Between the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce blockbuster ($33 million coming over), their already bulky contracts (see Joe Johnson at $21.5 million) and free-agent signings Andrei Kirilenko and Shaun Livingston, the Brooklyn Nets now have the highest payroll in the NBA: a cool $101 million.
That puts Brooklyn in the new CBA’s luxury-tax stratosphere and makes 2013-14 an historically expensive proposition—and maybe a flawed one at that.
Mikhail Prokhorov’s already $184 million out of pocket on his players alone, not including Jason Kidd’s guaranteed $2.5 million, the “highest-paid assistant in the NBA,” Lawrence Frank’s $1 million and millions in staff, promotions and giveaways.
When all is said and done, the Brooklyn Nets’ $200 million on-court operation will not only be the highest expenditure in basketball, but in football, hockey and amongst the top three in baseball itself (historically the sport with the highest payrolls and operating costs).
They may not even be done. Apparently, the luxury tax is no object. Nets GM Billy King told Hoopsworld, “I think it’s great for our fans and for our organization that we have an owner who is willing to spend the money.”
And it could be the big trade has crippled Brooklyn’s future prospects—the Nets gave up three first round draft picks (2014, 2016, 2018) and won’t have good draft position in 2017, either, agreeing to swap with the Boston Celtics.
Plus, Pierce’s contract comes off the books in 2014. Brooklyn will either re-sign him or find a necessarily expensive and talented replacement to mesh with the still-lucratively contracted Garnett (unguaranteed, though), Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez.
Looming over all of this is the additional “repeater tax,” which is like the mean, older brother of the luxury tax. According to Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen,
In [2014-15], the "repeater" tax will kick in, bringing with it the most gruesome financial penalties for high-payroll teams that the league has ever seen. The repeater tax threatens to change the way business is done in the NBA. [It will] punish teams that have paid a luxury tax for four consecutive seasons.
How deep are Prokhorov’s pockets? Throw in re-ups, tax penalties and Prokhorov’s obsessive need to the steal back pages from the Knicks, and the Nets literally could wind up costing nearly (an astounding) $1 billion dollars over the next four years.
Regardless, guaranteed money does not translate into a guaranteed title.
Now who is the best Eastern Conference team in 2013-14?
Brooklyn essentially added two past-their-prime starters and a past-his-prime sixth man from a team that couldn’t get out of the First Round against the weakest of the four contenders mentioned above (the Knicks).
The Pacers, who got within one game of the NBA Finals, and the Bulls, who cut down the Nets in Round 1, will be further improved in 2013-14.
The Knicks signed Metta World Peace out of the blue, giving their best-in-the-Atlantic roster an unexpected jolt.
Finally, LeBron James and the Miami Heat are still the team to beat.
Sure, the 2013-14 Nets are a better team on paper than last year in terms of talent, but did the upgrade address specific needs? Did it hurt? Have the now way-older Nets lost a step?
Even the pre-trade Nets were slow, and the team didn’t get any faster by adding three over-35-year old veterans.
Brooklyn was a top-half (sixth-best) defensive team in 2012-13, but was a bottom-half of the league transition defender (18th in opponent fast break points and 25th in opponent fast break efficiency).
The latter stat is destined to get worse (or at least not improve).
What about offense? There’s no doubt the Nets are better off with seniors Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry than Gerald Wallace and a handful of underachieving bench players (Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph and Keith Bogans), but their transition scoring will suffer, if that’s even possible.
Meanwhile, not only did the Nets have a major roster shakeup—they have a whole new coaching staff headed by someone who’s never coached at the pro level before.
That’s a lot to work out so quickly on the road to an instant NBA title. It just doesn’t happen that way. Even the Heat’s Big Three had to jell for a year (and lose to the Dallas Mavericks) before winning it all the following season.
This Nets roster—the most expensive team in NBA history—is not going to do better than that.