By Steve Lichtenstein
» More Columns
Often in sports you hear the truism that begins, “You can never have too much…”
It could be pitching in baseball or the way the 1980s Giants accumulated stud linebackers en route to winning two Super Bowl titles.
Prior to last season, Nets coach Lionel Hollins said, “You can never have too many good shooters.”
I’ve just never heard anyone at a respectable NBA franchise say, “You can never have too many point guards on your roster.”
In the latest episode of “What The Heck Is Billy King Doing?” the Nets’ general manager could very well stock his 2015-16 club with as many as five point guards, while ESPN reports that the Nets are actively shopping sharp-shooting swingman Joe Johnson.
I’m beyond stumped.
Johnson, who happens to be Brooklyn’s only reliable scorer outside of center Brook Lopez — sorry, but Bojan Bogdanovich has to show more consistency in his sophomore season for me to believe he can take on Johnson’s burdens — is rumored to be the main piece in a trade that would send him and his $24.9 million expiring contract to Cleveland in exchange for centers Brendan Haywood and injury-plagued Anderson Varejao.
Haywood, whose $10.5 million salary for 2015-16 is not guaranteed, would be cut, leaving the Nets with the high-energy Varejao, who has two more guaranteed years for about $19 million left on his deal. The other catch is that Varejao has missed more than half of Cleveland’s games over the past five years, including 56 games last season after tearing his left Achilles.
What’s really in it for the Nets?
Well, unless you’re one of those rare fans who cheers when their favorite team’s billionaire owner improves his bottom line, not much.
The projected $50-$60 million in payroll and luxury taxes that could be saved by Johnson’s departure WOULD have been swell had King not just committed about $110 million to Lopez and forward Thaddeus Young.
Thanks to Deron Williams’ $21 million atrocity of a salary for this upcoming season, the Nets would still be well above the salary cap ($67.1 million per team, which reportedly could increase about $2 million per team when the league moratorium on free agency is lifted on July 8) and quite possibly over the current luxury tax threshold of $81.6 million.
Even if forward Mirza Teletovic doesn’t accept Brooklyn’s $4.2 million qualifying offer, or if free-agent swingman Alan Anderson finds greener pastures, it still appears that King would have to move other pieces in order for Brooklyn to avoid the dreaded repeater luxury-tax rates and restrictions.
I would suggest that King should start with one of those point guards — if only they had any value.
In a clear case of quantity over quality, none of the quintet (Williams, Jarrett Jack, Steve Blake, Shane Larkin and Ryan Boatright) has the skills to rank in the top half among the ;eague’s starters.
As a Nets fan, I can’t help but be intrigued by Boatright, the undrafted free agent out of UConn who played a frisky two games in the Orlando Summer League over the weekend. Of course, I was once convinced that Damion James was destined for stardom after watching him dominate at this level.
More curious was King’s insistence on accepting the over-the-hill Blake in the deal that sent backup center Mason Plumlee to Portland for the draft rights to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and then dipping into part of Brooklyn’s mini mid-level exception to sign Larkin in free agency. Ironically, Larkin — who will be on his fourth team in three years — was selected by the Hawks (for Dallas, who acquired Larkin on draft night) with the pick they received from the Nets as part of the summer 2012 trade for Johnson.
Larkin may be a better fit in the Nets’ pick-and-roll heavy system than he was in Phil Jackson’s geometry classroom, but he’s an undersized player with a career 30 percent three-point shooting percentage. How does that fit into today’s NBA game?
The 35-year old Blake used to at least be a threat from the perimeter, but he is coming off a pretty awful year. He shot a meek 37 percent from the floor during the regular season and was a cumulative minus-18 in just 42 minutes of postseason playing time.
That’s almost Jack-ian.
The Nets’ King of the Contested Mid-Range Jump Shot was the diseased poster child among the advanced-metrics crowd with a minus-7.8 net rating during the regular season. Outside of a handful of clutch late-game buckets, Jack shot the Nets out of more games than a backup had a right to.
That leaves D-Will, the deposed face of the franchise now that Brooklyn has all but decreed Lopez as the foundation. While clearly the best of this wretched point guard group, Williams has stayed past his expiration date. His leadership failures, his shooting funks and his disappearing acts in the biggest moments of the biggest games have given Williams a level of infamy not seen in these parts since maybe Bobby Bonilla.
Now if Williams was the one mentioned in the trade talks with the Cavs…
Unfortunately, the excessive contract is as much a figurative weight around what the Nets can get for D-Will as the multiple ankle procedures over the last few years that have brought Williams’ game down below the rim.
That means that we’re probably stuck in quicksand here in Brooklyn, hoping King comes to his senses and passes on this Johnson deal so the Nets don’t sink any further.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.