The Nets are stuck in a bad place

As one Nets big man departs, another sticks around. (AP)
As one Nets big man departs, another sticks around. (AP)

The Nets trade deadline rollercoaster has flown by with lots of bluster and little fanfare. All began quiet, before the Nets rocketed to the top of a list of teams in hot pursuit of talent, throwing around their big-name, bigger-price players.

But when the dust settled, only one middling move was made, and the Nets otherwise stood pat. Even with the Nets pulling off a relative steal in acquiring long-time member of the “Players Irrationally Adored By The Brooklyn Game” club Thaddeus Young for Kevin Garnett’s animate husk, the deadline’s still a bust for what they couldn’t do: start ripping pieces off the rudder while finding a way to stay afloat.

The Nets have tried all season to figure out how to sell off one of their big pieces. The Kings were looking at Deron Williams, the Pistons doing due diligence on Joe Johnson. As close as it seemed like it came with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Brook Lopez, and Reggie Jackson, it still fell short. Jackson joined the Pistons, about half of the league’s starting point guards changed jerseys, and the Nets settled in with the same problematic roster they’ve had all year: two centers who don’t fit together, two point guards who don’t fit together, and three overpaid former All-Stars who can’t fetch a worthy deal on the trade market.

They’re in an impossible position. It’s like the Nets are one of the new fancy high-rise apartment buildings in downtown Brooklyn. A wide-eyed Russian magnate fixed his eye on securing pricy tenants in a gentrifying neighborhood, so he tore down a stable but underperforming brownstone and gave the landlord hundreds of millions to build on a lavish, 60-story glass exterior luxury condo complex. There’s a crystal chandelier in the lobby and an upscale bar on the top floor. Every apartment comes with a personal iPad for no reason, and rent costs twice the borough’s median monthly income.

But in their haste to look shiny in the skyline, they sped through the building process, and forgot to spend money on a proper electrical system. So the power kicks out twice per week. Plus, nobody quality-checked the keg hookup at the bar, and stale beer leaks from the ceilings into the penthouse floors. With things looking bleak, they install a laser projector and surround sound in every living room just to keep the place looking luxurious. But nobody wants to live in a dark, drippy apartment, and the surround sound makes this weird scratching noise. Plus, the building goes through a different property manager almost each year, and last year’s tried to take over the landlord’s job and then demanded they send him to another building.

Now the landlord’s trying to fire all the workers, sell the chandelier, and melt down all the gold-encrusted workout equipment, so that the building owner can recoup some of his losses and sell the complex to someone else, who then could conceivably fire the landlord for creating this mess in the first place. Nets basketball!

Worse for the Nets: their competitors (other high-rises?) for that last Eastern Conference playoff spot got even stronger. The Miami Heat, currently tied for the seventh seed might’ve locked up one spot by acquiring Goran Dragic[note]Though they might be without Chris Bosh, who’s battling an undiagnosed illness.[/note]. The Celtics, sitting a half-game behind the Nets, bolstered their backcourt by acquiring Isaiah Thomas for former Nets cast-off Marcus Thornton. The Pistons, as mentioned, picked up Jackson. In the arms race of Eastern bubble teams, the Nets didn’t take a stronghold. Their best hope is to get hot, sneak into the first round, and avoid swapping a lottery pick with the Atlanta Hawks.

Here’s how poetically bad it’s gotten. At the trade deadline in 2011, the Nets traded Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, and two unprotected first-round picks for Deron Williams, who at the time was a superstar point guard. They steadfastly refused to trade Brook Lopez in that deal, or in any deal for a player not named Dwight Howard.

Four years later, the Nets are desperate to sell off Lopez for any solid package. It looks like, after years of rumors, it’s finally going to happen. But at the last second, things fall short, and the Thunder prefer a package centered around… Enes Kanter, who the Jazz drafted in 2011 with one of the unprotected Nets picks.

The Young trade isn’t nothing. It’s a win all-around: they got younger, cheaper, and better all at once by trading on a floundering team’s nostalgia. He’s a talented forward, despite playing under the rim athletically for most of the season, and he’ll help the Nets compete by giving them a weapon they didn’t have before. The Nets hold onto Lopez, who’s started rounding into form in the last month or so, and to his credit is a coachable center that has never requested a trade, despite his annual position in the rumor mill.

It’s hard to imagine they could have done any better. But in their situation, that’s precisely the problem: it’s not that they didn’t do anything else, but they’re in a position where there’s nothing else reasonable they could have done. Until their biggest contracts run out, there’s nowhere to go but nowhere.