The Brooklyn Nets are winless in seven attempts. They have the NBA’s third-worst offense and its second-worst defense. The team looks listless on the court – mind you this is November – and unlikely to make much of a dent as the season moves along. They lost to the Lakers.
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
In this situation, the general manager for a team with the league’s fifth-highest payroll would usually decide upon one of two options for the rest of the year. You roll over on the big bucks, noting that this veteran team is in “win now” mode, and look to deal your way back toward respectability by acquiring more veteran players.
Or, you call it a season, dump the high-priced vets for future picks and young prospects, and attempt to shed salary.
Nets GM Billy King is doing … something.
He’s always doing something. From Tim Bontemps at the New York Post:
While King said he’s made some “exploratory calls” about trades, the message he gave repeatedly during his 15-minute sitdown with reporters was the Nets won’t be making any drastic moves.
“We can trade now and eat all that space up, get to 30-something wins and make the playoffs in the eighth spot,” King said at the team’s New Jersey practice facility Monday afternoon. “[But] then, where’s the future now? So it’s about adding the right pieces and being patient.
“We didn’t get here overnight, and we are not going to get out of it overnight. That’s reality. There is not something where it’s, ‘OK, this is the magic wand and we are going to do this and it’s going to change overnight. We knew that going in, we knew that when we made those decisions and it didn’t work, and so now we’ve got to gradually, systematically dig yourself out of it.”
Actually, the Brooklyn Nets did get here overnight. Draft night, 2013, but we’ll get back to that.
[Yahoo Fantasy Basketball: Sign up for a league today]
King was nice enough to go on to point out that “it stops at me,” but it never has. He was endlessly criticized for a series of lose-now, pay-later moves while running the Philadelphia 76ers, somehow given a job running the Nets, and then handed the keys by the worst possible owner (non-Dolan edition) for him.
It’s not King’s fault that Kevin Garnett and Deron Williams (to a far larger extent) fell off in ways that weren’t expected, but for whatever reason that’s exactly what happened, and now both are gone. Williams was lost in a cost-cutting move, and Garnett because he seemed to act a reminder of the 2013 deal that left Brooklyn with absolutely no assets moving forward. Paul Pierce, also acquired in that deal, saw the writing on the wall with Williams both on the court and in the locker room, and fled in 2014. Thaddeus Young, acquired for Garnett, is perhaps the team’s only movable piece – and he averages a modest 13 points and eight rebounds.
Joe Johnson, would seem to act as a trade chip for a team trying to vault over the top, and there remains a paucity of shooting guards in this league currently. His $24.8 million salary made him tough to move in anything more than a complicated three or four-team transaction (only one team, Portland, as the space to deal for him outright), and that was before he fell off. He’s hit on just 33 percent of his shots so far in 2015-16, and those that hoped he’d take a late-season buyout to become a free agent might not want to spend even the minimum to swoop him up.
Brook Lopez? In the first year of a three-year, $60 million contract he’s averaging 20 points, 7.7 boards and 1.7 blocks, but he’s also experiencing soreness in the same right foot that cost him most of two separate seasons. Nobody is giving up a first round pick, at least a significant one, for Jarrett Jack or Boran Bogdanovich.
And, as you likely well know, the Nets still owe just about the rest of the decade to the Boston Celtics.
Brooklyn’s 2016 first round pick, currently slated to have the best odds at being tops overall, is due to Boston. The Celtics have the right to swap first round picks in 2017, likely taking Brooklyn out of the lottery yet again, and the C’s get Brooklyn’s completely unprotected first rounder in 2018.
All for the hope that 38-year old Kevin Garnett and free agent to-be Paul Pierce would make a championship contender out of the Nets in 2013-14. Remember, this was in the months that followed the Heat winning 27 games in a row, and in a conference that would be welcoming a purportedly healthy Derrick Rose back from his first knee surgery.
That team, which lost to a Rose-less Bulls outfit in the 2013 playoffs, would lose to the Heat in the 2014 postseason. This is what the Nets have to show for hamstringing a franchise for this season, next year, and potentially until at least 2019. The hope is that a boffo free agent will come to take Brooklyn’s cap space next summer and beyond, but as we’ve learned in recent years players are routinely choosing the chance to win over big money.
This is some unprecedented stuff, in the modern era. The closest comparisons would be to that of the old New Orleans Jazz prior to its move to Utah, and the infamous Cleveland Cavaliers of owner Ted Stepien.
Stepien is the reason NBA teams are not allowed to deal first round picks in consecutive years, which in a way prolongs Brooklyn’s agony – had the Nets been able to deal, say, consecutive picks in 2015 and 2016 to Boston, they wouldn’t be staring down that “2018” in the draft pick ledger. Stepien’s reign ended after just 240-odd games, however, while King has given Nets fans endless years of bad, middling, and now awful basketball.
Even with no draft picks, the King-led Nets will have cap space in the years forward, so there is a chance the “awful” part could lapse in a few years, but there is no guarantee any star is lining up to play alongside Lopez and Young. Worse, because King can trade cap space for players on existing (presumably large) contracts, does anyone trust the current staff to ably turn it around?
Like we said, unprecedented stuff.
- - - - - - -