Money buys all kinds of things, and wills others into existence. But it cannot buy chemistry in the NBA.
Consumed with winning now, the Brooklyn Nets broke the bank by trading for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, on top of paying max-level money to Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson. This side of the lockout, the move was financially vicious, leaving Brooklyn as the only team with a payroll exceeding $100 million.
Cost was no object, though. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov is results-driven. Extensive luxury tax bills would be paid with a smile and clink of the glass, provided the Nets were winning and contending.
Coping with injuries and much growing pains, Brooklyn is failing. Following their embarrassing loss at home to the Detroit Pistons Sunday, the Nets dropped to 3-10 on the season, a mere half game ahead of the last-place Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference.
That has left everyone on the hot seat. Lopez and Williams have been beset with injury, but Garnett and Pierce have lacked the fire they showed as members of the Boston Celtics.
Garnett is slowly, surely polluting his legacy of unparalleled desire. He's shooting 34.9 percent from the field, been a non-factor on the offensive end, and is developing a nasty habit of fading down the down the stretch after strong starts.
0-for-5 today, Kevin Garnett is now shooting 10-for-44 (23 percent) in the 2nd half of games.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) November 24, 2013
Pierce is struggling offensively as well, unable to find that balance between superstar and glorified role player.
Jason Kidd, the player turned coach, is being berated. The Nets didn't have time for him to learn the ropes. He needed to come in, take the reins and steer this team to victory.
Instead, after the latest loss, Kidd met with Brooklyn's management before speaking with the media, per Tim Bontemps of the New York Post. It was an impromptu pow-wow that has everyone wondering: What's next?
Nets brain trust having long meeting in the hallway before Kidd meets with media.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) November 24, 2013
Everything is scripted by this point. The players and coaching staff have their responses down pat. They parrot the same things over and over and over, preaching hard work, pleading for patience and pointing out the obvious.
KG: "Tough times right now. But I don't believe in feeling sorry for yourself. I believe in working your (tail) off."— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) November 24, 2013
Tough times that, if you ask former Net Gerald Wallace, were to be expected.
"I kind of figured this might happen a little bit, especially at the start, with Deron (Williams) missing all of the training camp and preseason," he explained Sunday, per Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald. "I think it’s just awkward that everybody just expected them to come out of the gates on fire."
That's exactly what everyone expected these Nets to do—set the NBA ablaze. Their hype rivaled that of last season's Los Angeles Lakers, who, after an offseason coup, limped into the playoffs—a nine-figure disaster.
All year, the Lakers struggled with the Nets' main defect right now: lack of chemistry.
"Playing on a team, you’ve got to have chemistry," Wallace said. "You know, guys have got to know how to play together."
The Nets don't. They have no identity. Nothing positive that separates them from the pack. They rank in the bottom 10 in points scored and points allowed. They're in the bottom 10 in assists and are 15th in rebounding. They're a hot mess, compounded by injuries and beleaguered by lethargy. Kidd didn't even have his starters in the game against the Pistons to start the fourth, when the Nets were down by 11.
Mason, Mirza, Toko, Tyshawn, Anderson on the court to start the fourth. Message? Sent? #Nets— Mike Mazzeo (@MazzESPN) November 24, 2013
Not normal. But Kidd expressed no regret about his decision, taking it one step further in his postgame comments. Per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
Kidd says he shouldn't have even brought starters in the game in fourth quarter, leaving in energetic backups.— Stefan Bondy (@NYDNInterNets) November 24, 2013
For this team, that shouldn't be an issue. Energy shouldn't be an issue. Heart shouldn't be an issue.
Players talk of unrelenting diligence, but we've yet to see this Nets-speak translate onto the court. Third quarters have been doom and gloom for the Nets all year. They're a minus-20.6 points per 48 minutes on the season in the third, according to NBA.com (subscription required), and they were out-hustled by 19 points against Detroit. This wasn't supposed to happen.
Garnett and Pierce were brought in to give the Nets a voice. A soul. What the Nets failed to see is that it would take time, take patience.
But the Nets don't have time. They made a move that required patience, with a ceiling that wasn't fit to last. Now, they're left to slosh around in what they've built, languishing in what they've failed to achieve.
Where will the Nets finish in the Eastern Conference this season?
"This is what they wanted to do," Wallace pointed out. "They wanted a championship like right now, so it’s got to happen for them. I’m not sure it will happen for them this year.”
Brooklyn was soulless last season—an emotional wasteland where anger, ecstasy and general feeling went to die. Over the summer, the Nets attempted to buy that soul. That heart. That chemistry.
This start isn't what they wanted. More (a lot more) of the same isn't what they paid for. But it's what they have.
This is what they're left to work with—what you're always left to work with when you try to purchase something that cannot be bought.