By Steve Lichtenstein
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This is the bed Billy King made. The Nets will be put to sleep in it.
In just over four years, the Nets general manager squandered asset after asset in pursuit of a title that he never came close to winning. Now that Brooklyn is on the verge of finishing completely out of the playoff picture (and with Atlanta owning the Nets 2015 first-round draft pick), King’s credit with his fellow GMs to make major adjustments ran out.
The NBA trade deadline came and went on Thursday and in the end, I’m not really shocked that the Nets general manager failed in his mission to convince anyone to take any of his overpriced and underperforming “Max Three”—Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson—off his hands.
Oh, it appears King tried. Hard. The venerable Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports had Brooklyn “close to completing a trade centered on Lopez and (Oklahoma City point guard) Reggie Jackson.” For the nth straight year, Lopez—a 2013 All Star–was one last phone call away from having to pack up his comic books for a move to another city.
It turned out that the Thunder were yet another team stringing King along for a ride–using the Nets’ leaked offer as bait to bargain for a better deal. The Thunder’s ploy landed them Utah’s Enes Kanter, a center who is four years younger and earns about a third as much as Lopez.
Kanter also possesses a cleaner medical chart. Lopez has missed 160 games over the last three-and-a-half seasons, mostly due to multiple fractures in his right foot, which was reconstructed last offseason.
Thunder GM Sam Presti once traded away James Harden due to looming luxury tax concerns. Did he really intend to breach the tax line (Lopez has an opt-in for $16.7 million for 2015-16) by taking on such a risk?
That’s why Lopez is still a Net.
So is Johnson, who reportedly was the apple of Stan Van Gundy’s eye for a brief period on Thursday before the Pistons Godfather swooped in to steal Jackson from under King’s nose as the third wheel in the OKC deal. Not that I wanted Brooklyn to part with Joe Cool, the Nets’ best offensive facilitator, but I understood the value to the Nets of getting out of certain luxury tax restrictions this offseason had Johnson’s $24.9 million 2015-16 salary been wiped off the rolls.
As for Williams, no one even blinked when it was mentioned that the Nets were prepared to make him hand over the keys to the franchise to free-agent-to-be Jackson. D-Will would have been permanently relegated to backup duty while accumulating the $43 million he’s owed over the next two seasons.
While Jarrett Jack, who has supplanted Williams in the Nets’ starting lineup even after D-Will returned from fractured rib cartilage earlier this month, generated some rumored interest on Thursday, I never heard one credible offer for the shell of the two-time Olympic gold medalist.
How ironic that the Jazz used a player (Kanter) selected with one of the draft picks they obtained by trading Williams to the Nets to obstruct King’s plan to deal Lopez.
There are those in the media slapping King on the back for turning somewhat-fossilized Kevin Garnett into Thaddeus Young on Thursday. King and Minnesota management had to convince KG to waive his no-trade clause in order to complete the deal that returns the future Hall-of-Famer to his former stomping grounds.
But while at first glance the Nets seemed to have made out with a bigger pot based on youth (though this is Young’s eighth NBA season, at age 26 he is still 12 years younger than Garnett) and athleticism, there’s the matter of fit—something King rarely takes into account when he constructs these exchanges.
For instance, Brooklyn ranks 23rd out of 30 NBA teams in rebounding rate. This despite having Garnett, the second-best defensive rebounder in the league in percentage terms.
That’s because Garnett’s minutes and games played have been (often self-) restricted while Lopez continues to be one of the NBA’s worst rebounders at his position.
Will Young, the presumptive starting power forward when the season resumes on Friday in Los Angeles, help fix these rebounding woes?
Well, Young is listed at 6-foot-8 and a lean 220 pounds. He’s been averaging just 5.1 rebounds in 33 minutes per game for the T-Wolves. Even worse, his defensive rebounding percentage of 12.8 makes him the Lopez of power forwards.
Then there’s the intangible factors that will be lost now that the warrior Garnett has left the Brooklyn battlefield–a mere season-and-a-half after King’s failed blockbuster that gifted Boston three first-round draft picks (and the right to swap picks in the two odd drafts). Garnett was the Nets’ best pick-and-roll defender, their best passer out of the high post, and his influence on the few Nets young players (most prominently center Mason Plumlee) was incalculable.
We’ll have to wait a few weeks to see what Young actually brings to the Nets’ table, but he has never been much of a defender, passer or three-point shooter. He likes to shoot mid-range jump shots. In these regards, he’ll fit right in with his new teammates.
Of course, King should have been looking for players who could have addressed these shortcomings. But that’s not his style.
Nothing that occurred on Thursday should make Nets fans believe that King improved the team enough to make a run at the postseason. They currently stand in ninth place, a game behind Miami and Charlotte. Boston, Detroit and Indiana are nipping at Brooklyn’s heals. At the deadline, the Heat got significantly better with the Goran Dragic acquisition and the Pistons found a suitable replacement for injured point guard Brandon Jennings in Jackson. Meanwhile, the Nets’ remaining schedule is among the toughest in the conference, with 16 of their 30 games versus clubs over .500. To date, the Nets have compiled a 5-23 record when facing such teams.
Because King couldn’t unload any of the Max Three on Thursday, Brooklyn’s future is just as bleak, at least until those albatross contracts expire in the next few years.
By then there’d better be a new caretaker in charge of making their bed.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.