Just as he did in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, Ray Allen coiled his calves, sprang up and softly sailed a corner three up and through the twine to give the Miami Heat a 93-91 lead over the Brooklyn Nets they wouldn’t relinquish.
But unlike those ill-fated San Antonio Spurs, the felled foes of Miami’s Game 5, series-clinching win were much more familiar to the man who fired the fateful final shot:
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov shelled out a NBA record $183 million this season, including $82 million in luxury-tax payments. All for the right to fight the hated Heat, to little avail.
It seems unlikely Prokhorov would be willing to double-down on breaking the bank for the sole sake of a conference semifinals ouster. Then again, would such a recourse really be shocking?
Having netted a combined $27 million this past season, Garnett and Pierce stand to figure crucially into the overall equation.
Of the two, Garnett poses the more immediate salary-cap impact.
Hard to imagine KG wouldn't come back with $12 million guaranteed next year. Can't remember the last guy who retired with sizeable $ left— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) May 15, 2014
At 38 years old and with $315 million to his career credit, Garnett certainly doesn’t need that extra $12 million—especially at the price of another playoff disappointment.
Indeed, it seems much more likely KG—if he plays at all—will take his talents to a contender, to whom he’d offer something of a discount.
Pierce, on the other hand, poses a much more malleable situation: His contract is up, meaning Prokhorov can dig even deeper into his coffers to commandeer a few more years from The Truth, or simply bid adieu.
Paul Pierce wouldn't say if he'd come back to Brooklyn, but clearly wants to continue playing. Said "1 or 2" more years.— Andy Vasquez (@andy_vasquez) May 15, 2014
More Paul Pierce on his future: "When I get a chance to sit back and really put my thinking hat on I’ll figure out what’s next.’’ #Nets— Rod Boone (@rodboone) May 15, 2014
Like Garnett, Pierce may well err on the side of a sure thing and make himself a mercenary in his final few years.
Prokhorov’s next concern is a trio of ancillary pieces, each of which poses his own positives and negatives: Jason Collins, Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson.
In the latter two, the Nets unearthed two diamonds in the rough—Livingston—the feel-good story turned positively potent point guard, Anderson—a versatile veteran who languished for years overseas before finally getting his NBA due.
Each doubtless played his way into a payday. How willing Prokhorov will be to match whatever the market sets could prove one of Brooklyn’s more sneaky-compelling summer storylines.
Next up, a pair of player options in Andray Blatche ($1.4 million) and Andrei Kirilenko ($3.3 million).
While Kirilenko’s abridged season means he’s more than likely to opt in, Blatche—who continued apace with his two-year Brooklyn renaissance—could decide to test the free-agent market.
Assuming the foot injury that ended Lopez’s season in December doesn’t pose any long-term risks, the Nets will boast one of the league’s top-three centers for at least the next two seasons.
And while much has been made of Brooklyn’s small-ball success in Lopez’s absence, how the team’s roster shakes out this summer could conceivably recalibrate it along more center-centric lines.
Bill Simmons may have christened him the most overpaid player in the league, but Joe Johnson—potent and productive as he remains, even at a whopping $48 million over the next two years—doesn’t pose near the salary-cap crunch as he might elsewhere.
As a 1B or 1C option, Johnson makes plenty of sense on the Nets. Problem is, his point guard has all but proven himself incapable of living up to 1A.
Deron Williams is coming off a season in which he registered his lowest PER (17.6) since the 2006-07 season, his second in the league. For a player slated to make upwards of $43 million over the next three seasons—with chronic ankle problems looming large—that’s not exactly encouraging.
Which is why, of all the gilt-plated toys in Prokhorov’s pantry, Williams should be the one most vulnerable to the trade block.
Even at a significantly inflated price tag, Williams would garner plenty of potential suitors. Like the New York Knicks, perhaps, who could possibly parlay Amar’e Stoudemire’s expiring contract (along with cash and other considerations as needed) in an effort to upgrade over Raymond Felton at point guard.
Or the Los Angeles Lakers, desperate as they might well be to surround Kobe Bryant with high-priced pieces in a last-ditch effort—however ill conceived—of commandeering their superstar shooting guard a sixth championship ring.
Sadly, Williams’ play has atrophied so badly that, as the New York Daily News’ Mitch Lawrence writes, Prokhorov might well be stuck with his first grand gambit:
But [Billy] King just might be forced to try to squeeze another year out of this core, unless he can manage to trade Williams. As much as it looks as if the Nets are stuck with their mentally fragile playmaker because he still has three years left at $63 million a contract Jim Dolan would avoid this playoff run has only driven home the point that he’s not cut out to be the face of a franchise. But everyone knew that even before he fired blanks and went scoreless in Game 2 down here.
Beyond the big names, Brooklyn’s roster is rife with affordable fodder, with Marcus Thornton ($8.7 million), Mirza Teletovic ($3.4 million) and Mason Plumlee (1.4 million) on the docket at eminently reasonable prices.
Clearly, the Nets possess enough moving pieces, some for good, others ill, to afford them a chance at an outright overhaul through the summer and beyond. In many of the cases—Garnett and Pierce in particular—the decision to shake things up will most likely make itself.
But with a dearth of draft picks to its name, Brooklyn’s prospects are poised to hinge more tightly than ever on its oligarchical owner’s gold and good faith. Not to mention the second-year growth of head coach Jason Kidd.
Prokhorov may have purchased the New Jersey Nets believing that being backed by billions would make building a champion easier.
All the while, a one-time peer of Brooklyn’s most famous—and now former—minority owner may have put it best: More money, more problems.