Once upon a time, an NBA team playing in a major media market—with an aging roster, a bloated payroll, and outsized expectations—shocked the league by acquiring two soon-to-be-Hall-of-Famers in a desperate push to win a championship. Huge personalities abounded, as did questions about health, chemistry, and the fitness for the task at hand of the coach brought on board.
We already know how things played out for the Lakers in 2012-13. They struggled amidst the strain of injuries and coaching changes and crumbled under the weight of nearly impossible expectations. Between Steve Nash's leg, Dwight Howard's back and shoulder, Kobe Bryant's ankle and Achilles, and the knees of Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, the Lakers could've opened their very own infirmary.
Heck, even Mike D'Antoni arrived on crutches!
These and other extenuating circumstances conspired to submarine the Purple and Gold. They snuck in as the seventh seed in a loaded Western Conference by way of a 28-12 finish, only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
This, after ending the 2011-12 season as the third and being pushed to a seventh game by the Denver Nuggets in the 2012 playoffs.
The Nets, too, were pushed to a Game 7 by a lower seeded team in 2013. In Brooklyn's case, though, that run ended with a loss to the shorthanded Chicago Bulls.
Like the Lakers last summer, such a finish wasn't going to cut it for the Nets. Their owner, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, had promised a championship within five years upon purchasing the team in 2010.
Clearly, the Nets' roster as constituted wasn't going to cut it. Gerald Wallace couldn't have drawn less attention from opposing defenders if he'd worn a Harry Potter's invisibility cloak over his jersey. A coach would have less anxiety playing a game of Russian Roulette than he would in choosing between Kris Humphries, Reggie Evans, and Andray Blatche at power forward.
Let's not even start on the rest of the bench, which was comprised largely of players like C.J. Watson and MarShon Brooks, who underperformed in comparison to the year prior.
The Nets were anything but a lost cause, though. Brook Lopez was an All-Star. Deron Williams finally started to play like one after battling injuries throughout the first half of the season. Joe Johnson shot poorly overall, but hit his fair share of clutch looks over the course of his first campaign in Brooklyn.
But with a payroll set to soar right past the NBA's luxury tax line in 2013-14, all hope seemed lost for the Nets to improve their roster with impact signings of any sort. So, general manager Billy King followed Mitch Kupchak's example and traded for big-name players whose arrivals will push the team's fiscal obligations to absurd heights. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the additions of Garnett, Pierce, and Terry—in exchange for Keith Bogans, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, and three first-round picks—will push Brooklyn's payroll toward $100 million and, in turn, its luxury tax bill near $80 million.
Not that such a penalty was ever going to deter Prokhorov, whose fortune exceeds $13 billion and stands as the second largest of any NBA owner.
On paper (not green paper, but proverbial paper), Brooklyn's expensive additions seem well worth the money due to be spent. KG gives the Nets the solution at power forward they've long sought, one who can shore up their defense with smart rim protection and bolster their offense with his smooth jump shot. With Pierce taking over for Wallace on the wing, the Nets no longer have to worry about opponents clogging the paint to make life on the court difficult for Deron Williams and Brook Lopez.
Lest said opponents leave themselves vulnerable to The Truth's outside shot.
In JET, the Nets now have a combo guard who they can bring off the bench to spell either D-Will or Johnson—and who, like Garnett and Pierce, has championship experience to boot.
However, being good on paper, with All-Stars and All-NBA performers up the wazoo, won't necessarily cut it for the Nets. The three former Bostonians will all be 36 or older by the time the 2013-14 season tips off. KG has fought through all manner of wear-and-tear-related maladies over the last six years, though, to his credit, he's stepped up his game considerably in the postseason. Terry took a significant step back last season while adjusting to an ever-shifting role on a new team in a new city.
If anything, Pierce may be the most reliable buy of the bunch. He nearly averaged a line of 19-6-5 in 2012-13 while spending most of the campaign as Boston's offensive hub, in the wake of Rajon Rondo's torn ACL. The responsibility wore Pierce down in the playoffs, but he won't have to worry about shouldering such a heavy load in Brooklyn.
He'll have Deron Williams to do that. Pierce, meanwhile, can settle into a manicured role as a shooter/scorer.
Health will be a significant concern for all three, though, as it will for Brooklyn's incumbent trio. So, too, will team chemistry, or rather a lack thereof, especially with a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd taking over on the bench.
Luckily for the Nets, a core group as veteran as theirs won't require too much in the way of direction. Kidd need only provide the overall leadership and let his assistants, including former Nets head coach Lawrence Frank, handle the particulars (i.e. spreading the floor for Deron Williams on the pick-and-roll, defensive positioning and tactics) for Brooklyn's talent and experience to take over.
But while the exchange of spare parts for Celtics castoffs should boost the team's win total and prospects for postseason success, the Nets can only climb so high before they run into the glass ceiling known otherwise as the Miami Heat. The two-time defending champions figure to have their Big Three back for another go, and will be the favorites in the Eastern Conference so long as LeBron James is still the best player on planet Earth.
It's not as though the Heat are the only team with which the Nets will have to tangle, either. The Indiana Pacers should be even better next year after pushing the Heat to the brink, assuming David West re-signs, Danny Granger comes back healthy, and Larry Bird upgrades the bench. The Chicago Bulls will be firmly in the mix as well, so long as Derrick Rose is still his superstar self after a year off.
And don't forget about the New York Knicks, who appear to have fallen behind their cross-bridge rivals in the battle for the Empire City, but who still sport the best player (Carmelo Anthony) between the two teams.
In all likelihood, the Nets will be good (if not really good) next season. Billy King did well to capitalize on the Los Angeles Clippers' inability to keep their plans under wraps during the lead-up to Doc Rivers' move out of Beantown. The move will clearly cost Brooklyn, both monetarily and in terms of roster flexibility, but so long as Prokhorov can foot the bill, the Nets should be fine. They may not win the East or crack the conference finals over the next two seasons, even though their odds of doing so have improved considerably.
But the odds of this super squad crashing and burning would seem far lower than those that plagued the Lakers from the jump last season. It's tough to imagine the egos of KG and D-Will clashing to the extent that those of Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant did, just as it's tough to envision the Nets firing Jason Kidd five games into the schedule.
In truth, there's no telling how anything will unfold for the Nets. Throwing that much money, star power, and uncertainty into a pressurized situation like those encountered by all Big Apple affiliates—as well as their counterparts in LA—can be a recipe for disaster.
For the Nets, though, it should make for a relatively successful mixture, especially after bringing a five-year lottery slump to such a swift, decisive end.
That is, so long as nobody expects the Nets to also stifle Miami's championship streak.
Which, in a city as big as Brooklyn, is impossible to guarantee.
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