Money can’t buy happiness, and the Brooklyn Nets are evidence that it can’t always build a quality basketball team either.
After trading for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce over the summer, billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov had expectations of a championship. He didn’t care that he was funding the most expensive team in NBA history.
"I will [only] be proud when we win the championship," Prokhorov told ESPN New York in July. "I am not a man of procedure. I am a man of results."
Well, with the 2013-14 NBA season well past the midway point, the results haven’t been all that great. As of February 25, the Nets, while vastly improved from early on in the year, were still a sub-.500 team.
After playing just 17 games, Brook Lopez broke his foot and went out for the year. Deron Williams has been in and out of the lineup all year thanks to a pair of shaky ankles, sitting out a total of 16 contests.
But, despite rough starts of their own, KG and Pierce have gotten themselves together and helped turn the team around, proving once again that they’ve still got something left in the tank.
KG and Pierce weren’t brought in to carry a team. The Truth was supposed to serve as a compliment to D-Will and Joe Johnson on the perimeter and Garnett was going to toughen Lopez up in the paint.
Early in the year, with Brooklyn enduring an avalanche of injuries and Jason Kidd still learning the ropes of coaching, Garnett and Pierce became the focal points of the offense. And it was horrendous.
If you had only watched Brooklyn early in the season, you’d have every right to tell me that these guys are washed up and are mere shades of what they once were. However, since Jan. 1, it’s been a very different story.
Prior to entering into the New Year, Garnett and Pierce weren’t playing well—especially KG, who was shooting an abysmal 36 percent from the field. But once December ended, the 18-year veteran seemed to take the shape of his former self once again.
The transformation led to a drastic change in his shooting percentage, jumping up 21 notches to a clip of 57 percent. Part of the leap may be due to Kidd resting Garnett periodically, much like Gregg Popovich sits Tim Duncan from time to time, especially in the event of back-to-back games.
Pierce, on the other hand, has emerged as the team’s third-leading scorer behind Williams and Johnson. His field goal percentage has climbed from 40 percent before January to over 45 percent since then, averaging nearly 15 points a game in that span.
Once two of the NBA’s premier superstars, Garnett and Pierce have finally settled comfortably into their reduced roles with the Nets. And they’re thriving.
Having reached the posteason all five years they spent together with the Boston Celtics, and winning a title in 2008, Garnett and Pierce are battle-tested when it comes to the playoffs.
But how will Kidd, who’s really come into his own on the sidelines as the season has unwound, handle their minutes, assuming the Nets do make it that far?
According to the rookie coach, nothing will change—low-20s for Garnett, mid-to-high-20s for Pierce.
“There won’t be any increase in minutes or workload [for Garnett in the second half of the season],” Kidd told WFAN in an interview relayed by ESPN NY. “He’ll stay at the same pace that he’s at right now. [His minutes] will stay the same.”
Both of these guys are big-time players, and live for playoff basketball. The Nets have a roster built for the postseason—playmakers like D-Will and Pierce can create for themselves, Johnson is the most clutch player in the league and Brooklyn has an extremely deep roster that’s balanced with grit-and-grind guys as well as jump shooters like Mirza Teletovic.
Barring any unforeseen injuries to either of them, expect both Garnett and Pierce to step up, just as they always have, once the postseason rolls around.
How much longer?
Sure, Garnett and Pierce have proven that they’ve still got some game left. But how much longer can they hold up?
Approaching 37 years of age, Pierce is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. Brooklyn will be in a tough situation, as bringing him back for too much money (and too many years) would compromise their ability to land a big-name free agent in the summer of 2016.
Garnett, on the other hand, is under contract until 2015, and will earn $12 million next year. When the time comes to decide on whether or not to bring back KG, he’ll be closing in on 40 years of age. To put that in perspective, Kidd—the coach of the team—is 40 right now.
Perhaps BKN could sign Pierce to a one-year deal, and let him and Garnett ride into the sunset together once and for all after next season.
While the Nets have yet to make their plans in regard to the future Hall of Famers clear, it seems apparent that Garnett's and Pierce’s playing days will be over—at least in Brooklyn—in the next two seasons.
That could give them a pair of chances—this season and next, assuming Pierce re-signs for at least one more year—to add another title to their resume.
And after watching these guys pour their hearts into the game for a combined 33 years, I wouldn’t count them out. Not just yet.