Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett won't have to carry the load in Brooklyn next season.
“Today, the basketball gods smiled on the Nets,” Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov told the Boston Globe.
The addition of the two future Hall of Famers made the Nets instant title contenders. But many are questioning how effective and healthy Garnett (37) and Pierce (35) will be next season.
During their final season in Boston, Garnett and Pierce missed a combined 19 games due to injury. The two aging stars carried the Celtics down the stretch in the absence of Rajon Rondo, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear in January.
Fortunately, the Nets won’t need Pierce and Garnett to carry the load next season. They’ll be asked to play a more complementary role in a starting lineup that includes Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez.
The key for head coach Jason Kidd will be managing their minutes and making sure they’re healthy for the playoffs. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the acquisition of free agent Andrei Kirilenko and the re-signing of Andray Blatche should allow Garnett and Pierce to play between 20-25 minutes per game throughout the regular season.
Garnett should fit nicely into the starting lineup next to All-Star center Brook Lopez. He complements Lopez on both ends of the floor.
Garnett is coming off a season in which he averaged 7.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals and nearly a block per game. He gives the Nets a defensive presence in the paint, something the Nets struggled with last season. More importantly, he’ll provide leadership and toughness to a young and upcoming frontcourt group.
Let’s not forget, while Garnett was averaging 13.7 rebounds in Boston’s first-round playoff series against the New York Knicks, Lopez allowed a hobbled Joakim Noah to record 24 points and 14 rebounds in a crushing Game 7 defeat at the Barclays Center.
Offensively, Garnett has lost some of the explosiveness that made him one of the best all-around players in the league for over a decade. He still occasionally posts up and attacks the basket, but at this point in his career, he prefers the mid-range jumper.
During his final season with the Celtics, he averaged 14.8 points on 49.6 percent shooting, along with 7.8 rebounds in 29.7 minutes per game.
Lopez, meanwhile, excels in the post. During his breakout 2012-13 campaign, he averaged 19.4 points and 6.9 rebounds on 52.1 percent shooting. He led all NBA centers in scoring, by continuing to find ways to create space in the paint and get quick, easy baskets.
Lopez is effective scoring off of cuts and the pick-and-roll. As last season progressed, the 7-footer developed an excellent chemistry with point guard Deron Williams. D-Will now has the option of the running the pick-and-pop through Garnett or the pick-and-roll through Lopez.
The re-signing of Blatche should allow Garnett to play far fewer minutes per game than when in Boston while focusing most his energy on the defensive end. The Nets were also able to keep power forward Reggie Evans, who was a rebounding machine last year.
Don’t count the Celtics President of Basketball Operations among those concerned about Garnett.
“We just saw [Garnett] get 17 rebounds a game three games in a row in an NBA playoff series, so I would not be feeling sorry for [the Nets] now,” Danny Ainge told the New York Post.
In contrast to Garnett, Pierce has more to offer the Nets on offense than on defense.
Pierce averaged 18.6 points and 4.8 assists on 43.6 percent shooting with the Celtics in 2012-13. He’s still a high-level shooter from almost every spot on the floor.
With Rondo out of the lineup for the second half of last season, Pierce also developed into a dynamic distributor. He should thrive under Kidd, who has talked about running an offense emphasizing ball movement and floor spacing.
With Pierce operating on the wing as a secondary facilitator to Williams, the Nets offense should be quite formidable next season.
The recent signing of Kirilenko will give Kidd the luxury of playing Pierce half to three quarters of any game and no more. Pierce wore down while averaging 43.2 minutes against the Knicks in the playoffs last season. He shot just 29.4 percent from three-point range in the series.
As an older player who wore down over the last two seasons, Kidd should have an understanding of how Pierce’s minutes should be managed.
It’s unlikely the Nets will be able to knock off the defending champion Heat in the playoffs without Pierce and Garnett. Expect the two to play 20-25 minutes per game and even get a night off every once and a while.
Garnett will need to focus more of his energy on the defensive end, while Pierce will be relied on to distribute and provide a scoring punch on offense.
Ainge, who brought Garnett to Boston, believes the two will do just fine in Brooklyn next season.
“They’ve got a lot left in the tank, especially [because of] the fact that they don’t have to do it every night,” Ainge told the New York Post. “If Paul and [Garnett] had to go out there and be player A and B every night and score 20 and 10 every night, yeah, there’d be some concern.”
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