Nets coach Jordi Fernandez: Retaining Nic Claxton a 'priority'

Nic Claxton throws down powerful posterizing dunk (0:30)

Nic Claxton battles his way into the paint and slams home a two-handed poster over the head of Malik Williams. (0:30)

NEW YORK -- New Brooklyn Nets coach Jordi Fernandez wasted no time making his feelings known about the roster -- and, specifically, the status of unrestricted free agent center Nic Claxton, who Fernandez said was a "priority" to retain in free agency.

"Nic is a quote-unquote big that has defensive versatility," Fernandez said at his introductory news conference at the team's practice facility overlooking New York Harbor on Wednesday morning. "I believe he'll be Defensive Player of the Year. For us, he's a priority in this summer, and the way we can play through him -- obviously he's great in pick-and-roll, he's quick to the rim, he puts pressure on the rim -- but also his ability to play the dribble-handoff game which, as you guys know, lately in the NBA is a style that is very efficient.

"When everybody touches the ball and everybody's involved, everybody's happier. You're harder to guard because there's more ... you're not that predictable to just play pick-and-roll. So he fits perfectly what we want to do moving forward."

Claxton, a long, athletic 6-foot-11 center, is coming off a season where he finished with averages of 11.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 62% from the field. The first pick of the second round in the 2019 NBA draft, Claxton -- who signed a two-year deal two summers ago -- is an early entry into unrestricted free agency, having just turned 25 a week ago.

But Fernandez, along with Nets general manager Sean Marks, made it clear that Claxton remains an important part of the team's plans.

"I think Nic is the No. 1 priority for us," Marks said. "There's no doubt about that. We hope he's a Net for a very long time. We hope we can continue to build around him and build with him and so forth.

"I think he's scratched the surface on who he could end up being one day. I love the challenge of him being Defensive Player of the Year. Nic and I have talked in the offseasons about similar accolades, Most Improved Player, Defensive Player, All-Defensive team and so forth. So, I think he has the skill set, he has the mind to be able to put himself in those positions if he continues to work and continue to develop."

Brooklyn opened last season 15-15 before infamously tanking a home game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 27, sitting five players completely and resting three others after the first quarter. The bottom fell out after that, with Brooklyn going a dismal 17-35 over the final 52 games to close the season with the franchise's worst record since the 2017-18 season, and snapping a streak of five consecutive playoff appearances.

Fernandez, however, said that a turnaround could happen quickly, and said flatly that he expects results to happen right away as he takes on his new role after spending the past two years working as Mike Brown's lead assistant with the Sacramento Kings, and spending several years before that working under Michael Malone with the Denver Nuggets.

He also coached Team Canada to a bronze medal in last year's FIBA World Cup, and will coach the Canadians -- one of the top medal threats outside of Team USA -- in the Paris Olympics later this year.

"We will see results right away," Fernandez said. "This industry is about getting results and getting better. So how much are you gonna get better? It's how we believe the process is important.

"We know that there's proper steps to take and we'll see improvement right away. But the most important thing to me is to believe in team success over personal success. Because as you guys know, you know, myself, I think it's a clear example, I would not be sitting here if Sacramento is not successful, if Canada is not successful, and it's not about me. It was about the organization, the players, myself. I had a job and we all have a role.

"So I believe that I had to do my job very well. And then the outcome would help every single one of us that was part of that winning team."