Panic button, meet the Brooklyn Nets; Brooklyn, meet the panic button.
Seeing as how there will be a whole lot of interaction between you two moving forward, I thought there should be a proper introduction. Everybody acquainted? Exchanged phone numbers? Practiced the finger-to-button salsa dance? Excellent.
Familiarize yourself with one another, because you're going to spend a lot of time together. Not to say the Nets are an outright bust—they're a cataclysmic disaster.
Brooklyn, 3-10 to start the season, isn't out of playoff contention yet, though they're trending in that direction. A season-ending injury to Derrick Rose, coupled with underwhelming starts from the entire Atlantic Division, has the Nets in the thick of everything. Really, the Eastern Conference has turned into a two-team race between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, the lone organizations that are playing as if they're aware the NBA season already started.
Merely remaining in the playoff hunt wasn't what the Nets had in mind, though. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov gave his blessing to the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry acquisitions, along with the nine-figure payroll they came with, to contend for a championship. To win a championship.
Dwelling near the bottom of the conference, in expensive ruins, wasn't part of the plan. Searching for an identity 13 games into the season wasn't part of the plan.
The Nets thought they had purchased a winner, bought and paid for a soul. What they have instead is an addled waterloo, scourged by the absence of present character and a future filled with crippling limitations.
The Here, The Now
Chin up, Brooklyn. Things are going to get better, if only because they cannot get any worse.
Weakened by injuries to Brook Lopez and Deron Williams, the Nets currently rank in the bottom 11 of points scored, points allowed, assists and rebounds per game. Garnett and Pierce are playing their age, leaving the Nets with almost no bright spots on the roster. Their bench has been a saving grace and ranks sixth in scoring, and Joe Johnson has found a way to score, but otherwise, they've been a joke.
Jason Kidd, Brooklyn's rookie head coach, has a target on his back. Grace periods and leniency weren't bullet points of his job description. Brooklyn needed to win now, to contend now, and so, much of the burden for this hapless start falls on him.
Rally your troops, Jason. Shoot better than 37.9 percent from the floor, Paul. Score more than 6.5 points a night, KG. That's been Brooklyn's season in an imprisoning nutshell.
Suffering through this brief image of the here and now is imperative. We have to understand how far the Nets have fallen, how far they must travel before hitting their stride.
We must understand just what it is the Nets darkened their future outlook for.
No Money, No Draft Picks, But Plenty of Problems
For some reason, the Nets felt it pertinent to go the New York Knicks route in an attempt to buy a championship by emptying their pockets of valuable draft picks.
Brooklyn doesn't own the rights to their own first-round selection until 2019. Seriously. See for yourself:
|Brooklyn's First-Round Picks|
|2014||Celtics/Hawks||Brooklyn will convey the less favorable of its 2014 first-round pick and Atlanta's 2014 first-round pick to Boston.|
|2015||Hawks||Atlanta has the right to swap its 2015 first-round pick for Brooklyn's 2015 first-round pick|
|2016||Celtics||Brooklyn's 2016 first-round pick to Boston.|
|2017||Celtics||Boston has the right to swap its 2017 first-round pick for Brooklyn's 2017 first-round pick|
|2018||Brooklyn's 2018 first-round pick to Boston.|
If you take away only one thing from the above chart, let it be this: Brooklyn is screwed come draft day for the next half-decade.
When they actually have a first-rounder, they'll be left with the "less favorable" of two. Either the Nets are permitted to keep a bottom-level draft pick or, worse still, are forced to swap a higher-end selection for a lower-valued spot because they just had to have Pierce and Garnett.
I told you it wasn't pretty. And it gets worse.
