With every season that ends, for the playoff teams at least, we felt it right to take a look ahead. TNT already has the rights to "Gone Fishin'," and because we're sure that someone, somewhere, still likes that Wyclef song, we're going with "Gone Till November." And, yes, we know the season starts in October. Today? The Brooklyn Nets.
One has to hope that the Brooklyn Nets got what they wanted out of 2013-14, because this has to be it. Right? It’s gotta be all downhill from here, for this veteran crew.
The team was ousted in the second round of the playoffs on Wednesday, losing to the Heat by a 4-1 mark after taking all four contests from Miami during the regular season. Each of Brooklyn’s four losses in the Eastern Conference semifinals was quite winnable, especially for a team full of shooters known for their late-game heroics, but that was also the case for several of Brooklyn’s wins in its first-round series against Toronto. In all, after 12 postseason games, the Nets played both the learning Raptors and championship Heat to a hilt, and their season is over in the second week of May.
That’s not the usual expectations for teams featuring a player/coach payroll that nears the $200 million mark, once luxury taxes are accounted for. Those outfits are supposed to rack up two months’ worth of home playoff revenue. They’re supposed to play in June and they’re supposed to play quite a few games on the American Broadcasting Company, and not have their season cut short on basic cable network, following a re-run of "Castle."
The problem here is that most right-minded NBA observers pegged the Nets for this sort of outro. Some may have had Brooklyn making it to the Eastern Conference finals, and even more had the Nets topping those Raptors for the Atlantic Division title, but few if any actually put the Nets in the same company as the Miami Heat, the Indiana Pacers, or any number of Western Conference championship contenders. Even those that are usually blinded by big names – this observing is one of them, as I had the Los Angeles Lakers as a championship contender entering 2012-13 – passed off on the idea of the star-laden Nets making any sort of significant postseason noise.
Brooklyn had plenty of names in 2013-14. Not only did it have a first-year, superstar coach in Jason Kidd, but former franchise players like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko and Joe Johnson dotted the roster. The Nets gave up an ungodly amount to either acquire these sorts of high-priced contributors, or acquire the assets needed to reel these marquee names, and the result was an up (34-17 to end the regtular season) and down (10-21 to start it) season that cost team owner Mikhail Prokhorov an ungodly amount of money.
This is what general manager Billy King does, though. He’s never cared about any season beyond the one he’s currently working with, dating back to his days working for the notoriously pound-foolish Larry Brown in Philadelphia. This is the guy who dealt the pick that turned into Damian Lillard (whose season lasted a few hours past Brooklyn’s) for the right to overpay Gerald Wallace for a year, before turning Wallace and others into the package that brought in Kevin Garnett, Pierce and the since-released Jason Terry.
Put it this way: On just about any other team, Pierce’s expiring $15.3 million contract would act as a huge boon to a franchise’s salary cap future. It’s a mark that would usually put a squad in position to lure a top-flight free agent during the summer, or at the very least it would drop a squad below the luxury tax in anticipation of a brighter future.
For Brooklyn? For now, it takes them down to a payroll under $100 million, nearly $20 million over the expected luxury tax. And that’s just assuming King, still likely smitten with big names, doesn’t re-sign Pierce over the summer.
Even if each of the Nets’ player option-in contracts for next season (belonging to the much needed Alan Anderson, Andray Blatche and Andrei Kirilenko), the team is still set to pay over $85 million to just eight players. Garnett looks ready for retirement, but there’s no way he’s walking away from the $12 million in the final year of his deal. Deron Williams’ ankles seem shot to hell, but he’s still due $63 million over the next three seasons. Joe Johnson has two years and $48 million left on his deal. Nobody is trading for these guys.
That’s presuming King, or by extension Prokhorov, would want to rebuild. Nothing in their history suggests they would.
They can’t, really, considering the team’s upcoming draft options. King secured a steal when he drafted Mason Plumlee 22nd overall in the 2013 draft, but his team has no first-round pick in this year’s draft. It will have to swap picks with an improving (full of picks, cap space and younger players) Atlanta Hawks team in 2015, it will give up the 2016 pick to Boston (that’s an unprotected pick, by the way), it will have to swap picks with an (again, improving, young, full of picks and cap space) Celtics team in 2017, and it will have to give up its 2018 pick (again, unprotected) to the Celtics.
The Nets won’t have their own unsullied draft selection until 2019, when we’re all wearing one-piece spacesuits and driving hypercars along some trans-island skyway.
Unless some team gets desperate (or is run by a since-deposed Billy King) and deals for any number of Nets, Brooklyn won’t be under the salary cap until the summer of 2015. Even then, only six players will be under contract, they’re still a stone’s throw away from the salary cap (under it by probably $9 or $10 million), and the team will probably be in the midst of working up an extension for center Brook Lopez (assuming he stays healthy) that would pay him more than the $16.7 million he’s owed that year on a player option.
Or, a broken down Brook could opt-in, and not play all that often. We’re not wishing that in the slightest for Lopez (a great player and tough guy who has been through a lot), we’re just pointing out how little you should think of Brooklyn’s options moving forward.
They wanted this. King and Mikhail wanted this, and they gave up draft picks and assets (King) and heaps of cash (Prokhorov) to pull this off. And “this,” unless Brooklyn shocks the NBA world in 2014-15, was 44 wins and a tidy second round ouster. For, again, nearly $200 million just in player and coach payroll.
Counting taxes, of course. Which the Brooklyn Nets just don’t do.
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