By Steve Lichtenstein
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I won’t be watching the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday night.
As a Nets fan, I have no urge to subject myself to the pain of constant reminders that Brooklyn’s slot, the one with the highest odds (25 percent) of securing the No. 1 overall pick due to its league-worst 20-62 record from this past season, belongs to Boston.
As everyone by now knows, former Nets general manager Billy King dealt away three first-rounders (2014, 2016, and 2018) plus the right to swap picks in this June’s draft to Boston in a summer 2013 blockbuster that brought Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry to Brooklyn.
It’s bad enough that King’s gamble busted, with the Nets winning just one playoff series since the trade, but haven’t we all had enough of all things Boston? Brooklyn’s division rival not only will have home court advantage against the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals, the Celtics will also be guaranteed to add another significant piece for next season through a top-four selection, thanks to the gift that keeps on giving.
Not that the two picks the Nets have previously reassigned had anything to do with Boston’s rise. Jaylen Brown may one day develop into a solid NBA starter, but the uber-athletic third overall selection in last year’s draft has quite a bit of work to do to get there. James Young, meanwhile, has been pretty much MIA since he was the 17th player chosen in 2014. The Celtics declined to exercise Young’s fourth-year option on his rookie contract and will push him out to free agency this summer.
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In fact, I would argue, as NetsDaily.com did in a recent post, that the Nets’ haul to date has been at least equivalent. Brooklyn eventually turned Garnett (via Thaddeus Young) into Caris LeVert, who may be a couple of years older than Brown but is also further along in terms of two-way skills.
Ah, but this pick (plus next year’s, which, barring a miracle, will be another high lottery selection) shows the full incompetence of King’s “plan.”
I used quotations because King obviously didn’t have one. Some blame owner Mikhail Prokhorov and his Russian minions for forcing King to make a big move — any big move — but it was King’s fiduciary duty to prevent the disaster that subsequently occurred. It was King’s responsibility to shield Prokhorov, a naive NBA owner, not just win a short-term PR war with the Knicks because you’re new in town after moving from New Jersey a year earlier.
Yet King put no protections on the later picks. Then, to make matters horrific and Nets fans aghast, King was equally quick on the trigger to scrap everything.
Think about it: King had to know that the only way this deal could possibly work in the Nets’ favor, outside of a 2013-14 NBA championship (which was far from given), was if the team remained competitive throughout the five-year period. I mean, how long did King think Garnett and Pierce had on their fossilized legs, anyway? Couldn’t have been more than two years, right?
Yet it was barely a year later when we started to hear King talk about how the Nets needed to get “younger and more athletic,” and shortly thereafter about “sunk costs” and “bridge years.”
After one season, Pierce was allowed to skip town to Washington in free agency, replaced by the very unathletic Euro import Bojan Bogdanovic. A year later, King missed out on Jonathan Simmons, who was so obviously the prototype after dominating on the Nets’ summer league team. Instead, he was picked off by the Spurs and is now playing a huge role for them in the Western Conference playoffs.
The larger bewilderment is this: How in the world could King have possibly expected the Nets to be successful in such a pivot without their own first-round draft pick for five years?
As everyone but King knew then, they couldn’t.
So now the Nets are in Year 2 of the Sean Marks reclamation project. King’s successor has had to be creative and, in his favorite word, strategic, to mine assets with the rubble that King left behind.
Brooklyn will have two first-round picks — No. 22 from Washington through a February trade for Bogdanovic, and No. 27 per the Celtics’ swap. The Nets also have a late second-round selection and have historically purchased additional second-round picks.
At least the draft on June 22 won’t be a total waste of time for Nets fans. I wish I could say the same for Tuesday’s lottery drawing.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1