Brooklyn nets huge win in blockbuster gamble

Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett

Brooklyn Nets. (AP)

If you’re just waking up to the news, the Brooklyn Nets have traded Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, a signed-and-traded Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph, three first-round draft picks (2014, 2016, 2018), and the right to swap first-round picks in 2017 to the Boston Celtics for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry. The deal will not be official until July 10th and there’s a chance that minor pieces could change, but the important framework is rock-solid.

If Nets general manager Billy King wasn’t considered the league’s leading gambler, just put a World Series of Poker hat on him now. He gambled that he could turn around a team that won 12 games into a championship contender. He gambled that mortgaging the team’s future was worth Deron Williams. He gambled that Gerald Wallace would help Williams stay. He gambled that Joe Johnson would be worth trading flotsam for. He gambled that all of these moves would lead to a contract extension. He gambled on turning a player that retired ten days earlier into his team’s head coach.

Now he’s gambling that his head coach can squeeze one more year of productivity out of two aging Hall of Famers, one that has never seen a home uniform that wasn’t green, and hopefully help Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov stave off marriage.

Whether or not that gamble wins isn’t the point. By making the gamble, they’ve already won. The deal proves once again that the Nets are willing to spend for their roster and for their players, focusing on talent over saving, focusing even more tightly on the now that matters to them.

(For the record: the Nets didn’t use one cent on buying draft picks in the second round, and though this is purely speculation, don’t be surprised to see $3 million in cash added to this deal for Boston.)

First things first: even if only for a year, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are massive upgrades for the Nets at their two weakest positions. Not even the staunchest critic of this deal would argue against that. Comparing Evans to Garnett is almost laughable; Evans is a lovely human being with a legendary beard, a historic rebounder, and an underrated defender, but the Celtics were a league-best defense with Garnett on the floor (allowing just 96.2 points per 100 possessions), and Garnett is one of the league’s best midrange shooters. Evans is best suited for spot duty in a backup role, and earned the starting spot in Brooklyn because Kris Humphries played like a succubus was stealing his life force. Garnett is a legitimate starter, even at 37.

As for Wallace & Pierce, there’s no other way to write this: Pierce is a massive offensive upgrade over Wallace in nearly every conceivable way. Pierce holds a significant edge over Wallace in true shooting percentage and usage rate, and Pierce’s methodical game ages far more gracefully than Wallace’s non-stop franticity. Pierce is a crafty sharpshooter that shot 38% from beyond the arc last season, while Wallace shot an NBA-worst 27.3% from outside the paint.

If Kidd wanted Wallace to function as a facilitator forward, he’s got to be salivating at the idea of Pierce, who turned the ball over fewer times per possession and who’s assist rate last season (25.1) nearly doubled Wallace’s (13.3), even though Pierce was his team’s primary scoring option. Pierce probably isn’t the defender Wallace is, but is a better defensive rebounder, and the huge gulf in offensive production more than makes up for that difference.

Putting both players on the floor creates spacing opportunities the Nets just never had this season. Pierce can shoot from nearly anywhere — he shot 41% on spot-up threes this season, and at least 36% from every three-point zone besides the right corner (only 16 attempts) — and Garnett’s midrange touch makes him one of the league’s few viable threats from the 16-23 foot range.

With Wallace and Evans on the floor, the Nets were doomed to “3-on-5” ball, particularly in the playoffs. Not this year. The Nets now have a wealth of offensive options unlike any they’ve seen before, with former All-Stars at all five positions with synergetic skillsets. With Williams running the show, Lopez and Garnett interchanging between post-ups and pick-and-pops, and Pierce and Johnson interchanging between spotting up and wing-facilitating, the Nets have an opportunity to shatter last year’s ninth-best offense.

Garnett’s potential impact on the team’s defense can’t go unnoticed, either. Defense comes naturally to Garnett in a way that it doesn’t for any other Nets player; his spatial awareness, aged nimbleness, and length make him an elite shot-stopper and team defender. A team that finished 18th in defensive efficiency is adding the player made one of the league’s biggest on-off court defensive impacts.

