When the Nets traded Justin Hamilton — currently a member of the Chinese Basketball Association’s Beijing Ducks — to the Raptors for DeMarre Carroll, a 1st round pick and a 2nd round pick in mid-July, it had all the markings of a straight salary dump.
The then-30-year-old Carroll (now 31) had just wrapped a second-straight underwhelming season with Toronto, one in which he slashed .400/.341/.761 and struggled in the playoffs. His 2016-17 campaign followed an injury-plagued season when, limited by a knee injury, he played just 26 regular season games.
Carroll, who signed a 4-year, $60 million deal with the Raptors in 2015 after playing a key role in the Hawks’ 60-win 2014-15 season, was a liability for a Toronto team needing salary cap flexibility to re-sign Kyle Lowry. So, they basically paid the Nets a few picks to take on Carroll’s contract, absorbing the soon-to-be-waived Hamilton in return.
As a small forward on the wrong side of 30 with well-noted injury concerns, Carroll wasn’t exactly coveted around the league this summer but, for the awash-in-space Nets, he was perfect. Brooklyn — two weeks before the Allen Crabbe trade — needed another forward, preferably one with a defensive focus, to fit in with a very young roster that had the second-worst adjusted net rating in the NBA a year ago.
There’s no real question as to whether Carroll can be an effective piece for the Nets, the type of player they really could have used last season. The issue is whether or not he can stay on the court, because knee and ankle problems only get worse with age.
Those nagging issues limited his performance in Toronto, as did his qualms with Dwane Casey’s style of play and Carroll’s perception that “guys didn’t trust each other,” according to a Toronto Sun report.
But, if his preseason play is any indication for how the regular season will go, the eight-year veteran looks like he’ll do just fine in Kenny Atkinson’s up-tempo, perimeter-focused system.
While his body might not be able to handle the 30+ minute a night workload it did when he was in Atlanta or his first season in Toronto, Carroll seems to be a perfect candidate for around 25 or so minutes a game, whether that’s in the starting lineup or off the bench. Maybe the best thing about the current construction of the Nets’ roster is its depth, which should allow Atkinson to get the most out of his forward without pushing him too hard.
Through three preseason games, the Missouri product has played 20, 24 and 24 minutes respectively, and — discarding his poor shooting night last Friday against Miami — has consistently been one of the most impressive Nets.
If he keeps playing this well into the regular season, he’ll be one of the most important guys on the entire team. As a solid defender and career 36 percent three-point shooter, Carroll is the type of 3-and-D veteran Brooklyn was starving for in 2016-17. The good thing is there doesn’t necessarily have to be a letdown when Carroll is off the floor, as Allen Crabbe and Quincy Acy are waiting in the wings.
Carroll doesn’t even have to strictly play small forward, which has basically been his default for the last couple of years. According to Basketball-Reference‘s positional estimates, he has played the 3 for 83 percent of his career minutes (73 percent in 2016-17). Since the Nets don’t even really have a traditional power forward on the roster — Trevor Booker was the de facto 4 last season, but even he’s still undersized — experimentation is to be expected.
Basketball reasons aside, Carroll is just another guy on this Nets team that was — more or less — a castoff from another organization, in one way or another. The Raptors, despite signing him to a lucrative deal just two years earlier after a pair of super-productive breakout seasons with the Hawks, traded him just to move him, a motive replicated with Timofey Mozgov and Crabbe.
When you consider that the Lakers decided to trade D’Angelo Russell mostly to clear cap space (through Brook Lopez’ expiring contract), the trend continues. Jeremy Lin played for three teams after captivating the NBA as a member of the Knicks. Sean Kilpatrick and Spencer Dinwiddie weren’t drafted while Isaiah Whitehead was a second round pick. Joe Harris was traded to the Magic, and promptly waived.
A solid majority of the roster was undervalued or underappreciated elsewhere, and is now in Brooklyn looking to prove their previous employers wrong. Russell, when interviewed by YES Network’s Sarah Kustok, mentioned that everyone seemed to have a “chip on their shoulder.” There’s no better example of how to turn that edge into an advantage than a guy like Carroll, who was shot in the ankle during college and diagnosed with liver disease all before the 2009 draft.
Then, following some unremarkable years with the Grizzlies, Rockets and Nuggets (and the D-League’s Dakota Wizards), he was picked up in the middle of the 2011-12 season by the Jazz. After impressing Utah’s brass on the defensive end in 20 games toward the end of the year, he was a part-time starter in 2012-13 as his offensive game rounded out.
Having established himself as a reliable two-way player, Carroll signed a two-year deal with the Hawks, where he came into his own. He started over 140 games in Atlanta over those two seasons, scoring almost 12 points a night on .479/.379/.733 shooting, and was the only starter to not make the 2014-15 East All-Star team amid the Hawks’ shocking 60-win campaign.
But, Carroll’s Atlanta success didn’t follow him to Toronto, which is how he wound up in Brooklyn. He’s only two years removed from the best seasons of his career and, at least through the preseason, he looks healthier (and happier) than he did when he was north of the border.
Atkinson is already liking what he’s seeing from his newest veteran. “He’s a glue guy,” the Nets coach said about Carroll recently. “He’s solid as a rock. You can trust him, especially defensively. I think he sets a tone.”
In that winding way, Carroll’s career trajectory kind of mirrors that of the Nets. From complete obscurity to temporary success, then to negativity and disappointment. The next step (hopefully) for both player and team? Success.