Brooklyn Nets: How Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett Trade Shakes Up Eastern Conference
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ESPN.com reports that Kevin Garnett has waived his no-trade clause to, in principle, be sent along with Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph and three first-round picks in the 2014, 2016, and 2018 NBA Drafts.
That certainly stole the show on 2013 NBA Draft night. The draft is often where the futures of bad franchises are decided because they're trying to draft cornerstones they can build around. Very seldom are we treated to the fortunes of a team trying to contend change at the Draft.
Now, Garnett and Pierce, two veterans with championship experience, will team up with three more All-Star caliber players in Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez to challenge Miami and Indiana for position at the top of the Eastern Conference.
I don't think any other team in the NBA aside from this specific edition of the Nets could feel comfortable with this deal. Yeah, the Clippers wanted Pierce and KG, and I give Donald Sterling credit for finally spending a bit of money on a coach after decades of leaving his fan base apoplectic over his refusal to spend. But Sterling isn't Mikhail Prokhorov. He's really rich. And he probably hasn't figured out or cared what "luxury tax" means in Russian.
This past year, the Spurs taught us that it's dangerous to count out good teams because they're "too old". The year before that, Garnett and Pierce's old C's squad (which featured Ray Allen as well) were teaching the future champions that lesson, too. Both teams took Miami to a Game 7 while being up 3-2.
That doesn't stop me from being a little skeptical of this move. Those veteran teams weren't good because they were specifically old, they were good because they had been playing together for more than a few years and had familiarity with one another. Maybe the main core of those teams were past their prime. But they had the intangibles down to a "T." And honestly, they could make plays that even ultra-athletic and ultra-talented teams like the Miami Heat just couldn't make.
For example, in the 2013 Finals series, the only person on the Spurs who really could play any semblance of one-on-one defense was Kawhi Leonard. So Duncan would know exactly how to call out the defensive keywords and phrases and calibrate his defense to lock down on the other guys, while Leonard would guard LeBron.
Down the stretch, they just knew where to go, who could do what and how to play with one another's weaknesses and strengths. Old or young, those advantages just aren't as prevalent on a team that was just put together.
It's hard to see how the pieces fit together also. Some fans still think of Garnett as a power forward, but the truth is that he's been a center ever since he he joined the C's. I don't know how he ends up fitting with Brook Lopez. Maybe Lopez can play off of Garnett as a stretch-four type guy on offense in the high-post.
But just ask the Los Angeles Lakers how that worked with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, two players who are both superior to Garnett and Lopez. More to the point, we absolutely know that Lopez and Garnett out there at the same time is just begging teams like Miami to go small against them, and they already sport a deficient defense (the Nets rank 19th in the defensive efficiency rankings per John Hollinger of ESPN).
And then there's Pierce and Johnson. Both are ball-dominating wing players that need the ball to be effective. Pierce has more experience deep in the post-season and should, in theory, take the big shots in the fourth quarter. But there was basically one time in his career when he played with a decent shooting guard, and that was with Allen.
Allen thrived because he's perfectly fine being just a three-point shooter. Johnson, while being a good shooter in his own right, has never been an off-ball shooter in his life. There's a serious case of overlapping talents here. Both guys understand that this arrangement only exists for them to win, but who's going to capitulate and be the less-dominant wing player?
It's easy to assume that the fifth member of the party and best player of the group, Deron Williams, can make it all work. But he had an off year by his standards last campaign, and has a lot to prove as well. As good as of a point man as he is, deep down Williams thrives as a scorer and will throw a wrench in Pierce and Johnson's jostling for ball dominance.
Maybe the right coaching moves can make it work. Williams should be the focal point of the offense for sure. Lopez would probably have to take a backseat to Garnett and let him be the main center.
The Nets do have the ability to throw out a dangerous crunch-time lineup of Williams, Terry, Johnson, Pierce and Garnett. In that case, Terry is the kick-out shooter, and Garnett rebounds and plays defensive coordinator. Pierce and Johnson would rotate isolation responsibilities and the task of guarding the opposing go-to wing guy, depending on the match ups. Pierce is a better one-on-one defender and the candidate to check LeBron or Paul George.
But are we really sure a first-year coach with no experience can figure this out, even if it is Nets legend Jason Kidd? I'm not so sure. Either way, the Eastern Conference just got a whole lot more interesting.
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