Out with the new, in with the old? That’s the way things are going for the Brooklyn Nets this offseason.
When the Nets acquired Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, and Andrei Kirilenko last summer, they knew what they were getting themselves into. We’re going all in this year, they said. We realize our championship window is small, they acknowledged. So, Mikhail Prokhorov dished out the necessary dough without a care in the world. Well, last season is over with no championship to show for it.
You see, your average NBA team would take the positives from their previous season and look to build on them. Problem is, with their massive payroll, the Brooklyn Nets are not your average NBA team. They’re handcuffed by all of last year’s negatives, disappointments, and underachievers, leaving most of those positives building blocks with no choice but to hit free agency. Regardless, let’s take a closer look at the Nets’ key pieces from last season, just to make it sting even more when they catch the next train outta town.
After an atrocious start to the year by the entire Eastern Conference – with the exception of the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, of course – Brooklyn’s 2013-2014 campaign was salvaged by coach Jason Kidd‘s unorthodox lineup changes. He didn’t just go small; he went tiny. The Nets most successful lineup in terms of wins last year had Deron Williams, Shaun Livingston, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, and rookie Mason Plumlee seeing the most playing time, according to basketball-reference.com.
In fact, the Nets’ top four winningest player combinations all included, ahem, Shaun Livingston. However, Brooklyn can only afford to offer players $3 million next year, a sum Livingston is likely to double if he decides to sign elsewhere, which he probably will. So, there goes not only a starter, but your “glue guy,” for all intents and purposes. And that’s only domino number one.
Paul Pierce is also a free agent, and although he’s aging, he’s doing it gracefully. He’s got the most left in the tank out of Boston’s old Big Three, and his game has evolved into that of a savvy vet who, perhaps doesn’t score as much, but does all the little things and hits all the big shots. He was a staple in all five of the Nets’ best lineups last year (only Joe Johnson joins Pierce in that club), and he was the most clutch player in their seven-game, first round playoff series win versus Toronto.
However, “The Truth” knows the truth: the Nets won’t compete for a championship next season. So Pierce inevitably may choose to end his career on the roster of a contender. Two important players gone, two to go.
Alan Anderson (also known as “Double.” I know this because of Nickname Jersey Night last year. Remember how cool that was? Yeah, me neither. Except LeBron should be allowed to wear “King James” on his jersey every game. That would be awesome.) and Andray Blatche are ready to claim more cash on the market, as well.
Anderson is skilled on both sides of the ball and provides energy off the bench. He also started that really cool “pretending-your-arm-is-a-gun-and-cocking-it” celebration that caught on through the whole team. Meanwhile, Blatche is a versatile big man who can space and stretch the floor, perfect for a small lineup. Unfortunately, the Nets can’t promise to be good enough next year to justify players taking a pay cut, so these guys will likely bolt to another team, too.
Now, all of this isn’t a problem if your big money guys are producing and in their prime. That’s precisely why, for the Brooklyn Nets, this is, in fact, a huge problem. And all this trouble for what? To keep overpaying Deron Williams, who’s gotten worse every season with the Nets? To keep overpaying Brook Lopez, who’s shown flashes of brilliance, but is ultimately injury prone and will never be consistently successful? Bottom line: Brooklyn’s core is declining, overpaid, and fragile. Worst of all, paying guys like Williams and Lopez won’t allow the Nets to keep Livingston, Anderson, and Blatche, who are arguably more important to Brooklyn’s future chemistry and success.
It’ll come down to the age-old debate: Who do you keep? The big names, or the guys who really deserve it? If the Nets are truly all about winning (and won’t just settle for being the coolest NBA logo to wear on a hat), they’ll find a way to unload Williams and Lopez – assuming Garnett can’t be traded or is retiring soon anyway – and they’ll re-sign Livingston and Blatche, at least. Then, Brooklyn can focus its attention and money on acquiring a younger crop of stars to build around.