick Mfiondu Kabengele of Florida State to the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night.

The Nets received UCLA point guard Jaylen Hands, taken in the second round, 56th overall, and a first-rounder in 2020 that came from Philadelphia for the 6-foot-10 Kabengele.

Brooklyn also drafted Georgia 7-footer Nic Claxton with the first pick of the second round.

Nets general manager Sean Marks said trading out of the first round was about more than making room under the salary cap to go hunting for free-agent stars such as Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving next month.

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“I don’t know that we’re necessarily focused on cap space and creating cap space and cap space alone,” Marks said. “This has always been about pivoting and taking different paths along the way and some of that leads to cap space and others lead to picks and collecting different assets along the way.”

Officially, the Nets owned the 17th pick coming into draft night, too, but two weeks ago they agreed to trade that and guard Allen Crabbe, along with a 2020 first-round selection, to Atlanta. That deal can’t become official until July 6. That pick was used to take Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who is on his way to New Orleans after a draft-day deal between the Pelicans and Hawks.

Brooklyn will receive forward Taurean Prince and a 2021 second-round pick in the deal, but more importantly the Nets cleared Crabbe’s $18.5 million salary for 2019-20.

The Nets were already in position to be able to afford a maximum salary player in a loaded free-agent class. Dealing Crabbe and their first-rounder pushes Brooklyn closer to the $71 million it would need to sign two max stars.

The Nets made a surprising run to the playoffs last season, behind the emergence of guard D’Angelo Russell and a core of young players that includes Caris Levert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris. Brooklyn lost to Philadelphia in the first round.

Marks said the 217-pound Claxton was the player the Nets had targeted in the draft with pick No. 27, but decided to wait until No. 31 to take him.

“This gave us an opportunity, maybe a little bit of a gamble, a calculated risk, that maybe we could get our guy that we wanted,” Marks said. “We’re ecstatic to have Nic join the team and then also pick up, delay that first rounder next year, and then pick up a second-round pick as well.”

Claxton made a big jump this past season as a sophomore, leading the Southeastern Conference in blocked shots and going from 3.9 points per game as a freshman to 13.0 in 2018-19.

“There’s a tremendous amount of upside there with him,” Marks said. “The way he moves. The way I think he’ll eventually be able to stretch the floor. The way he can handle the ball already. It’s always nice when you get a guy with that build and hopefully you can add to that frame.”

The 6-3 Hands, another sophomore, averaged 14.2 points and 6.1 assists last season at UCLA.

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