Opportunities to disentangle one's self from a pratfall so disastrously expensive it boggles the mind don't come around very often. That's what the Nets are—disastrously expensive, haplessly roaming a tarred and feathered Eastern Conference, searching for something to cure their snakebitten roster.
Houston has the antidote.
According to ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk, the Rockets phoned Brooklyn about trading Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik in a deal for Deron Williams:
According to a league source, the Rockets had preliminary talks with the Nets last week about Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. Talks never gained any steam, but the source said the Rockets were doing their due diligence and Williams' name came up. The Nets balked because one of the main reasons Pierce and Garnett agreed to a trade to Brooklyn was to play with Williams, according to the source.
Bleacher Report's Howard Beck confirmed the report, parroting that talks never gained traction. And as some are indubitably asking: Why would they?
Williams is a three-time All-Star and franchise cornerstone. Forking him over for a couple of boiler plates on poison-pill contracts screams desperation, and Brooklyn isn't there yet.
"Not at this point," Nets general manager Billy King said of blowing up Brooklyn's roster, per The New York Times' Harvey Araton. "We’re not there."
Only the Nets are there. This season, what it was supposed to be, is gone. Done. Lost.
Cutting losses, beginning with Williams, is the smart play if Asik and Lin are available, re-opening passageways to better days and actual success Brooklyn closed not long ago.
Depth For Sake of Playoffs
Dealing with Houston makes Brooklyn better, even when coming at the expense of Williams.
Already desecrated by periodic and extensive injuries, Brooklyn announced All-Star center Brook Lopez would miss the remainder of 2013-14 with (another) foot injury. It was an ailment indicative of the Nets' season—sudden, crippling and not at all unexpected.
Plans have changed since the Nets acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in hopes that pairing them with Joe Johnson, Williams and Brolo would form a faction capable of dethroning the Miami Heat. But where there was supposed to be heaping piles of wins and highlight reels, there is a doctor on standby, feverishly searching for ways to replenish his medical-tape supply.
Capped and luxury-taxed out to the high heavens, the depleted Nets are 9-18 and two games off the East's final playoff spot. Optimism is ebbing. Losing has proved contagious.
Complacency is deflating this team almost as much as injuries are.
"I think it's getting very close to just accepting losing," coach Jason Kidd said following Brooklyn's 103-86 home loss to the Indiana Pacers, per Newsday's Roderick Boone. "We kind of get comfortable with losing, and we've got to make a stand with that, because when things get tough, do we just give in? And most of the time right now, we do."
Owner Mikhail Prokhorov isn't paying nearly $200 million in salaries and luxury taxes for the Nets to submit. For them to accept losing.
All year, they've walked the line of implosion, ranking in the bottom 10 of points scored, points allowed and rebounds grabbed per game, without any lasting signs of improvement. Losing Lopez, their leading scorer, only complicates their already Gordian roster.
Bringing in Lin and Asik simplifies the process.
Depth at center isn't something Brooklyn has. There is no one up front capable of playing 30-plus minutes per game. Those days are gone for KG and shouldn't exist for rookie Mason Plumlee. And Andray Blatche's conditioning still doesn't justify that kind of burn.
Asik, who averaged a double-double last season, excels defensively, moreso than the much-improved Brolo. He doesn't demand the ball on offense, allowing Garnett to become more of a focal point without the perils of being a lone interior wolf.
Then there's Lin, who while necessary to make the deal work financially, isn't a throw-in. His numbers are actually better than those of Williams.
|Jeremy Lin vs. Deron Williams|
|Player||MPG||FG%||3P%||PTS||ASTS||Off. Rtg.||Def. Rtg.|
|Lin as Starter||31.3||50.6||43.2||16.3||4.7||115||111|
Lin is having a better season than Williams. Plain and simple.
Skeptics can point to Williams' All-Star appearances and argue he's the key to turning Brooklyn around. That's fine. It's also wrong at this point.
Lin won't make the Nets a championship team, but neither does D-Will. At least the former is younger and operating on more reliable ankles.
So what if, as Youngmisuk explains, Pierce and Garnett became Nets to play with Williams? They also thought they'd be contending for a title next to a healthy D-Will. If they balk at the opportunity to play alongside a point guard dwarfing Williams' production who also comes with low-post relief, then they deserve to miss the playoffs.
This deal could inject some life into these seemingly checked-out veterans. Lin can shoot threes efficiently now, paving the way for Pierce and Garnett kick-outs, giving Brooklyn an efficient outside weapon it simply doesn't have.
According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Lin also ranks as a more efficient pick-and-roll ball-handler than Williams—by 29 spots. Williams' injuries don't allow him to attack the rim and create for others off dribble penetration the way he used to. Lin can be that pick-and-roll, drive-and-kick-inclined point man a hobbled Williams just can't.
Simple fact is, Lin and Asik can bring the Nets further this season than a fragile Williams can.
