Last night, the Nets had a 25.19% chance of keeping their pick, and a 74.81% chance of losing it. The latter ultimately happened. A random set of ping pong balls didn’t teach us anything about the Brooklyn Nets that probability hadn’t taught us already. The Nets had 1-in-4 odds of keeping their pick, which means 3-in-4 odds at losing it. They lost it. There was no narrative, no script. The odds were against them, and the odds won. It happens.
The mere scientific fact that the Nets didn’t keep their pick is of little notoriety, but the ping-pong balls aren’t born from an alternate universe. The Nets stacked those odds at the trade deadline this past season, when they traded the pick (along with Shawne Williams and Mehmet Okur, two players out for the season) to the Portland Trail Blazers for Gerald Wallace, who currently has an out clause. The Nets stacked the odds two years ago, when they traded for Deron Williams, giving up three lottery picks (including Derrick Favors), ensuring their franchise had one direction: win immediately. They have yet to come through on that goal.
The Nets stacked the odds when they tried to pull off a ludicrous, four-team, fifteen-player trade for Carmelo Anthony, decimating their own leverage for the better part of six months. They stacked the odds when they threw themselves all-in on Dwight Howard, who waffles on his commitment to Orlando to this day. They’ve spent the better part of two years in Newark sifting for Brooklyn gold, and thus far have found and kept little beyond Deron and dirt.
In five consecutive seasons in the lottery, the Nets have had six lottery picks in their possession at one time or another. Only one remains — the first, Brook Lopez, who’d go in a heartbeat for the right deal.
In 2009, they drafted Terrence Williams, trading him less than two years later after numerous personnel issues (most of all that he couldn’t stay on the court). In 2010, they drafted Derrick Favors, not as a member of their roster, but as a commodity to be sold at auction to whoever might consider him an asset. In 2011, they pre-empted their lottery tendencies by trading their pick to Utah for Deron Williams, a pick that moved up from sixth to third overall (so much for lightning striking twice). They also traded a second lottery pick, originally owned by Golden State. All other members of the franchise have come by way of trade or free agency, with roster turnover reminiscent of a D-League franchise.
King runs the team, but like most of us, is no autonomist. He has a job to fulfill, not to his loyal fans, but to his employer, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov. If Prokhorov demands the Nets chase superstars, then it matters little what anyone else thinks. If King pleases his boss, he keeps his job. The people writing about it, discussing it, pontificating on it, matter not. The fans matter as an extension of the boss; if the fans break bread in the Barclays Center, the money rolls in and the machine keeps humming. The Nets can become a revenue generator, David Stern says.
Stay the course is King’s message for now. Nothing changed, he says. And he’s right. Nothing did. It stayed exactly the same. Nothing’s changed from three seasons of watching, waiting, hoping that some star will join Brooklyn of his or King’s volition and save the franchise from its own dirty history in New Jersey, a history they’re frantically sweeping under the rug. The plan is always under evaluation, he’s said, but after three years of failure, nothing’s changed. The Nets have four players guaranteed under contract, a second-round pick, and loads of cap space heading into free agency. Nothing’s changed. They played Russian roulette with basketball dynamite at the trade deadline, and one stick expectedly exploded. This is all part of the ultimate plan, one built on Dwight Howard’s rickety conscience and Deron Williams’s signature. Nothing’s changed, and the Nets didn’t need to lose their lottery pick for us to learn that.