This week, we’re looking back at the series of major decisions that led to the current state of the Nets, and asking you: if you could go back, would you do it again?
These will come in (mostly) reverse chronological order. Today, we will cover the trade that brought Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn.
The Story: The Nets lost in the first round of the 2013 playoffs to an injury-depleted Bulls squad. The Bulls apparently saw the “gutless” and “heartless” Nets as a favorable matchup. The Nets’ starting forward tandem of Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans could not shoot, causing serious spacing issues that left the Nets playing 3-on-5 on offense for most of the series.
The Nets were capped out, so the only way to meaningfully improve the roster was via trade. Their stockpile of assets — headlined by Kris Humphries’ $12 million expiring contract, MarShon Brooks, and future first-round draft picks — had limited value. Seeking to solve their needs for a ‘heart transplant’ and an upgrade at both forward spots, the Nets acquired Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and DJ White for Wallace, Brooks, Humphries, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph, unprotected first-round picks in 2014 (which the Celtics used to select James Young), 2016, 2018, and the right to swap first-round picks in 2017.
A year later, Pierce and Terry are gone, Garnett is on his last legs, and the Nets do not own their own first-round pick outright until 2019.
The Case for Making the Trade: The Nets were coming off of a 49-win season and were one win away from a second-round matchup with the Miami Heat. Their window of contention with the 29-year-old Deron Williams and 32-year-old Joe Johnson was closing, and ownership had mandated a championship by 2015.
By improving their shooting and adding championship experience, the Nets set their sights on the Heat and put themselves in position for a deep playoff run without sacrificing any valuable short-term pieces. Plus, we got perhaps the most fun Nets playoff series ever: a seven-game heavyweight bout against the Toronto Raptors, starring Pierce’s series-saving block in Game 7. Would you trade that moment?
The Case Against Making the Trade: It is generally not wise to give away multiple unprotected draft picks for players on the wrong side of 35. Pierce and Garnett will not be on the roster when at least two of those picks are conveyed (three if the 2017 pick swap is triggered). If the Nets cannot add pieces via free agency to replace their production — a gamble, given that a roster as bereft of talent as the Nets is unattractive to marquee free agents — they will likely forfeit lottery picks.
It is also unclear who the Nets were bidding against. Was another team prepared to give Danny Ainge three unprotected first rounders for 1-2 years of Pierce and Garnett? Given that just four unprotected firsts changed hands in all other 2013 offseason trades combined, it’s unlikely the Celtics could have received a similar return elsewhere.
The Nets could have opted to improve internally while maintaining flexibility. Mirza Teletovic, who played just one minute in the 2013 playoffs, could have solved the Nets’ spacing woes in place of Evans. Andray Blatche could have slotted into the starting lineup next to Brook Lopez — the two had a net rating of +11.2 in 102 minutes sharing the floor in 2012-13. And Bojan Bogdanovic, who took Pierce’s spot in the rotation, could have eventually supplanted Wallace on the wing.
After all, the ‘heart transplant’ the Nets were looking for can come simply from continuity after first-round losses. The 2009-10 Bulls, 2011-12 Pacers, and this year’s Hawks all took big steps forward after first round exits the previous year.