Biggest Needs for Brooklyn Nets During 2014 Offseason
From the moment Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett joined a loaded Brooklyn Nets core that boasted Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, expectations surrounding Jason Kidd's veteran-laden squad skyrocketed to unthinkable levels.
Now whether being granted elite status was fair or not remains up for debate, but one thing became clear: The Nets didn't ascend up the Eastern Conference ranks the way they were expected to.
However, that didn't mean Brooklyn wasn't able to challenge early-season narratives surrounding the team's lack of cohesion and leadership when it was time to jockey for playoff position.
Over the course of a four-month stretch, the Nets emerged as one of the Association's feel-good stories as they adjusted to life without Lopez and implemented a fruitful new scheme that utilized the team's variety of versatile weapons in previously unseen ways.
Relative to expectations, the Nets undoubtedly came up short, losing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in five games. But when you consider the way they rebounded late in the season, it's clear that the club may have laid the foundation for a prosperous second year under Kidd.
So what do the Nets need to do in order to ensure a deeper postseason run next year? Here's our primer for an offseason full of crucial decisions facing one of the league's most captivating squads.
Re-Sign Paul Pierce
The Brooklyn Nets' 2013-14 campaign was chock-full of ups and downs, but Paul Pierce's performance justified a new contract after shooting 45.1 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from three during the regular season.
And while Pierce's usage rate (22.4 percent) and player efficiency rating (16.8) dropped to career-worst marks, per Basketball-Reference, he remained an integral component of Jason Kidd's rotation, particularly when the Nets chose to run with smaller five-man units that utilized Pierce at the 4.
Writing for Bleacher Report, Seerat Sohi broke down Pierce's positional adjustment in tandem with the Nets' identity reformation:
It’s not often that the macho theatrics associated with Pierce’s style are combined with a willingness to change, but Pierce is the rare star who puts substance behind the “whatever it takes to win” mantra. His game has always carried a hint of subdued grandeur, so much so that instead of Pierce chasing a winning reputation, the veneer of victory actually follows him.
The commitment Brooklyn makes to Pierce doesn't need to be anything substantial, but a one-year agreement couldn't hurt a club that's firmly focused on capturing a Larry O'Brien Trophy in the short-term.
Also consider the Nets shelled out three first-round picks in order to acquire the future Hall of Famer and his former Boston Celtics running mate, Kevin Garnett, and the Nets would be foolish to shut down their championship experiment so early.
Find a Trade Partner for Deron Williams, Re-Sign Shaun Livingston
If the postseason taught as anything, it's that the Brooklyn Nets need to seriously re-evaluate whom they entrust with running their offense.
Deron Williams posted passable basic regular-season numbers, averaging 14.3 points and 6.1 assists while shooting 45 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from distance. In addition, Brooklyn posted a net rating of plus-5.2 points per 100 possessions with Williams on the floor throughout the course of the team's first campaign under Jason Kidd, according to NBA.com.
But with a contract that owes Williams more than $59 million through 2015-16 and possibly another $22.3 million in 2016-17 (should he choose not to exercise his early-termination option), the Nets can't afford to cough up so much dough for a score-first point guard who's going on 30 years old and appears to be edging closer to inefficient territory on offense.
Williams' player efficiency rating dropped to 17.6 this season—the lowest mark of his career since 2006-07—which represented a decrease of nearly three points from a rather prosperous 2012-13 operation.
And with the Nets possessing a pass-first point guard like Shaun Livingston who's capable of running the show and distributing selflessly, Billy King wouldn't necessarily be hurting the club by exploring Williams' value on the trade market.
Consider Ian O'Connor's words for ESPN New York on the former franchise point guard, and it's hard to view Williams in a positive light moving forward:
Kidd hasn't coached Williams back to being a credible franchise player, and maybe nobody can. A max-out star who seems to run away from max-out responsibilities, Williams doesn't have the competitive soul Kidd had when he took a 26-win Nets team to back-to-back trips to the Finals, and that's a problem when matched against an opponent with Kyle Lowry's motor.
With production that doesn't exactly justify Williams' salary and an offense that's built around more reliable offensive weapons like Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, the Nets could help themselves by acquiring young assets in a deal that ships their veteran point guard out of town.
Improve on the Defensive End
On the surface, Jason Kidd's defense appeared to do a respectable job this season, surrendering just 99.5 points per game. While that mark ranked No. 11 overall, the Brooklyn Nets weren't particularly proficient by advanced statistical measures, allowing 107.7 points per 100 possessions, which ranked No. 20 overall, per Basketball-Reference.
And while the addition of Kevin Garnett helped the Nets limit opponents to 0.79 points per possession in post-up situations, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required), the story wasn't as pretty in other defensive departments.
The most common type of play that Brooklyn guarded was the spot-up, which was run 19.9 percent of the time against the Nets defense. The bad news is that the Nets allowed 1.03 points per possession in such situations, per Synergy, which ranked as the league's third-worst mark.
Not only that, but Brooklyn's aging perimeter defenders didn't do much to ease concerns over the team's shoddy defense, ranking 20th or worse when defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers (No. 20), roll men in the pick-and-roll (No. 21 overall), handoffs (No. 21 overall) and cuts (No. 28 overall).
Considering the Nets have nearly $92 million on the books for next season, per ShamSports, adding reliable perimeter defenders may be more of a pipe dream that a viable offseason strategy.
But with Brook Lopez on the mend, it's not unrealistic to think the Nets defense could leap into the top 15 from an efficiency standpoint next season.
Try and Move into the Second Round of the Draft
We've discussed the Brooklyn Nets' need to improve in the short term in order to keep their championship aspirations alive, but it wouldn't be wise to enter the summer of 2014 without a plan to improve over the long haul.
As we've witnessed recently, franchises that keep their hands on the pulse of the future while simultaneously competing for championships are the clubs that wind up prospering for the better part of a decade.
Right now, it doesn't look like the Nets will be able to do that due to some careless spending. But Billy King and the team's front office need to start somewhere, and acquiring a pick in the second round of this year's stacked draft could be a nice starting point.
According to RealGM, the Nets relinquished their first-round pick to the Boston Celtics and their second-round selection to the Philadelphia 76ers—and that's just this season. In 2015, the team's first- and second-round picks swing to the Atlanta Hawks and in 2016 their first-rounder once again becomes property of the Celtics.
Even if Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett return for one last shot at a title, the Nets will be tempting fate by not trying to get younger.
Dealing for a late second-round pick shouldn't require the Nets to part with any significant assets, and it's a move that could feasibly help the franchise's long-term prospects during a summer in which the front office will be financially hamstrung.
Retain Confidence in Jason Kidd
A 10-21 start to his inaugural season with the Brooklyn Nets had Jason Kidd's future with the franchise looking rather bleak.
But then something funny happened: When the calendar flipped over to 2014, the light bulb collectively hanging over the team's head suddenly lit up.
Following a 10-3 record in January, the Nets closed out the regular season by going 34-17 during the final four months of the campaign. They also posted offensive and defensive ratings of 105.9 and 103.9, respectively, after Jan. 1, according to NBA.com.
Prosperity wasn't a constant during Kidd's first year with the Nets, but his ability to adjust midseason, turn to a small lineup and thrive under adverse circumstances should not be overlooked.
“As a player it’s always been quick for me to adapt to my teammates or just a new team, period,” Kidd told the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy in March. “So that was just something I had to get used to as a coach that you just have to be patient because it takes time for them to understand what you’re trying to do."
Patience will understandably be hard to come by given the Nets' lofty goals, but Kidd demonstrated during his first season on the bench that he's able to overcome tremendous pressure and hold his own in tight spots.