Options, like financial flexibility, elude the Brooklyn Nets.
Scores of victories were supposed to follow. Tales of their unflappable dominance would rule the day. The Nets were nine figures' worth of success, oozing championship potential.
Injuries and an excessive number of losses have postdated their success instead. The latest team announcement has Pierce missing two-to-four weeks with a fractured right hand, injecting further misery into Brooklyn's already downtrodden party.
At 5-13, the Nets aren't finished. The Eastern Conference is terrible, the Atlantic Division even worse. They're a few wins away from turning their season around. But as they continue to rank in the bottom 12 of points scored and allowed, rebounds and assists per game, they're running out of time as well.
Straitjacketed by their own ambitions, by their own financial pitfalls, they may also be out of options if something doesn't change.
Perils of Standing Pat
Last resorts aren't always worth exploring.
Brooklyn was set to contend for a title this season and may therefore be inclined to ride out this roller coaster from hell. At day's end, the Nets' roster still hosts a variety of perennial All-Stars, future Hall of Famers and big names. They still play in the tumultuous Eastern Conference. They are still only 1.5 games off the Atlantic Division lead. All hope is not lost.
Worst-case scenario, expensive mayhem continues and Brooklyn is left with an invaluable lottery pick this summer. That's not the end of the world, right? Not at all. It's also not possible.
Standing pat in hopes of playing for a championship or improbable lottery selection isn't an option. The Nets fleeced themselves of first-round selections over the past two summers and don't control their own pick until 2019.
|Brooklyn's First-Round Draft 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.|
Ideally, this would be their backup plan. Let it roll. Fling the dice. Allow this season to play out.
Their roster, when healthy, is built for the postseason. For games against the Miami Heat. Squeaking into the playoffs still puts them in position to contend. All the Nets need is a postseason berth. A chance. Springtime optimism could take control from there.
Making that call, if the maladjusted dysfunction continues, is easier with draft picks, knowing the cash-strapped Nets can find a building block fresh out of college if all else fails.
But there is no such pliability in Brooklyn, where the decision to change nothing either renders the Nets postseason-bound or a pricey disaster, on the outside looking in, without any of the perks losing carries.
Unraveling the Unblowuppable
Turning back might not be possible.
If the losing doesn't pass, there is only one course of action left for the Nets to explore: razing the roof.
Tanking with current personnel isn't an option. There are no first-round saviors awaiting Brooklyn at the end of a long, winding, treacherous road. No cap space to be gained from legions of expiring contracts.
Brooklyn cannot traverse the oft-forgotten San Antonio Spurs route—where contenders are harnessed from within, not bought—for five years. Your unborn child will be entering kindergarten, knapsack packed with teeth-rotting snacks and all, before the Nets can realistically rebuild via the draft.
Cue the roster explosion.
What's that? Self-destruct buttons weren't included in Brooklyn's purchase? Well I'll be damned more than Mikhail Prokhorov's checking account.
Blowing this roster up won't be easy. Truthfully, it might not even be possible. Not to the point where Nets fans find sanctuary in free-agent pursuits before 2016 or 2017. Fiscally responsible teams have ruined such recourse for the reckless.
Most of me wishes I could spare the gory details. But I can't. So put your big-boy or -girl pants on; it's about to get real (sad real quick).
|Brooklyn's Salary Outlook|
|Season||Guaranteed Total||All-Inclusive Total|
Cap relief won't come until 2016. And even then, the Nets will be left with an injury-prone, maxed-out Williams for another year, clinging to the hope that Kevin Durant can be seduced by Brooklyn lore (or lack thereof).
Expediting this process figures to be difficult, if not impossible. Three of Brooklyn's Big Five have contracts that, including player and early termination options, span through at least 2015-16. Lopez, the Nets' most valuable trade asset, could easily be dumped for an expiring deal this season, but he's the one player who should be considered untouchable.
Moving Garnett—who has a no-trade clause—in exchange for an expiring pact could be a possibility. But he would have to approve any deal, which he's unlikely to do if Pierce isn't coming with him.
Say the Nets do this; say they find a taker with expiring deals that match up to Pierce's concluding contract and Garnett. More salary discharges would be required. Wipe both Garnett and Pierce from the ledger next season, and the Nets still have over $70 million in guaranteed salary commitments for 2014-15. And this hypothetical deal doesn't even put a dent in their cap space for 2015-16, when Johnson, Lopez and Williams are all still on the books.
Legitimately jumping ship would dictate the Nets trade Johnson and Williams (and maybe Lopez) for players on shorter deals. Expiring contracts would again be the goal, but the Nets could settle for 2014-15, too.
Tell me, which teams will relinquish favorable contracts for Williams and/or Johnson, without the promise of first-round draft picks in return?
My apologies for not waiting; we don't have that kind of time.
I'll stop short of calling Johnson and Williams immovable, but they're not far from it. Few teams would be willing to gamble even on Williams until they know he's fully healthy. But if he was fully healthy, we wouldn't be having this conversation.
Ripcords weren't installed when this docket was assembled. There is no easy way to dismantle this core, to change directions.
There is only what we see—a financial headache compounded by the absence of a fail-safe.
Would They? Could They?
First, the Nets would have to decide it's time for Plan B. Next, they would have to figure out what Plan B is. Finally, they would have to embrace it, which they're unlikely to do.
Dismembering this roster is an admission that their current blueprint, present direction is a failure. Prokhorov isn't one for takebacks—and even if he was, it's not that simple.
Demolition cannot begin in Brooklyn unless new homes are found for the most burdening contracts. Forget Pierce and Garnett; Johnson and Williams restrict the Nets financially more than anyone.
That's what the Nets must commit to should they decide to blow it up—trading their All-Star point guard. Which they won't. Because they can't.
Williams and Johnson account for the two most-intransigent deals in Brooklyn right now. The Nets only move one of them if they're willing to take a long contract in return—which defeats the purpose of bankrupting this roster— or they package them with Lopez.
There is no Plan B. There is only this disfigured, insufficient version of Plan A, the present conditions the Nets must tie their immediate fate to for lack of a palatable or plausible escape route.
*All salary information obtained via Hoopsworld unless otherwise indicated.