Remember moments like this?
Bringing Lin back to the city where it all started (New York) is quite the marketing ploy. A potential bright spot in an otherwise forlorn season.
Caught between vanishing title hopes and inflexible finances, Brooklyn should bask in any interest, any hope it can generate.
Speaking Of Which...
Those near-unworkable finances become instantly malleable following this trade.
The Nets aren't slated to have real cap space until 2016, according to ShamSports.com. But moving Williams for Lin and Asik changes their fiscal outlook completely.
Although Lin and Asik are owed $15 million(ish) each next season, that's it. They come off the ledger before 2015-16, at which point the Nets can do what they like: re-sign them or take the cap relief.
Brooklyn could also trade them next year. While expensive, their concluding pacts are still valuable if dealt separately.
The Asik-Brolo situation is especially intriguing. If the Nets really wish to start over, they can attempt to move Lopez since Asik makes him expendable. Brolo's contract is suddenly steep thanks to his injuries, but if he comes back notching 20 points a night again, there will be some team willing to take a chance on him.
If Garnett plays out the life of his deal, that gives the Nets three expiring contracts to work with next year. And that's a big "if," which is a good thing.
Pierce will hit free agency this summer, and Garnett and himself remain a package deal. If Pierce leaves, Garnett would sooner retire or waive his no-trade clause before returning to Brooklyn without him.
In that scenario, the Nets can hope to move him to a contender (preferably where Pierce signs) for another expiring deal of equal or lesser value, or hold on to him, forcing Garnett to retire or play on. They have all the leverage and are under no obligation to trade him for a longer deal.
Johnson's contract likely remains immovable, but that's something Brooklyn must stomach. Even if the Nets keep both him and Lopez beyond next season, they head into summer 2015 with under $43.1 million on the books after parting ways with Williams, courtesy of Asik's, Lin's and Garnett's expiring deals.
Said figure could be even lower if Lopez declines his player option (not impossible). And just like that, a team barren of financial plasticity until summer 2016, has wiggle room by 2015 or sooner, depending how this summer's trade market shakes out.
Replenishing Draft Stock
Let me tell you a tale of a team that doesn't own the rights to their own first-rounder until 2019.
The Nets mortgaged their future on now, fleecing themselves of first-rounders for the next half-decade.
|Nets First-Round Draft-Pick Outlook|
|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.|
In need of draft picks, the Nets could demand a 2015 first-rounder be part of this trade, a price you have to believe Houston will pay if it means landing Williams.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey won't strike this deal in the first place if he doesn't believe in Williams. Knowing full well that Asik and Lin don't stand up to Williams' true value, and aware the Rockets plan on contending anyway, diminishing the value of their draft selections for the foreseeable future, parting ways with that pick is something he'll consider.
Obtaining a first-rounder in 2015 or even 2016 gives the Nets more flexibility, an asset they can trade in another deal or (gasp) actually use themselves.
Then, just like that, not only are their finances tactile, but their draft tank is no longer running on empty.
Pulling the Rip Chord
Look to the New York Knicks, Brooklyn's crosstown rival.
The Knicks are currently navigating an inescapable minefield of their own, oppressed by tough-to-move contracts, the most notable of which is Amar'e Stoudemire's.
Remember when they signed him to that five-year, uninsured deal worth roughly $100 million? Sure you do. It changed everything for them. Helped them land Carmelo Anthony. Made them relevant.
Relegated them to financial purgatory.
Williams' deal is shaping up in similar fashion. His presence compelled the Nets to trade for Johnson, Pierce and Garnett. But he's battled ankle and foot issues since his arrival, wrecking his internal and market value in the process.
Trading him now, for immediate assets and cap relief, is the equivalent of the Knicks being offered a get-out-now card barely one year after signing STAT.
Looking back, maybe they still sign Stoudemire. Again, the relevance and Anthony things. Yet, you better believe they also pull the rip chord before now if given the opportunity.
Actually, they had the opportunity. The Knicks could have amnestied him before the 2011-12 season or holstered the clause entirely, saving it for his inevitable demise. Instead, they amnestied the expiring contract of Chauncey Billups, when they could have attempted to dump him to create the room needed for Tyson Chandler.
Big mistake. STAT's a hard worker, but he's a shell of his former self.
Like the Knicks, the Nets have an out now. And they must seize the opportunity. Plans to lure a player like Kevin Durant in come 2016 are all fine and dandy, and the Nets will want existing talent they can point to as selling points.
Williams isn't that talent.
Think Durant or anyone else will want to play alongside a 30-something point guard with injury issues? Think D-Will can lead this Nets team to a title in spite of injuries and common logic?
"I don't think we have an identity," Garnett said of Brooklyn, per the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy.
The Nets also don't have a future. Not a promising one. But they can create one.
Moving Williams to the Rockets rescues them from an outlook defined by self-foisted tragedy and absence of options, pliancy and, most importantly, hope.