The Nets aren't projected to be under the cap until 2015 and even then aren't forecasted to have enough room for a max-level deal until 2016.
|Deron Williams||$18,466,130||$19,754,465||$21,042,800||$22,331,135 (ETO)|
|Brook Lopez||$14,693,906||$15,719,062||$16,744,218 (PO)|
|Mirza Teletovic||$3,229,050||$3,368,100||$4,210,125 (QO)|
|Andrei Kirilenko||$3,183,000||$3,326,235 (PO)|
|Andray Blatche||$1,375,604||$1,437,506 (PO)|
|Mason Plumlee||$1,298,640||$1,357,080||$1,415,520 (TO)||$2,328,530 (TO)||$3,371,712 (QO)|
|Alan Anderson||$947,907||$1,063,384 (PO)|
|Tornike Shengelia||$788,872||$1,115,243 (QO)|
|TyShawn Taylor||$788,872||$1,115,243 (QO)|
Confined financially for the next few years, the Nets won't have aggressive-level space in the free-agent pool unless they move any combination of long-term deals. If they don't, they won't have money to burn until 2016, when Williams' suddenly cumbersome contract is still on the books. Those thinking he'll exercise his early termination option and wipe Brooklyn's slate clean before 2016-17, look at his injury history and think again.
Fortunately for the Nets, Kevin Durant and Roy Hibbert, among others, could hit the open market at that time. Hell, if LeBron James continues to opt in with the Miami Heat until then, he could be available, too.
But the summer of 2016 is almost three years away. The Nets aren't footing a luxury-tax bill longer than Rapunzel's hair for later, especially when "later" doesn't come with the promise of Durant, only the possibility.
They put all their chips in this pot, in now. This season is all they have. Their championship window is pried open for one year.
Sadly, he wasn't kidding. Even more tragically, we should wish he was.
Wait, It Gets Worse
What if the Nets don't turn things around, prompting Garnett and Pierce to seek refuge elsewhere? Or what if the team still gets their act together and those two don't care?
Pierce is an unrestricted free agent after this season, at which point, I'm not entirely convinced he won't sign with Doc Rivers' Los Angeles Clippers for the veteran's minimum. If not the Clippers, though, it could be another team. The Truth has that freedom.
Garnett doesn't. Though, he kind of does.
The future Hall of Famer isn't going to remain in Brooklyn if Pierce signs elsewhere. He'll either demand a trade or retire himself. And if he demands a trade, the Nets have their hands tied by his no-trade clause. Garnett must approve any deal, limiting their options considerably.
Permitting both to walk—Pierce in free agency, KG in retirement or a trade—doesn't help the Nets, either. Without Pierce on the docket next season, they still owe close to $83 million in guaranteed deals (that number could exceed $91 million eventually). Subtract Garnett's $12 million salary from the ledger, and the Nets are still well over the cap, toeing the luxury-tax line.
Their feet bound, mouth gagged and hands cuffed, the Nets have only one option—hope this works out, hope they wind up competing. Righting this ship gives the Nets hope that they can keep this core intact for another year before blowing it up. Before playing host to a whole new wave of issues.
An inability to turn things around puts them in a no-win situation. They can bid farewell to the salaries of Garnett and Pierce, knowing they cannot earmark that cash for someone else, or, feeling painted into a corner, they can bring them both back, knowing things will only get worse.
Brooklyn is in trouble—in dire straits.
Immediately, the Nets are trying to figure out who they are, why they traded for Pierce and Garnett again and if they have what it takes to make the playoffs, let alone contend for a title.
Long term, they have no idea what they have. All that currently awaits them is a mixed bag of indelible contracts and scaling sheaf of luxury tax bills.
"We all believe that in the locker room," Kidd said of the team's belief that losing will make winning much sweeter, per the New York Daily News' Filip Bondy.
This is all assuming that the Nets start to win, their potential to do so hardly etched in stone.
"Seems like we’re not even close," Johnson added, via Bondy.
That's not entirely true. The Nets are close. Very close. Right on top of something. Far from where they expected to be at this point in the season, Brooklyn is closing in on their self-manufactured destiny. On their long-term trajectory.
Closing in on an empty future.
Stats accurate as of Nov. 25, 2013.