Nets make significant short-term gains in blockbuster deal with Celtics
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry will soon join a Nets team that has sacrificed most every future asset for a wild stab at contention. It’s a reckless strategy, but one with an uncompromising clarity of purpose.
Brooklyn hasn’t bothered to hedge or restrain. Every move has been made to maximize the Nets’ effectiveness in the present, with money as no object and financial flexibility no concern. Brooklyn’s cap sheet was heavy with ink as it was, but with Thursday’s trade agreement with Boston, the Nets picked up almost another $10 million in 2013-14 salary while also reportedly committing to the full value ($12 million) of Garnett’s nonguaranteed contract in 2014-15.
The payroll is ridiculous, and the impending luxury-tax payment equally so. But this is the path the Nets have chosen, which is why it should come as little surprise that Brooklyn packaged MarShon Brooks, three first-round picks (2014, ’16, ’18) and the right to swap first-round picks in 2017 for a 37-year-old big man who could retire at the end of the season, a 35-year-old wing who will be a free agent next summer and a 35-year-old reserve guard. That may be shortsighted, but it’s perfectly in character for the Mikhail Prokhorov-owned and Billy King-run Nets.
And frankly, considering how far gone Brooklyn already is in terms of selling out its future, a few first-round picks (with one or more likely to land in the 20s) likely wouldn’t do much to salvage the Nets’ nonexistent long game. The inclusion of so many first-rounders represents a doubling down on the initial strategy, but their cost is mitigated by the fact that Brooklyn already has about $63 million in salary committed for the 2015-16 season and even more in the years before. Brooklyn has its timetable and puts the ability to win games today over the capacity to position a team to win them tomorrow.
It’s a careless, indulgent way to run a basketball team, but at least King has succeeded in acquiring the kind of veterans who will make the Nets demonstrably better. Garnett and Pierce aren’t the franchise centerpieces they once were, but their arrival immediately puts Brooklyn closer to the Eastern Conference’s contenders. The Nets have wiped out offensive dead weight in favor of players who can contribute as both creators and finishers — offense’s alpha and omega. That’s a dramatic shift. With Gerald Wallace gone and Reggie Evans set to be used more marginally, this marks the end of the Nets’ claustrophobic spacing. In the postseason, Chicago demonstrated how simply and effectively any opponent could cheat away from Wallace and Evans in order to pressure Brooklyn’s more viable threats.
Brook Lopez needs to be crowded. Deron Williams needs to be repelled. Joe Johnson needs to be attended to. But offensive non-factors such as Wallace (who shot 39.7 percent from the field and 28.2 percent from three-point range last season) and Evans (who can’t do much when he’s standing more than a few feet from the basket) need to be left alone — their meager threats conceded as a means of accounting for the rest. That’s no longer an option for Brooklyn’s opponents. Pierce and Garnett — who will slide into the positional gaps that Wallace and Evans leave behind — are too capable of making shots to be ignored on the perimeter.
Consider Wallace’s shooting (and projected threat as a scorer):
… compared to Pierce’s:
Or Evans’ nonexistent scoring game:
…compared to Garnett’s range:
Brooklyn managed to put together a top-10 offense in the regular season, but with Pierce and Garnett, the Nets are poised to be more efficient and even more elastic. They now have a fascinating, floor-spreading base lineup from which to operate. Consider:
• The Nets can initiate offense from any conceivable direction.
• All three starting perimeter players — Williams, Johnson and Pierce — can create for themselves and others.
• Inside-out play becomes more viable with better shooters and passers in the mix, prepared to burn any opponent who overcommits.
• All five starters can post up effectively.
• An expanded pick-and-roll corps can control matchups and keep opponents guessing.
• The addition of more versatile players makes it that much easier for rookie coach Jason Kidd to build and sustain lineups.
Last season, the Nets’ slow play and limitations made them a stale team. But next season they have the potential to be one of the league’s most dominant half-court teams.
Naturally, though, that endeavor would also require a significant improvement on the other end of the floor, which may well be possible. Terry won’t help much in that regard, but Pierce just played a superior defensive season to Wallace and Garnett may be the closest thing the NBA has to a portable defensive system. Brooklyn may not completely crib the specifics of the Boston system over which Garnett lorded, but given that former Celtics assistant (and defensive curator) Lawrence Frank is now on Kidd’s staff, it’s reasonable to expect similar tenets. Garnett will be the champion of those systemic rules, harping on his new teammates to ensure that they’re done justice.
Garnett is also a nice defensive complement to Lopez, who quietly improved the timing and technique of his pick-and-roll defense last season. Lopez was still too exploitable in those situations to be the anchor of a top defense, but he has made enough progress to act as a solid supporting big man next to a tone-setter like Garnett.
Garnett’s pestering of offensive players in space coupled with Lopez’s contesting ability in the paint forms a far more promising defensive base than what Lopez and Evans were able to provide. There will — and should — be questions about how much influence Garnett can really exert at a time when he’s limited to about 30 minutes a game, but, frankly, sustenance should be a lesser concern for these Nets relative to their ability to execute in general.
Brooklyn wasn’t going anywhere with Wallace and Evans as such prominent pieces, no matter their talents on defense and the glass. With Garnett and Pierce, though, the championship pipe dream is more plausible, if still incredibly unlikely. Miami clearly remains a cut above (and a strange matchup for the new-look Nets), but a trade like this one — if accompanied by smaller, prudent moves to fill out the roster — stands to put Brooklyn on the bottom rung of the next tier of East contenders (Indiana, Chicago).
Whether that’s enough to warrant such a mammoth investment is another matter entirely, but for these Nets, it’s no matter at all. Brooklyn has made its call, opened its coffers and welcomed an even fuller commitment to a win-now philosophy.