The Nets are dedicated to bringing a championship to Brooklyn. But let’s face it: they’re most likely not winning one with this roster next season, and the same applies for the season after. So is it time for the Nets to throw in the towel with their core and re-build once more?
I say no — and it all goes back to the future.
First, let’s look back at how the Nets handled this same situation in 2008:
The Kidd, Carter, Jefferson Era
After two NBA Finals appearances and a second-round playoff exit, the Nets retooled, acquiring disgruntled Toronto Raptors superstar Vince Carter for peanuts. Now with a new and improved core, they seemed primed to compete for that trophy once more.
But Kidd, Carter, and Jefferson were never able to complete that goal in the two full seasons they played together. The Nets had two future Hall of Famers (if you believe in Vince Carter) on their team, along with a player close to All-Star status, but the team went a combined 90-74 over the 2006 and 2007 seasons, but couldn’t get past LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers or Dwyane Wade’s Miami Heat.
LeBron and Wade were a big part, but they also had no financial flexibility.
If the Kidd, Carter, Jefferson era continued through the 2008-09 season, they would have cost New Jersey a total of $49.3 million in that last year: almost 85% of the salary cap for that season.
The Nets had two options: continue experiencing early exits in the playoffs with the same core, or throw in the towel. Well, they almost had options. Jason Kidd made that decision for them.
The floor general, tired of coming up short on title runs, had his agent pass on a trade request to the front office. Kidd himself said on the topic: “It used to be if I got a triple-double, that was an automatic win. That’s just not the case now. We tried to make this work. We’ve found out it doesn’t. It’s time for us all to move on.”
Two days before the February 21st trade deadline, the Nets shipped Kidd to the Dallas Mavericks, packaged with Malik Allen and Antoine Wright for Maurice Ager, DeSagana Diop, Devin Harris, Trenton Hassell, Keith Van Horn, a 2008 first-round pick (which became Ryan Anderson) and a 2010 first-round Pick (Jordan Crawford, who the Nets packaged to take Damion James). This officially was the first domino to fall in their rebuilding process.
Harris, the new young point guard, couldn’t finish the season as the Nets started and led the team to their first April fishing trip in 7 seasons. Two months later, Richard Jefferson was gone: off to Milwaukee for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons on draft night.
Carter stayed aboard, but without Jefferson, Harris and VC just weren’t enough to bring a playoff series to the Izod Center, and they shipped him to Orlando along with Ryan Anderson for Rafer Alston, Tony Battie, and Courtney Lee.
Hopping around arenas for 5 straight playoff-less seasons, the team was in the works of constantly reconstructing what they had in 2001, a championship contender. In 2012, team finally got to Brooklyn, bringing a new “Big 3” to the borough.
The Williams, Johnson, Lopez Era
The parallels are there. Much like Kidd, Carter, and Jefferson, this Big 3 still couldn’t make it past the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, losing in the first round in 2013 and the second round in 2014. For the upcoming 2014-15 season, the Nets are slated to pay Williams, Johnson, and Lopez a combined $58.7 million, or about 93% of the salary cap. (Hello Luxury Tax.)
They’re back in the exact situation that they were in 6 years ago, except with less tradable players due to contracts and injuries.
There are differences. The older Nets trio had some value on the market, but Williams and Lopez have struggled with injuries, and Johnson’s enormous salary makes maneuvering him especially difficult. A trade today would either result in an undervalued package, or finding even more draft picks to send away. What’s the benefit of that?
Rebuilding traditionally comes through the draft. The Nets stockpiled high-value draft picks, which helped them make trades for Williams, Joe Johnson, and Gerald Wallace. But now, the Boston Celtics hold Brooklyn’s 2016 and 2018 first-round picks, with the right to swap in 2017, as a result of the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett blockbuster deal. The Atlanta Hawks have the right to swap next season’s picks. They’d have to send away more draft picks just to move their players. So that’s not possible.
So the Nets have to stick with what they have. It sounds morbid, but there’s hope. They are already set to blow it up — in 2016. That’s when the Nets shed most of their contracts and numerous big-name free agents hit the market, led by reigning MVP Kevin Durant. By that point, the Nets will only have Deron Williams, Jarrett Jack (non-guaranteed), Sergey Karasev, Mason Plumlee, Markel Brown, Cory Jefferson, and Bojan Bogdanovic on the books.
The clock is already ticking. By not blowing it up now, they’ll certainly have the flexibility to sign Durant to a maximum contract, offering the alluring lights of Brooklyn. But they had that flexibility in 2010, too. Are those players what he’d consider “lucrative” teammates to help him win a title? Probably not. But Rutherford isn’t Brooklyn, either.
We’ll have to wait and see what GM Billy King has up his sleeve.