To be sure, that doesn't include imminent title hopes. Those died long ago, when it first became clear Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Kidd and Williams weren't the championship composite Brooklyn hoped they would be. One season-ending injury to BroLo and strings of losses later, and it's become clear the Nets' initial vision is beyond repair.
But their future, now dark and dim, can be rescued from the throes of financial perdition and draft-pick famine. Their future can be an actual future, not some prospective wasteland.
All it's going to take is admitting present defeat. Then, and only then, can the Nets transform a feckless outlook into forthcoming purpose.
Yes, the injuries.
When Williams is healthy and on point, he's one of the league's best floor generals. But injuries have crimped his style since joining the Nets.
Upon his arrival in 2011, he appeared in just 12 of the team's final 25 games. Then came the lockout-truncated 2011-12 campaign, when he missed 11 of the Nets' 66 contests. Last year, he remained healthy, missing only four of 82 games, but recurring ankle issues have already forced him out of 11 contests this season.
When he has played, Williams has been largely second-rate, averaging 15.5 points and 8.7 assists per 36 minutes. The Nets aren't paying him more than $81 million over the next four seasons for that kind of production.
Technically, they are, but they're not supposed to be. They thought they were getting the Utah Jazz version of Deron Williams, the same point man who rivaled Chris Paul and routinely went for 20 and 10.
What the Nets have instead is an abated version of the player traded they for, who is prone to injury and not worth the roughly $18.5 million they're paying him this season.
Plans Gone Rogue
Williams alone isn't at fault in Brooklyn.
Looking up and down the roster, Williams' 46 and 39 percent clips from the floor and deep, respectively, are one of a few bright spots the Nets have to offer. That's how bad they are.
Brooklyn ranks 20th in offensive efficiency and 29th in defensive efficiency, and it is 10 games under .500 in the craven Eastern Conference, where 30 wins and two jars of breaded pickles will clinch a playoff berth.
But the Nets aren't the 'Cats or Wizards—they're worse, when they're supposed to be better.
Owner Mikhail Prokhorov will shell out nearly $200 million in salary and luxury taxes this season when all's told. Said bill was willingly created but under the guise that Brooklyn would contend for a championship, which it won't.
Which it isn't.
Now, the Nets are miles above the luxury-tax line, divested of favorable first-round draft picks until 2019.
|Brooklyn's Draft Commitments|
|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.|
Fixing That Plan
Value is still found in Williams, enough to rewrite this poorly scrawled story.
Injuries and fluctuating stat lines attached to contractual obligations that (could) run through 2016-17 make it so Williams cannot be dealt for a Goliath-sized return. But interested teams are out there, one of which is the Houston Rockets, according to ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk:
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. Williams, who signed a five-year, $98 million extension in 2012, was playing well upon returning from an ankle injury, and the Nets were looking better.
Revisiting those talks would be a good idea. If some form of that deal is available, Brooklyn should pounce.
Asik and Lin aren't precocious superstars, but their poison-pill contracts expire after next season, thus allowing the Nets to sneak under the salary cap by summer 2015. They're also playoff-worthy solutions to Brooklyn's mounting list of problems.
Lin's reputation, Linsanity era included, doesn't measure up to D-Will's. But he is currently playing better, or at least comparable.
|Jeremy Lin vs. Deron Williams|
|Player||MPG||FG%||3P%||PTS||ASTS||Off. Rtg.||Def. Rtg.|
|Lin as Starter||31.6||45.0||42.0||14.9||4.5||108||111|
As a pick-and-roll inclined floor general who is putting up respectable numbers across the board, Lin gives the Nets what they need most out of their point guard. Meanwhile, Asik plugs a gaping hole BroLo left. He was a double-double machine last season and, when engaged, plays defense with a fierce mindset in addition to running the floor well for a 7-footer.
This deal—any Williams deal, really—wouldn't be about winning now, but it could help Brooklyn immediately while shaving 10s of millions of dollars in future financial commitments. The Nets could also try to squeeze a future first-rounder out of Houston in attempt to replenish their barren draft stock.
Is it unrealistic to believe Brooklyn, if the rest of the roster remains intact, breathes postseason air after this deal as well? Absolutely not.
Brooklyn would be free to chase a full-fledged explosion if it sees fit, dumping any other assets in favor of cheaper contracts and draft selections, or it could stay the new course, make the postseason and look ahead to 2015.
Either scenario sounds much better than where the Nets are headed now—nowhere, while scaling mountains of debt.
Another Possible Route
Present assets aren't a necessity in any Williams deal.
Financial flexibility reigns supreme this side of the CBA, meaning Brooklyn could attempt to pair Williams with the immovable contract of Johnson, who is owed more than $69.5 million through 2015-16.
Before saying no, understand that trading Johnson and Williams wipes Brooklyn's books completely clean by 2015 if BroLo doesn't exercise his player option. Yet, even if he does, Lopez, injuries and all, is a talented center you can sell prospective free agents on.
Attaching Johnson's contract in any deal will be difficult. Could even be impossible. But in a collaborative effort, Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal and I came up with the following proposal:
- New York Knicks receive: Joe Johnson, Deron Williams
- Brooklyn Nets receive: Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, 2018 first-round pick
While it seems lopsided, Fromal breaks it down further for everyone to consider:
Take a look at the years remaining on the contracts of all players involved:
- Joe Johnson: Three years
- Deron Williams: Four years
- Amar'e Stoudemire: Two years
- Andrea Bargnani: Two years
- Raymond Felton: Three years
- Iman Shumpert: Two years
It's all about making future improvements possible for Brooklyn.
Given the current state of the team's roster, things are only going to get worse. There's no cap relief coming in the near future, and both Johnson and Williams will only get harder to trade as they continue aging. Brooklyn will inevitably be saddled with two albatross contracts—especially Johnson's—if it can't part ways with them relatively soon.
This doesn't have to be the deal. You can hate it. And by all means, hate it, even if you're a New York Knicks fan. But it's the proposal's spirit that counts.
Dealing Williams isn't merely about ridding Brooklyn's books of an underwhelming investment. It could be about parting ways with two of those business ventures, allowing the Nets to do what they wish thereafter.
They could dangle Pierce and Garnett (no-trade clause) in hopes of landing more picks and expiring deals. They could go for the super-clean slate and look to trade Lopez (not necessarily endorsed). Moving both Williams and Johnson creates options the Nets don't have, giving them flexibility general manager Billy King can only dream about now.
Remember, it's not the instant return that matters; it's the ability to infuse light into a future saturated with darkness. Potentially, pairing Williams with Johnson promotes financial gains that do just this.
Start Taking Calls
Hope isn't a buzzword in Brooklyn.
Other teams and front offices try to sell fanbases on such hokum, repeating words like "hope," "future" and "patience" to the point of monotony. Not the Nets, though. They've been upfront from the start, admitting their title window spans one season.
Instead of verbal drivel running empty on meaning, "hope" has become a foreign concept. The Nets are all in on now, and losing now. They're all in on now, at expense of tomorrow.
"I'm even surprised with this season, how it's played out," Williams said previously, via ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo. "It's like a nightmare."
It is a nightmare, with no happy ending in sight or refuge worth seeking.
Trading Williams can give the Nets that much-needed ending. It can give them some sort of flexibility. Some version of a tomorrow.
Some semblance of hope.