Chris Broussard and Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com reported Monday morning that Garnett is "excited" to return to the Nets despite his friend and longtime teammate's departure. Pierce signed a two-year deal with the Washington Wizards for their mid-level exception over the weekend.
Pierce and Garnett had been teammates since 2007. They came over as part of a blockbuster deal with the Boston Celtics that totally reshaped both franchises. In Pierce and Garnett, Brooklyn got the veterans it hoped could lead a push toward title contention. In the myriad draft picks and swap rights, Boston received the fresh start it needed post-Ubuntu.
Of course, the Nets' experiment failed miserably.
Brooklyn, which paid an NBA record $190 million in salary and luxury tax, went 44-38 during the regular season to earn a disappointing No. 6 seed. The season was mired with fits and starts, including a miserable first quarter of the campaign that saw nearly everyone in management receive a pink slip. The Nets recovered enough to earn a playoff berth and make it to the second round but were no more a title contender than their first year in Brooklyn.
The rapid and somewhat unexpected decline of Garnett played a big factor. The 38-year-old forward-center averaged a career-low 6.5 points and 6.6 rebounds while struggling to fit within the offense. He shot a career-low 44.1 percent from the field and saw his point total cut by more than half from his last season in Boston.
While some of that attrition was due to a decrease in minutes—Garnett played more than nine minutes fewer per game than in 2012-13—it was obvious he still couldn't be a two-way lynchpin. The Nets scored more than seven points fewer per 100 possessions with Garnett on the floor, per NBA.com. Their shooting splits, offensive rebound rate and pace all kicked up a notch when he hit the bench.
In his advanced age, Garnett has become almost exclusively a mid-range shooter offensively. He took 225 mid-range shots, which accounted for nearly 64 percent of his shots overall and were more than double any other area on the floor. He's always utilized jumpers around the elbow area, but those splits trended toward the extreme more than they ever have.
Those struggles combined with Pierce's departure and the Jason Kidd debacle—Kidd was integral to recruiting Garnett to Brooklyn in the first place—had some questioning his future. New Nets coach Lionel Hollins recently told reporters he's yet to even communicate with Garnett:
I have called and I've texted him. I have not talked to him yet. KG, if he decides to come back and play, will certainly be in that mix [of the nucleus]. I'm sure if he returns he's going to probably be in the best condition of his life, wanting to go out with a bang and on own his own terms. That's what I expect.
The Nets are on the hook for the final $12 million of his three-year, $36 million deal he signed with Boston in 2012. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov has not been shy about spending lavishly in the past, but the Pierce move signaled a slight changing of the guard. It probably wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for him to shave $12 million (plus luxury-tax considerations) off his books.
Then again, Garnett remains a defensive force. For as much as the Nets offense died with him on the floor, the defense provided a stark contrast. When Garnett was on the floor in 2013-14, Brooklyn defended at a top-five rate. When he went to the bench, the Nets became the Sacramento Kings.
For a team that remains committed to winning over cost-cutting, Garnett is still a valuable piece. And it wouldn't matter even if Garnett was a full-fledged liability. He's coming back for his 20th NBA season, it seems, whether anyone likes it or not.
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