The Brooklyn Nets famously got fleeced by the Boston Celtics in 2013 in one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.
In exchange for a way-past-his-prime Kevin Garnett and the short-term rental of Paul Pierce, Brooklyn gave up three prime first-round draft picks, the last of which just got sent during last year’s offseason to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving.
The Celtics are a powerhouse, fresh off an Eastern Conference Finals appearance and well-positioned to make another one as the No. 2 team in the East, and they’ve done this even as the biggest free-agent acquisition the franchise has made since 2007, Gordon Hayward, has watched the season in street clothes after a catastrophic injury.
Those draft picks turned into Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and Tatum came via more trade magic from Celtics GM Danny Ainge when he sent the No. 1 pick, which became injured potential bust Markelle Fultz, to Philadelphia for what is looking like it’s going to be the Sacramento Kings’ first-round pick in 2019—and the Kings are atrocious.
The Celtics just bought themselves a dynasty, and the price was two guys who were never factors in Brooklyn.
The Nets went 44-38 in the 2013-14 season, bowing out meekly in the second round of the playoffs against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Brooklyn’s win totals since then? 38, 21, 20, and, this year and adjusted for the games left in the season, 25 (they are 20-44 at this writing.)
Meanwhile, they’ve built a “young core” of guys like Spencer Dinwiddie, Allen Crabbe, and D’Angelo Russell, collectively quite possibly the worst three-guard small-ball lineup in NBA history.
Don’t believe me? The three guys’ stats speak volumes.
Combined, they’re shooting 704-of-1778 (39.6 percent) from the field on a team that is dead last in the league in team field goal percentage.
From three, they’re 314-of-933 (33.7 percent), and the team is 26th in the league in percentage despite having taken the second-highest number of shots from long range (behind only the wacky Houston Rockets, who take an absurd 42.6 threes a game compared to Brooklyn’s 35.3.)
The Nets have three guys in an up-tempo “Seven Seconds or Less”-style offense where the goal is to take lots of shots…and they can’t shoot.
Worse still, those guys usually share the floor together; they start as a small-ball lineup best described as “suck faster.”
It doesn’t matter who’s on this team; they can’t shoot and they can’t play defense (Brooklyn is 23rd in defensive rating.)
Crabbe makes $19.3 million this year. Dinwiddie’s making barely league minimum, Russell and the insanely, what-were-they-thinking acquired Jahlil Okafor are on rookie contracts. And they’re on the hook for a combined $30 million to Timofey Mozgov and DeMarre Carroll.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Deron Williams, who hasn’t played for the Nets since 2015, still counts as a $5.5 million salary on their books.
This means most of their cap is tied up for at least the next two seasons, even if Carroll’s expiring deal in 2019 might serve as trade bait.
Nets fans aren’t getting any help in the draft. Cleveland has their pick this year, and starting next year, the league’s changing the way the lottery works to disincentivize tanking; the Nets will be just another bad team.
All the echoes of a hoped-for push for relevance are gone. Pierce, Garnett, and D-Will are retired. Brook Lopez is on the Lakers. And just about everyone else on that 44-38 den of mediocrity is either out of the league or making a career somewhere else; a rookie, Mirza Teletovic, might be the best 2018 players on a roster from only four years ago, and he might just be the victim of a career-ending injury.
It’s hard to see a scenario where the Nets are good for a long time to come.
It will be 2020 before they can start rebuilding. 2022 before they’re good again. And that’s if they don’t manage to dig themselves even deeper in the meantime.
The legacy of Billy King is less a deep cut and more the irradiated wasteland of a nuclear war that Brooklyn lost.
And every time they run out that lineup, with players moving faster and getting their tails handed to them from the opening tip, it’s like watching life try to take hold in solid rock.
The Nets…are screwed.