Brooklyn Nets: Future mortgaging deja vu?

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If one google’s the Brooklyn Nets, it is unsurprising that one of results points to what may have been the worst or most lopsided trade in NBA history.

The year was 2013 and the trade partner were the Boston Celtics. The Nets mortgaged their future by going all-in for a championship run.

They give up Gerald Wallace (a salary dump); MarShon Brooks; Kris Humphries (an expiring contract); Keith Bogans; Kris Joseph; first-round draft picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018; and the right to swap 2017 first-round picks.

They acquired future Hall of Fame but highly paid forwards Paul Pierce,  Kevin Garnett, reserve guard Jason Terry, and reserve forward D.J. White from Boston.

That was a huge move for a franchise which has yet to win it since joining the NBA. The 2001–02 and 2002–03 seasons were closest the got. The Nets advanced to the finals but they lost each time.

After that trade, the Nets sported a dynamic young and old lineup composing of the starting five  combination of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Pierce, Garnett and Brook Lopez, which that boosts of combined 35 All-Star appearances under their belts, although Garnett was 37 years old and Pierce 35 at that time.

Shaun Livingston, Terry, Andrei Kirilenko, Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche off the bench completes the formidable 10-man rotation, with Jason Kidd, an ex-point guard who had no previous coaching experience, as head coach.

Thing is the Nets figuratively and literally had to pay for this move. They became liable for a payroll totaling to around $101 million and a luxury-tax bill around $83 million while losing the capability to acquire young replacements in exchange for a championship window of around 2-3 years considering Garnett and Pierce’s ages.

We all know how this turned out. They finished sixth in the East and pulled out a thrilling first round upset to send home third-seeded Toronto Raptors before being eliminated by eventual Finals runner-up Miami Heat led by their own famous version of a Big Three.

Unfortunately, Brooklyn couldn’t retain their trade pieces for another title shot. Pierce would leave in the subsequent offseason to Washington via free agency while Garnett would be traded to Minnesota midway through the next season, marking the end of the experiment that send the team down a deep draft hole.

The Nets are attempted a similar coup this year. Well, kind of because the entire story has yet to be finished.

They signed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to max contracts to start their off season, while tagging DeAndre Jordan along. Durant and Irving could pull off a title by themselves but the Nets couldn’t help themselves.

They pulled off a mid-season blockbuster trade by acquiring James Harden for a slew of young players and draft picks.

They had to give up Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, Rodions Kurucs, their 2022, 2024,  2026 first round picks, and the right to swap 2021, 2023, 2025, and 2027 picks with the Houston Rockets.

Then they later acquired Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, although Aldridge did not finish the season as he retired with the regular season still being played out.

The Nets are in a better shape this time as Harden and Griffin are not the combination of Garnett and Pierce. With Griffin’s status going forward still questionable, Harden is a Net for the considerable future.

He is still in his prime, just 31 years old and is under contract for two more seasons with a player option in 2022-23. He is, however, coming with a significantly higher salary cost at $41.3, $44.3 and $47.4M in the next three years.

Harden continued his elite production, better than what Garnett and Pierce individually did. While the Pierce-Garnett duo had the definite advantage in defense, Harden’s much better offensive contributions made up for the deficiency.

The Nets trio made them pundit title favorites.

Unfortunately for the Nets, it turned out to be a typical year for the big three. The injury prone Durant and Irving couldn’t play enough games because of injuries while the more durable Harden, who had also his share of injuries, faded in a crucial game late in the playoffs with his team failing to advance.

With first time head coach Steve Nash, a great point guard during his heyday who had no previous head coaching experience at the helm, they made short work of Boston in the first round but were then eliminated by the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern semis. The Bucks are fighting off the Phoenix Suns in the NBA finals,

Brooklyn will be paying their Big Three some $113M, $118M, and $126M for the next three years (Durant $38.2M, $38.8M, $42M and Irving $33.5M, $35M, $36.4M), making it harder to assemble a decent and dependable bench considering the loss of those valuable draft picks.

Brooklyn are now in the hook and on the clock. Could they win an NBA title or two before other teams get to assemble a better lineup that will outmatch their superstar trio?

Situations eerily similar to 2013.

By: Armando M. Bolislis

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