With great salaries come great expectations, and although there's still a sliver of time left to make things work, the high-priced stars of the Brooklyn Nets haven't been worth the investment to this point.
It's hard to make sense of the numbers, but the large payroll goes hand in hand with the disappointment on the court. Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov will spend $190 million on this year's team, which may not be much for him, but it's alarming that it hasn't led to better results thus far.
Think of it this way: The Nets will spend more in luxury-tax payments than every other team did in salaries, except for the New York Knicks. Their penalties are more than what other teams have used to put talent on the floor.
It was about 14 hours earlier that Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri told a local radio station his team had nothing to lose. It was the Brooklyn Nets who were under all of the pressure, with their expensive roster, almost-as-expensive luxury-tax bill, aging roster and mortgaged future.
The Raptors? They are just in it for the internal development. If the Raptors beat the Brooklyn Nets in their first-round series, it would be wonderful. If not, no big deal.
Pressure to succeed isn't the worst thing on its own, but the gravity of these playoffs are weighing heavily on the future of the franchise. Because Brooklyn forfeited so many assets aside from money, like draft picks and cheaper players, this might legitimately be its best chance at making a deep postseason run.
That's particularly true when you factor in the declining play of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, two future Hall of Famers who are running on fumes at this point. In a critical Game 5 loss that gave the series edge to Toronto, 3-2, both Pierce and Garnett weren't even on the floor in the fourth quarter. Here's Tim Bontemps of the New York Post:
When the Nets shipped several draft picks and dramatically expanded their payroll to bring Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn last summer, they were supposed to provide the Nets with the kind of know-how necessary to deliver them to victories in close playoff games.
But as the Nets mounted their massive comeback in the fourth quarter of Game 5 against the Raptors Wednesday night — going on a 32-10 run to begin the final quarter to tie the game before losing 115-113 to fall behind 3-2 in the series — Pierce and Garnett were spectators for the entire 12 minutes.
“It is what it is,” Garnett said after finishing with four points and two rebounds in 11:40. “I thought that group in there was going. I think it’s the best team and best group to play, and they had the momentum.”
If the Nets lose, many will identify the trade that brought Pierce and Garnett from the Boston Celtics as the moment it all went wrong, but that would be revisionist history. While both players have struggled to make an impact on the floor, particularly Garnett, it's not as though the Nets weren't invested in "win now" mode before that trade was made.
The Nets bet big in 2012 by acquiring Joe Johnson and his massive deal that pays him over $20 million a season. Fittingly but perhaps unexpectedly, it's been Johnson who has carried the bulk of the load in this series against Toronto, averaging 21.6 points on 56.2 percent shooting through the first five games.
But while Johnson is definitely doing his part, the additions who came after him have not. Deron Williams is shooting around 40 percent and losing the point guard battle decisively to Kyle Lowry, despite being a max-salary player. There are battles you can afford to lose, but it's hard to swallow Williams' salary when there are so many more productive point guards out there in the league.
Of course, it's important to remember that Brooklyn isn't working with a full deck. While some might believe the Nets are better off without Brook Lopez on the whole, this is a series where he could have been very useful against Jonas Valanciunas. That's about $15 million sitting on the sidelines.
In reality, it's hard to say if the Nets would even be alive in this series if it weren't for a few cheap, smart additions by general manager Billy King. Although you would understand if King were held accountable for this roster's failures in the postseason if the Nets don't make it out of the first round once again, his signing of Shaun Livingston and selection of Mason Plumlee paid big dividends for such low investments.
It's a little ironic that the Nets, with this massive payroll, have probably gotten as much production from Livingston and Plumlee this postseason as Pierce and Garnett have provided. Here's Bontemps:
This isn’t what $190 million was supposed to buy.
When the Nets overhauled their roster last summer, they were supposed to be going from a team that couldn’t get past an injury-riddled Bulls team in the first round a year ago to one that would be a serious contender for an Eastern Conference crown and beyond. ...
“We have to,” said Deron Williams when asked if the Nets could save their season and get two straight wins. “We understand what the task is, and we feel like we’re up to it.”
The Nets aren't out of it yet, and it's not time to pour dirt on the careers of Garnett and Pierce, either. With how wild these playoffs are, as Garnett once let us know in loud fashion, anything is possible.
But with that being said, it's hard to say that the Nets have lived up to expectations. A poor regular-season start was remedied by a hot finish, and for this team to be anything but disappointing, the postseason will have to go the same way.
Stats and salary figures courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
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