JET Terry. (AP)

The third piece in this deal — the one that’ll barely be talked about, considering that there are two Hall of Famers coming to Brooklyn — is Terry, who will fill in the hole left by C.J. Watson’s departure, presuming the Nets don’t flip him elsewhere. Like Watson, Terry is more of a shooter than a facilitator; Terry has recorded more three-point attempts than assists in every season since 2007-08, shooting at a steady 37% clip in nearly every season. Terry’s role won’t change much in Brooklyn — they’ll rely on him to occasionally run the offense, but mostly play him off the ball and look for spot-up three-pointers for him.

Basically: think an older Watson, with better shot celebrations.

Of course, this all hinges on the control of new head coach Jason Kidd, who is also new to head coaching in every way. Kidd’s learning curve just got a little steeper with this move: the Nets can’t wait for him to develop into an all-star coach anymore. He’s got to be able to manage a widely disparate bunch of personalities: the fiercely intense Garnett, the goofy but focused Lopez, the enigmatic Williams and Pierce, and the calm, collected Johnson just make up the starting five alone. How Kidd manages the relationship and minutes of Garnett and Lopez alone could swing the season in any number of directions.

Kidd preached his desire to instill an up-tempo style, one that’s nearly impossible with a lineup that features Garnett, Pierce, Lopez, and Johnson. He’ll have to manage the minutes of older players, after being an older player himself whose minutes were mismanaged. Kidd may be better off leaving the defensive scheming to Garnett and new lead assistant Lawrence Frank, and focusing more on devising an offense that floats Garnett around the elbow, Johnson & Pierce on the wings, Lopez in the post, and Williams poking and prodding everywhere else.

Critics of this trade say the Nets mortgaged their future, to which I say: what future exactly? The Nets didn’t trade away MarShon Brooks (though he’s still quite expendable) (edit: they did), Tornike Shengelia, Tyshawn Taylor, Bojan Bogdanovic, or new draftee Mason Plumlee, and none of those guys are considered crucial pieces. The only contract they sent away that makes a dent in their cap was Gerald Wallace’s, who was overpaid anyway. The Nets are giving up two picks that likely won’t be in the lottery (2014 and 2016) and a pick in 2018 that’s impossible to forecast. Kris Humphries made about as much noise in the Nets rotation as I did. I love Keith Bogans as a “3 and D” guy, and I’ll miss Evans as a backup dearly, but the Nets did nothing but improve last night.

The Nets didn’t change anything about who they were with this deal, they just improved on it. They didn’t mortgage their future, nor did they turn into instant contenders. They just turned their short-term window into an even shorter-term. Pierce’s contract is set to expire after this season, while Garnett’s contract is fully guaranteed for two years (the second of which he’ll be 38 in). The Nets shed Wallace’s contract for 2015-16 without taking on any additional salary for that year.

While they’re still a step below the Heat — and who isn’t? — they’re a much more serious threat to contend with the rest of the East than the team that lost a seven-game series at home to a decimated Chicago Bulls roster in the first round this season. The division is all about the Nets and Knicks now, and the fight for the division victory — and the four games between the two sqauds — will be nothing short of spectacular.

The Nets were an interesting team last year for their cultural cachet: they were just breaking ground in Brooklyn as the hot new squad on Flatbush Avenue. The team itself was boring and predictable, with an offensive scheme based on isolating their three best players and a defensive scheme based on Brook Lopez’s energy level on that particular play.

Now, with a new coach and All-Stars at all five positions, with so much room for improvement on a 49-win team and the weathered steel dripping off Barclays Center, it’s finally the team itself that’ll be the story. They’ll be exciting and fascinating and intensified and just fun to watch in a way they just weren’t last year. I can’t wait.

Comments

  1. I agree on all points.  Kidd’s coaching will be instrumental in getting whoever in particular is left over, meaning Bogdanovich, Brooks, Teletovic and hopefully Blatche (can’t believe I’m saying that) to improve quickly to spell minutes from JJ, Pierce and KG.  The pressure’s on Kidd and Brooks the most.  Brooks needs to fill out a more consistent back up 2.  Kidd should be able to get valuable contributions from Bogs and MT33 in spot up roles with either Pierce or JJ facilitating with the 2nd unit.

