Looking back on the Sports Illustrated issue from October 2013, readers couldn’t help but agree that, on paper, the Brooklyn Nets seemed unstoppable. Head coach Jason Kidd put together a roster that looked like it was prepared to steamroll through the Eastern Conference and appear in the NBA Finals for the first time since 2003.
Flash forward to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and that prediction made before the season is more than just wrong; it’s hysterical. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov desired to get past the first round and felt that in order to do so, it was necessary to have a payroll of nearly $90 million after acquiring aging stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from the Boston Celtics. Prokhorov promised Brooklyn that his team would win a title within five years of purchasing the franchise in 2010. With only one year left to fulfill his promise, the Russian billionaire may have a hard time bringing a championship to Brooklyn.
The Nets’ dream of receiving their first NBA title was crushed last Wednesday after losing to the Miami Heat in five games. Coming off of a dramatic seven-game series with the Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn showed how important age is as they were always one step behind the defending champions. So what’s next for the sixth-best franchise in the Eastern Conference?
First, they have to wait on decisions made by Pierce and Garnett on whether or not they’ll keep playing for Kidd and Prokhorav. Marc Stein of ESPN.com wrote that Pierce could reunite with his former head coach from his Boston Celtics days, Doc Rivers. He also reported that Garnett could call it quits early and decide to retire if Pierce were to pack up his things and take off to Los Angeles with the Clippers. Brooklyn will also have to figure out what to do with point guard Deron Williams and his poor performance during the postseason.
In 12 playoffs games this year, Williams averaged 14.5 points, 5.8 assists and 1.1 steals per game, a complete regression from his performance during last year’s series against the Chicago Bulls, as well as his tenure with the Utah Jazz. Williams did not reach expectations set forth by the team during the Miami Heat series, which ultimately solidified their playoff run in Game 5 at the American Airlines Arena.
Williams will turn 30 once next season rolls around and his continuous incidents with ankle injuries have hurt his reputation of being a dangerous point guard in the NBA. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York wrote that Williams “has been hindered by lingering ankle injuries for the past two seasons. He received multiple cortisone shots and platelet-rich plasma injections to ease the pain, but the problem hasn’t gone away.” If the Nets are ready to drop Williams, there are options for them to get rid of him. According to Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck, the Nets could seek to trade Williams this offseason while keeping the focus on a healthy Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson, as well as on bringing back Pierce and Garnett in order to retool for another championship run.
“There is an alternative, sources say, the Nets will not rule out: They could look to trade Williams this summer, retool around Johnson and Lopez, squeeze one more run out of Pierce and Garnett and hope for the best.
“It’s hard to say what the Nets might get for a 29-year-old former All-Star with bad ankles and $63 million left on his contract, but it’s worth exploring. The Houston Rockets tried to acquire Williams last December, so it’s not inconceivable that another team desperate for point-guard help might inquire.”
It could be difficult for Brooklyn to trade an aging point guard with ankle issues, as well as three years and $63 million remaining on his contract. However, Beck also reported that the Houston Rockets inquired about acquiring Williams at the trade deadline this season so it shows that there are franchises that have interest in Williams services toward the end of his career.
Zach Libby covers the Brooklyn Nets for HoopsHabit.