By Steve Lichtenstein
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I’ll say this about Nets general manager Billy King — he likes to make the offseason as exciting as the games.
Thursday was supposed to be about tinkering around the edges. The Nets had the 22nd pick in last night’s NBA Draft. Maybe they’d make a minor trade to move up or down or even add a late pick to fill out their bench. All eyes were on reserve MarShon Brooks’ locker.
With Brooklyn salary-capped out, no one expected any blockbusters like last year, when King acquired guard Joe Johnson and barely missed snaring All-Star center Dwight Howard before re-signing free agents Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries.
All told, King committed approximately $330 million of owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s fortune in player contracts last summer. It came with just one proviso—the Nets had better compete for a championship.
They couldn’t even get out of the first round of the playoffs.
Well, maybe King was feeling the pressure all the way from Russia, but there’s no doubt yesterday’s latest twist means he’s going all in on 2013-14.
The Nets reportedly have agreed in principle on a trade that would bring to Brooklyn two future Hall of Famers in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce plus backup guard Jason Terry from Boston. In return, the Nets have reportedly proffered Wallace, Humphries, Reggie Evans, Keith Bogans (if he agrees to a sign-and-trade) and Kris Joseph.
Oh, and the Nets’ first-round draft picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018.
King is betting his house (and office) on Brooklyn Black.
Excuse me for trying to contain my excitement for a minute — it’s hard to keep some perspective without getting too giddy from visualizing a starting five of Williams, Lopez, Johnson, Garnett and Pierce. It’s certainly going to be a fascinating experiment.
But one that won’t have a long shelf life. Garnett is 37 while Pierce and Terry are 35. They’ve tread a ton of basketball miles on those legs. While I won’t classify them as over-the-hill, their tanks are closer to E than F, with no possibility of refueling.
Garnett’s knees, in particular, pose a huge risk. In his six seasons as a Celtic, Garnett never eclipsed 71 games played. Former coach Doc Rivers regularly limited Garnett’s minutes in an attempt to keep him healthy for the playoffs.
While King did incredibly well pawning off his dead wood/bad contracts in this deal and I can be convinced that the 2014 pick will likely be immaterial, who knows where the Nets will be in 2016 or 2018 when this core will have moved on?
And what about how this affects rookie coach Jason Kidd, who now has to integrate new (old?) parts to his design? This group isn’t exactly one that’s going to get out and run for 48 minutes. Not without frequent oxygen breaks.
We (I) didn’t have the patience to give Avery Johnson even half a season to wait for all those new players to gel last year before calling for the boot. If Kidd felt any pressure from unreasonable expectations a few days ago, wait until his first three-game losing streak.
Still, King couldn’t say no to this one.
With the Nets in luxury tax hell, King had very few chips to play. I give him (and Prokhorov, who has agreed to pay about $82.4 million in the next 12 months just for his starting five) credit for recognizing that the roster was incomplete and using creative means to fix it.
While Nets fans embraced the all-out efforts of players like Wallace and Evans, the simple fact was that the duo didn’t pose enough of an offensive threat to beat the elite teams in their conference. You can’t win consistently playing 3-or-4-on-5.
Garnett and Pierce can still make shots, with Pierce a significant upgrade over Wallace at making all those wide-open three-pointers. Meanwhile, Garnett will allow the Nets to play the same type of double-post defense that Chicago and Indiana employ.
Terry can be a short-term solution for replacing free agent-to-be C.J. Watson. He can play some point guard when Kidd wants to move Williams off the ball and he’ll have a few games where he can light it up from deep.
All three incoming players have survived the wars in the playoffs, bringing to Brooklyn the edge that the Nets so depressingly lacked in their seven-game loss to the Bulls.
King can now concentrate on putting the finishing touches on this canvas, hopefully getting Andray Blatche to re-sign and buying out Euro star Bojan Bogdanovic to support a bench that still boasts young players like Brooks, Mirza Teletovic, Toko Shengalia and Tyshawn Taylor. (I’m not going to include center Mason Plumlee, the Nets first-round pick last night, a player King must have selected as an homage to his mentor, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, in lieu of addressing his club’s perimeter shooting needs.).
The (near) future just got a whole lot brighter in Brooklyn. Prokhorov’s stated goal was an NBA title, and while that will always be a longshot as long as LeBron James reigns in the East, with one transaction (this trade becomes official on July 10–unless something happens that scuttles the deal—we’ve seen that happen to the Nets before), King will have moved the Nets up in class.
At least until the games that count are played.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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