  2. I feel I’m staring at an impending train wreck, about to happen, in front of my poor Nets eyes.
    Mikhail Prokhorov makes the late George Steinbrenner look like the Wilpons. 
    Hope it works out, but for some reason I’m not that excited…Maybe I’m still in shock. (LOL)

    1. M I K E You’re crazy not to be excited. Garnett and Pierce are still quite good. And the bench of tall white (Plumlee, Toko, Teletovic and, presumably Bostjan or whatever his name is (he will certainly be clambering to get here to play with and for the HOFers)) guys is actually pretty promising. Terry is a nice backup. Deron should be healthy and Lopez should still be developing and get a little better. 
      And we won 49 games last year! This team is better.

      1. JonCBK M I K E Those tall,white guys, really scare me. (LOL)..I think we stepped in ship with Plumlee pick. He fell to us just like Lopez did.
        And yes I’m crazy…Crazy to be alive..

        1. M I K E JonCBK Plumlee does less with more talent than anyone short of his brother (who put up highest vertical ever for a big man at the combine last year: 41 inches). But the guy rebounds and last season he scored 17 points a game on 60% FG%. How can you not like that at the 22nd pick?
          I bet Toko works out for us this year. He dominated D-League and he will be a year older and more experienced. He will get a chance, I hope. 
          In any case, it doesn’t matter, we have Reggie Evans backing up the four. And if Blatche resigns, then we don’t have to play any of the tall white guys anyway.

  3. Re: Kidd and his inexperience, I see this deal in a completely different light. Yes, there are five distinct personalities, including a very big one in KG, but I think this deal only helps the transition of Kidd to coach. Kidd now has a no-brainer starting line-up to fill every game and doesn’t have to worry so much about match-ups and floor spacing, playing guys out of position, etc. Plus, outside of Lopez to a certain degree who on this team needs coaching (and that’s what Roy Rogers is back)? Coaching KG and Pierce is the equivalent of Burns telling Strawberry to hit a homer. They know what they need to do, KG is going to be a defensive anchor when he’s on the floor, and Pierce can work with the ball or off-ball to create a shot in ways Wallace or Evans could never. The big key to the gamble with a roster like this is health, but let’s stop thinking of the Heat as this unbeatable juggernaut when they were a Ray Allen 3 and (earlier) a coaching blunder involving the absence of Roy Hibbert away from being a one-time champion. Wade is breaking down and Bosh looked like a mannequin in the post-season and while LeBron is transcendent, I can see a team like the Nets (if healthy) having the right pieces to take them down in the ECF. Of course if Pierce, JJ and/or KG break down by March, then this will be a train wreck come the postseason.

    1. MarkGinocchio1 I agree — If healthy, I actually think they have a shot at Miami. Hughe IF though.
      I don’t see the Heat as unbeatable with the way Wade and Bosh played in the finals and they didn’t get any improvements in the draft (maybe they didn’t need any).

      1. Max Weisberg MarkGinocchio1 I’m not deluded enough to think it’s not a huge if. Of course it is. But they HAD to take this risk. It was a win-now team before this trade, and they didn’t win all that much.

  4. With Deron, Pierce, Garnett and Lopez, they will have to put Xmas lights on JJ so we know he’s out there
    JJ has a habit of “disappearing” in plain sight for long stretches of games and now he might just completely vanish.

    1. M I K E But won’t that hurt the Nets less this year with the addition of KG and PP?
      Last season, when Joe “disappeared,” the Nets couldn’t rely on their PF and SF to score and take the load off. Now they can.

      1. Max Weisberg M I K E To tell you the truth Max, this trade still has not completely sunk in yet…I’m very confused at the moment…I feel like I’m going on a road trip with some crazy Russians with lots of crazy money to spend and think they are also bullet proof.

