Following a start to the 2013-14 season that can only be described as disgusting, putrid, miserable or a synonym of your choosing, the Brooklyn Nets need to figure out a plan for the future.
They can continue playing as if nothing negative has happened, competing with an increasingly crippled roster, a lame duck calling himself a head coach, a team that boasts absolutely no chemistry or competitive edge over its opponents and a record that should depress fans and players alike.
Or, they can change things up.
There are two solutions to the problem that's brewing in the Barclays Center.
First, the Nets could take turns staring into the socks that Jason Terry wore on Christmas Day.
Perhaps the entire organization could be hypnotized into thinking that everything happening this season is just fine and dandy. As anyone who watched the Nets take on the Chicago Bulls surely knows, those socks were quite eye-catching, drawing attention despite the unbelievably hideous nature of the sleeved Chicago uniforms.
Failing that, it's time for a rebuild. And that second solution is—obviously—the much more realistic and likely scenario.
Brooklyn currently stands as an organization without much hope, a statement that applies universally to both the present and the future.
In fact, they're even getting accustomed to losing, as Jason Kidd recently told SportingNews.com's Sean Deveney: "I think it is getting very close to us just accepting losing. We are kind of getting comfortable with losing. We got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in? Most of the time right now, we do.”
When Brook Lopez was knocked out of the lineup for the rest of the season with a fractured foot, he effectively carried away all hopes of fielding a competitive team, hope that won't return until the 2016-17 campaign. BroLo might not have been the most glamorous name on the roster, but he was arguably the team's most important player.
Between his improved rim-protecting skills and his undeniable offensive impact, Lopez had become the go-to player. When in doubt, the Nets' offensive strategy was simply to throw the ball to the 7-footer and hope for the best.
But that option is no longer available, and there's no realistic way to replace him. At least it's not internally, and it's tough for the Nets to make a trade that looks like anything resembling an even swap of talent. Given the ginormous nature of the current contracts, the Nets are forced into downgrading via trade because they essentially have to pay the other team for taking on an albatross.
Without Lopez helping keep things at least respectable, the team has plunged into an even further state of sorrow. And it's not like the Nets have a coach who can turn things around.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Kidd is losing support in the locker room and the players are failing to grasp the systems that he's trying to teach them. It's an ugly, ugly report filled with rather scathing remarks.
Against the backdrop of testimony to Kidd's futility on the sidelines, one question stands out from Wojnarowski's report: "Does Brooklyn start unloading its star players and stay the course with the coach, or unload the coach and let someone else manage these star players?"
Using the vaunted Socratic method, I'll pose another question as my answer.
Why not both?
The problem with Wojnarowski's question is that calling Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson "star players" is no longer accurate. Johnson may still be capable of producing gaudy offensive numbers, and you'll note that I intentionally left Deron Williams out of the previous sentence, but KG and Pierce are no longer anything more than shells of their pre-Brooklyn selves.
For a full breakdown of the former Celtics' struggles, check out Grant Rinder's excellent piece for Bleacher Report. Just know that it's not pretty, as he concludes that it's tough to see them earning anything more than a No. 8 seed unless the two All-Stars of the past turn things around.
No coach will come in and become an immediate panacea for the Nets. But at the same time, Kidd is also proving that he's completely inept on the sidelines.
So again, why not both?
This team obviously isn't going to win a championship this season, and it only gets tougher as the years progress. An aging roster beset by injury woes doesn't suddenly improve over time but rather trends in the opposite direction. Hell, there's not even a guarantee that Lopez regains his pre-injury form, as big men with recurring foot problems tend to decline quickly.
And this is the roster Brooklyn is stuck with, barring a decision to blow up the current group. Before reading any further, brace yourself for some nearly unbearably ugly numbers.
The Nets are currently saddled with the largest luxury-tax bill in NBA history, thanks to their jaw-dropping $102,211,009 collection of contracts, per ShamSports.com. There's no relief coming in the future, as the team is locked in for $88,825,589 in 2014-15 and $64,097,401 in 2015-16, both of which figure to be over the increased salary caps.
That final number includes only the salaries of Johnson, Williams, Lopez (who has a $16.7 million player option) and Mason Plumlee ($1.4 million team option).
If you're thinking to yourself, "Self, how in the world can they field a competitive team by surrounding that overpaid quartet with minimum-salary guys?" then you're on the right track.
There's a simple answer. They can't.
This current team can't compete, and neither can the ones that will be put together over the next two years.
Believe it or not, the news gets worse, as Brooklyn doesn't retain possession of many draft picks over the next few offseasons. Here's what's happening with those:
- 2014 first-round pick: Brooklyn swaps picks with the Atlanta Hawks (if the Hawks finish with the better record), then gives the remaining selection to the Boston Celtics.
- 2014 second-round pick: Unprotected pick owed to the Philadelphia 76ers.
- 2015 first-round pick: Brooklyn swaps picks with the Hawks once more, assuming it's more favorable than Atlanta's original selection.
- 2015 second-round pick: Unprotected pick owed to Atlanta.
- 2016 first-round pick: Unprotected pick owed to Boston.
- 2016 second-round pick: Conditional swap with the Los Angeles Lakers.
At best, the Nets will have the less favorable of the eligible 2015 first-round picks (theirs and Atlanta's) and a pick in the second round of the 2016 draft.
There's no way for this current team to rebuild, and that's not a hyperbolic statement. Mikhail Prokhorov's organization has dug itself one hell of a hole, and the only way out comes by blowing everything up.
Fortunately, that's actually possible.
In a recent article, I ran through a few possible trades, and it's important to note that Brooklyn should seem to be getting the raw end of the deal. The Nets are the ones who have to make changes, so they're naturally going to be selling everything at a discounted price, simply trying to gain the ability to make positive moves in the future.
Of the five possible trades I suggested, three can be combined into what essentially amounts to as full a cleaning of the house as Brooklyn can possibly undergo, as it's pretty much impossible to find a realistic home for Johnson and his ridiculous contract. If my hypothetical turned into a reality in its exact form, here's the roster the Nets would be working with for the rest of the 2013-14 season:
- Point guard: Jeremy Lin, Shaun Livingston, Tyshawn Taylor (D-League)
- Shooting guard: Joe Johnson, Thabo Sefolosha
- Small forward: Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, Perry Jones, Alan Anderson
- Power forward: Reggie Evans, Mirza Teletovic, Tornike Shengelia (D-League)
- Center: Omer Asik, Kendrick Perkins, Mason Plumlee, Alex Len (D-League), Emeka Okafor (injured)
But that's not important.
The Nets must view the 2013-14 season as a lost cause—a sunk cost, if you will.
What's more important is the future. And that's a future that includes five additional draft picks in this scenario, including three in the first round of the 2014 and 2015 NBA drafts.
If you look at the contract lengths on those players listed up above, you'll notice that only Johnson, Jones, Plumlee and Len have deals that extend past the 2014-15 season.
All of a sudden, Brooklyn would have cap space and an ability to reload around the incoming rookies and current players. Instead of figuring out how to work around a set of contracts that already exceeds the salary cap, the Nets would have promising players, new players and enough money to sign a near-max star.
That sounds a lot better than what's going on in Brooklyn right now.
Of course, this is only one example. There are different methods of shaking things up, but they all hold one universal principle: Nothing can be worse than the current state of affairs, so any realistic trade or set of trades is going to turn into a good one.
If the Nets intend on remaining the laughingstock of the NBA, they can either stay the course or waste time staring at Jason Terry's socks. But if they actually plan on competing for a title—or even a playoff spot—at any point in the next few years, they have to focus all of their thoughts on three words.
Blow. It. Up.
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