Ides 2012: The Worst Day in Nets History?

There’s obviously a lot that can happen between now and the summer but after 20+ years of being a Nets fan, I think I’ve finally been demoralized enough by today’s events to no longer see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Yes, Deron Williams could either re-up or “opt-in” as the kids are calling it these days for next year. The Nets could win the draft lottery and walk away with a top three pick or even make a miracle run for the playoffs this spring, negating the loss of a lottery pick. Gerald Wallace could revive his career and become an all-star again playing with one of the league’s best point guards. Brook Lopez could get healthy and become the all-star center we’ve been predicting for years (thus making the absurd money he’s likely to get on the open market, worth it).

But when evaluating the scales of Nets karma, and after taking a long hard look in the mirror and the last year and change of this organization’s existence, the path for things to go horribly wrong is simply easier to access than the aforementioned “best case scenario.” And since this is the Nets, a franchise that was forced to sell its best-ever player due to being penalized for moving from the ABA to the NBA; a franchise that watched one if its most surprising players die tragically in a car wreck; a franchise that had two of its top draft picks in the 1990s flame-out in spectacular fashion; a franchise that saw its star PG fake a migraine in order to get traded; a franchise that set the record for most losses to ever open a season; well, you can’t blame me for thinking that way.

In the span of 24 hours, the Nets learned that they would not be acquiring Dwight Howard at the trade deadline or later this summer. As a response to try and save some face, Nets GM Billy King acquired former all-star Gerald Wallace for Mehmet Okur’s huge expiring contract, another year of the very lousy Shawne Williams, and the coup de grace, a first round draft pick that’s only protected through the top three picks.

All of these moves have significant consequences that could potentially lead to a summer of disaster unlike one the Nets have ever seen before. The most obvious involves the fate of Deron Williams, who’s desire to stay with the Nets has been linked to their ability to acquire Dwight since last year. With the hometown Dallas Mavericks looming with cap space, is there really any reason for DWill, a player who has repetitively said he wants to win, to choose the Nets, Brooklyn or not, over a perennial contender in Dallas?

And yet this dark cloud, which by itself is enough to doom this franchise for another five years, is further complicated by this Wallace deal. Wallace could opt-out himself at season’s end, though given he’ll be 30 this summer and is set to make close to $10 million it’s unlikely (though, would he forego a guaranteed year if he and his agent think he can get one more multi-year deal this summer? Stranger things have happened, right Richard Jefferson?). Meanwhile, the Nets, who mathematically are expected to get a pick somewhere around #5 this summer, will have given up a prospect in what is expected to be one of the deepest NBA Drafts in recent memory for what could amount to a one-month rental, and at best, a league average player who could become yet another “expiring contract” asset to be dangled in every pipedream trade scenario next season. Nets fans have seen these contracts before (Troy Murphy, Okur) and have seen the results and shouldn’t get too excited. Furthermore, if DWill does indeed walk after the season, the front office can’t even save face and say they’ll “rebuild” through the draft, because they will have lost that draft pick thanks to Billy King’s moment of panicked delirium.

So if these three “worst case” dominoes fall, the Nets have Brook Lopez and MarShon Brooks as the lone “centerpieces” for their much publicized move to Brooklyn this fall. But WAIT, there’s MORE … because the Nets failed to offer Lopez an extension earlier this season in an attempt to reserve cap space for Howard, Lopez will become a restricted free agent this summer. The Nets can match any offer made to Lopez, but if some silly big man-obsessed team comes around (Warriors?) offering Lopez close to max money, suddenly the Nets have a very hard choice to make – do they keep the one flawed, but respectable, NBA starter they have on their roster and eat up a sizeable chunk of cap space for a 7-footer who can score 20 points but only grab about 5 rebounds, or do they let him walk and head into Brooklyn with MarShon Brooks complimented with the likes of Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro and Jordan Williams? Would that team, even with some overpaid free agents (we saw what the Nets could get in the summer of LeBron), even win 9 games?

But there’s one more thing to consider that could make Ides 2012 the worst day in Nets history. And that’s Brooklyn. After years of money-sucking legal battles and horrendous basketball driven by purposely tanking and conserving cap space in order to put together a winning group in time for the organization’s move to Brooklyn, the Nets now have to contemplate moving to one of the biggest markets in the world, with the league’s most lucrative franchises one borough over, with a team of nobodies – no superstars, no stars, no prospects (beyond MarShon), nothing. Quite simply, and with all due respect to fans in Vancouver, New Orleans and Charlotte, the Brooklyn Nets COULD be on a path to being one of the biggest financial busts in professional sports history.

My head is spinning just looking at that last sentence again. How did this happen? How can the Nets go from being ready to “take over New York” as ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith hilariously put it on Tuesday, to being on the path to irrelevance before even setting foot in the arena?

It didn’t have to be this way, but this was the risk of Mikhail Prokhorov’s “superstars” strategy from the get-go. The Nets very likely could have been heading into Brooklyn with an assortment of intriguing young players, who wouldn’t have won many games last year or this year, but could have piqued the interest of hardcore fans, or gelled next year or the year after in a way like they’ve done out in Oklahoma City, becoming a must-see act. They took their chances with DWill, a move all of us here at NAS supported and continue to support. But there were always severe consequences associated with the team’s strategy of trying to pair DWill and Dwight. And now those consequences are all too real.

The Nets organization is now staring straight into the abyss. And while bigger miracles have happened in sports, years of fandom has taught me that it’s very rare for an organization to be divinely rewarded for hubris and desperation. From Ratner down to Prokhorov, a lot of sins were committed by those who run this organization to get to the point where we are today – some with bigger real-world implications then I care to admit on most days. Of course I want to believe that we Nets fans deserve better than this, but why should I be so naïve? Nearly all of us here aided and abetted this plan of “Superstars in Brooklyn.” We did so out of a collective belief that it would mark the Nets a championship team. We did so out of a collective desperation that it was the only way for the Nets to work in Brooklyn and to ultimately survive in a league where its pool of competitiveness is shrinking by the day.

And instead, we could be left with nothing, not even the belief that better days will someday come our way.