        1. @mike it probably hasnt sunk in because weve been hearing for weeks how boston would never trade garnett to another eastern conference team…..they kept turning Billy king away but give the Nets Gm props he knows how swing a deal

    2. M I K EI think JJ or PP will get a large reduction of minutes in the 1st quarter, and lead the second squad in the 2nd. I honestly have always thought of them as very, very similar players, so I wouldn’t mind who led the 2nd squad.

  5. “The Nets didn’t trade away MarShon Brooks (though he’s still quite expendable) (edit: they did)”…. Did I miss something?

    1. Bar5 They traded him but Boston traded him back. (LOL) 
      Maybe this trade is still “a work in progress” ?
      Hopefully we’ll find out one day who was really traded and who was not.

        1. Max Weisberg M I K E Bar5 I felt the Nets never really liked him…He’s a one on one player and it was hard for him to change his stripes.

        2. Brooks asked to be part of the trade.  He quit on the organization.  He’s more interested in stat padding for a bad team than “contributing” on a good team.  I’m officially done with Marshon Brooks.  I think that he’s a chump.  Nice kid.  But, totally an entitled chump.  I also think he put poison in Tyshawn Taylor’s ear about how much time they ‘deserve’.  I don’t even wish Marshon luck, knowing this.  Go have fun playing 1 on 5 for lottery teams the rest of your career.  He belongs on the And1 mixed tour, not in the NBA.  I hope the Nets go get Kyle Korver, who can play some NBA D, and catch and shoot.  Adios Marshon.

        3. TheOneJDoc I heard that rumor but I doubt the Nets would trade him because HE wanted out…Nets might of leaked that just to soften the blow.

        4. I hear you Mike.  But, I’m certain that Brooks told Billy he wanted to be included in the deal.  He wanted to be in a place where he could play.
          He got what he wanted, so I’m not mad at him.  But, as far as I’m concerned, he’s not worth crying over either.
          The Crazy Part is how Wide Open the East is after last night.  I’m really interested to see what goes down in Free Agency, but it looks like there are only 5 teams capable of 42 wins in the East right now, which is kind of funny.

        5. TheOneJDoc Hopefully the East is so weak we can rest Garnett and Pierce for most of the regular season. (LOL)

  6. Wow what a trade. Yes even a huge Reggie Evans fan like myself sees Garnett as a big upgrade. And I liked Wallace even with that shooting. 
    By the way, Brooklyn had a top ten offense last season. So all the talk about how Evans and Wallace killed the offense is nonsense because the offense was fine. The defense was bellow average, but net net the team was good. 
    Now the team will be better. Deron should be healthy and Pierce and Garnett are huge offensive upgrades over Evans and Wallace while also being defensive upgrades because Garnett is actually that good. Lopez should also improve just on the basis of experience. And finally Blatche might stick around just to be part of a title run.

  7. This trade is living proof that i Severly under estimated Billy king…and owe him an apology::::
    Why i love this trade:
    Gerald wallace remaining 3 yrs and 30 mil is now bostons problem, Pierce comes off the books next year, we get garnett for 2 years to anchor our defense and mentor plumlee and lopez like he took in Bass and Jeff Green, we can try Jterry for 1 year if it doesnt work he becomes a trade chip next year,Pierce even at his age is still 1 hell of a clutch shooter and The main thing is Im not worried about garnett or pierce breaking down but because unlike boston did last year we dont need them to be our 1,2 or 3rd offensive option( they dont need to play 32 minutes a game….Think about this ppl we won 49 games without those 2 and we didnt trade anybody that helped us win those 49 to the celtics…….And last bu not least.. we kept TOKO….we still have Young talented players to go with the All star starting 5

    So billy king im sorry!

  8. I just wanted to say good luck…as a huge C’s fan I will be routing for Brooklyn next year…It is very rare to have the chance to rout for such greatness in the likes of KG & PP…enjoy..forever_green

  9. Bravo. I’d just like to commend the author, Devin. Really phenomenal piece! Best a analysis I have read on the trade period. Very thoughtful and balanced. Thank you.