It was not that long ago that I wrote an article for this site about how I subscribe to the conspiracy theory that the league influences the results of the NBA draft lottery. Now that the highly anticipated lottery results have been revealed to the world, my opinion has been strongly reinforced. I just wish it was rigged to set up the outcome I was hoping for. Was the NBA offering a sale on the Hornets franchise that I didn’t know about? Was it “Buy 1 franchise Get 1 franchise star free”?
Oh well. Guess you lose some and win some. For the Nets, this is just another loss to toss on top of the massive pile.
The Nets had a 7.5% chance of winning the top pick and a 25% chance of landing in the top 3. That would have been the only way they would have kept their lottery pick this season as a result of the deadline deal that sent Gerald Wallace to Jersey. Now Portland has both the Nets #6 pick and their own #11 selection. This was the expected and likely outcome from the trade that Billy King made hours before the deadline after Dwight Howard’s colossal opting in blunder, but that has not stopped fans and media alike from calling for his head now that we know the 2012 pick is lost. Was it really as bad a trade as some would have you believe? I don’t think so.
There are multiple angles in which you have to look at this trade to analyze it properly. First, let’s try to estimate what the value of the pick that was given up might have produced. The early mock drafts I have seen have placed prospects like Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, and Jared Sullinger at the #6 spot. Do any of these names make you wish you could send Gerald Wallace back? I didn’t think so. The Nets are in win-now mode and are interested in surrounding Deron Williams with proven veterans in an effort to convince him to re-sign with the team this summer. A former all-star like Wallace fits that bill.
Some would argue that the pick could have been used in a deal to acquire Dwight Howard from Orlando, but I believe only the top overall pick would have interested the Magic in the event that they do trade their disgruntled star this offseason. The Nets were hoping to win the lottery so they could undoubtedly flip that pick for Howard to guarantee Williams would commit long term and create an instant contender to head into Brooklyn with. I am sure the Magic were quietly rooting for Brooklyn to win as well, but it now looks like an Anthony Davis for Dwight Howard deal will never take place.
Those who opposed this trade argue that Wallace would have become a free agent this summer anyway, thus enabling the Nets to sign him to a new deal while keeping their 2012 lottery pick. That may have been possible in theory, but in reality that scenario would have been highly unlikely. Wallace himself said that he never even thought of the Nets as a possible destination to consider if he were going to join a new team next season. The Nets have not exactly had the greatest luck when it comes to attracting prized free agents either. By making the trade, they ensured themselves a few months to let Wallace get acclimated to the organization and to see their vision for the future in Brooklyn firsthand. From what I have heard, this strategy may pay off as the Nets are rumored to be in talks to re-sign Wallace for 3 years and $24 million. Plus, it may have also given Deron Williams a small glimpse into how good the team can be next season. They started playing much better with the addition of Gerald Wallace, as well as the emergence of Gerald Green. Gerald Squared (as they have been dubbed.) transformed that squad into a playoff quality team, if only they had been with the team for a more significant portion of the season. By the time they became Nets, injuries had already damaged the season beyond repair. The Nets were by far the NBA’s most injury riddled team this year. Just imagine how good that club could have been with a healthy Brook Lopez manning the middle. We could have possibly been watching a Nets/Heat Eastern Conference Finals matchup instead of Boston right now. Don’t laugh. Who, besides Miami, would have been a clear cut favorite to beat a Nets team with a starting five of Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Marshon Brooks, Brook Lopez, and Kris Humphries, with Anthony Morrow, Gerald Green, and DeShawn Stevenson providing great depth off the bench? Exactly.
I am a cautious supporter of this trade. I totally understand the logic behind it and I think Billy King is putting it all on the line in order to keep owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s bold strategy afloat. He wanted a superstar to become the face of the franchise and ultimately Brooklyn sports as a whole. Well, Billy got him his star, we don’t know if he will become the face of Brooklyn next season or not yet. That pivotal date in Nets history is quickly approaching though. That brings us to the one way this trade becomes a historical failure…
Should Deron Williams leave the Nets via free agency (gulp…) this trade instantly becomes a damaging failure whose ill effects will be felt throughout the organization for years to come. Acquiring a 29 year old Wallace makes perfect sense for a team looking to contend right now, it does not make sense for a team that is forced to rebuild. If Deron Williams leaves, I believe the Nets will have no choice but to start over from the ground up. They already have a lot of young talent in place thankfully, but this would surely set the franchise back at least two years and cost a lot of people their jobs. If you’re a rebuilding team, you want to have a promising young lottery pick that you can develop at a low cost, not a 29 year old taking up precious cap space with his $9-$10 million annual salary. The only way this trade can be viewed as a success is if Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace both accompany the Nets to Brooklyn. That is the key here.
Deron Williams is not interested in waiting for young rookies to develop. He wants veteran players who can contribute right away and make the Nets a perennial playoff contender. Whoever ends up being drafted sixth this year is definitely not going to meet that criteria. Billy King only liked three lottery players in this draft class, that is probably why the pick was top 3 protected. In a perfect world, he would have gotten Wallace and also lucked out by getting a top pick that he could package in a deal for more quality veterans. Unfortunately, that dream scenario did not come to fruition. King expected to lose the pick when he made this deal so I doubt he is as disappointed or upset as the average fan is.
Winning the draft lottery would have meant something entirely different to the Nets than it would have meant to any of the other teams who were represented by some combination of ping pong balls. For them, it would have meant that Anthony Davis would be on his way into town to change the fortunes of the franchise forever hopefully. For the Nets, it would have meant they just secured the perfect asset to construct a blockbuster Dwight Howard deal with. That, in turn, would have also ensured that Deron Williams would be chomping at the bit to sign a max contract to remain a Brooklyn Net for the rest of his career most likely. Billy King was under the impression that he would be able to use the #1 pick to trade for Howard without having to give up Lopez. If that were true, a core of Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Gerald Wallace, and Brook Lopez would have comprised an awe-inspiring Big-4 that would have had to have been instantly viewed as a serious championship contender for years to come. The rest of the league can breathe a sigh of relief as that scenario doesn’t appear likely as of right now.
A Yahoo report surfaced the other day that claimed sources had said that Deron Williams was going to leave the Nets unless they were able to bring Dwight Howard to Brooklyn via trade. It also said that Anthony Davis would not be enough to keep him with the Nets should they luck out and obtain the #1 draft pick. The report was later denied and mocked by Deron himself. Sources also confirmed that no such request was made to the Nets front office. I really find it hard to believe that Williams would possess the lack of intelligence that this report suggested. Why on earth would he ever leave a team with Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace, Gerald Green, Anthony Morrow, Marshon Brooks, and others, on a contract worth around $25 million more with a whole extra season on it, to go to Dallas (I am assuming this is where he would be going.) and play with an aging Dirk Nowitzki and not much else? That potential team is inferior to the potential Brooklyn team and they are old and in decline while the Nets are young and will only keep getting better. Not to mention they play in the more difficult Western Conference so the path to the Finals would be far more difficult. It just seems absurd that he would see things differently.
Should that report turn out to be accurate, and the Nets biggest nightmare becomes a reality, it will be time to officially hit the panic button. The beginning of the Brooklyn era will be a disaster and many people will lose their jobs. A team that may have been destined for greatness will never come to be, and Nets fans will have to endure at least another few years of misery. My index finger is hovering over said panic button, I really hope I don’t have to press it though…