A Blockbuster Trade Gone Wrong for the Nets


Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Hindsight is 20/20.  That’s a saying that has been used for a long, long time.  It reflects on a decision that churns out less than desirable results.  That phrase can easily be applied when looking back on the Brooklyn Nets blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics made one year ago.

Owner Mikhail Prokhorov famously declared in 2010 that he would bring a championship to the Nets within five years.  He hired Billy King to be the general manager of the team and acquire the stars necessary to win a title.  Before the team acquired the former Celtics, they had made major moves in previous years to acquire Deron Williams, Wallace and then Joe Johnson.  The writing was on the wall that the Nets would be pushing for an even bigger deal after the team was ousted in the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs.

On June 28, 2013, Boston and Brooklyn agreed to a monster trade.  The Celtics received Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, a traded player exception (TPE) worth $10.3 million and first-round picks in the 2014, 2016 and 2018 drafts.  The Nets received Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry.

Pierce, Garnett and Terry had all won championships before.  The first two are sure-fire Hall of Famers with the third being a long-time, highly successful player in the NBA.  The idea was that the three players, despite their age and being near the end of their careers, would bring their championship experience to the team and show Williams, Johnson and Brook Lopez what it takes to win a title.  The deal ended up costing Prokhorov and the Nets $190 million, including luxury taxes.  This was by far the most any NBA team has ever had to pay.  It was an expensive gamble that the Nets were willing to take.

Immediately, expectations within the organization and outside of it skyrocketed to almost astronomical levels.  The Miami Heat were, at the time, back-to-back defending champions and winners of the Eastern Conference for three consecutive seasons.  The Nets were openly gunning for the top dog in the league before having even played a game together.

There were two things the team was banking on going their way: good health and immediate chemistry.  With a team filled with as many stars as it had with as much mileage as each player had on them, good health was an unrealistic expectation.  For a team that was thrown together so quickly with stars that had each been leaders of a team at some point, chemistry from the outset on the court would be tough to come by as well.  Once the season started, both of those factors came to fruition.

After earning a win against the Heat in their second regular season game, the Nets quickly experienced reality.  Brooklyn slumped its way to a 10-21 start.  The team was riddled with injuries and had trouble building any continuity under rookie head coach Jason Kidd.  The biggest loss was a broken leg to Lopez which sidelined him for the rest of the season.  In the middle of the season, King included Terry in a trade to the Sacramento Kings that landed Marcus Thornton in Brooklyn.

Eventually, the Nets found their way and finished the season with a 44-38 record.  The Nets squeaked by the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs.  In the second round, the Nets faced the team they had set out to dethrone.

LeBron James and the Heat outclassed the Nets through a five-game series.  For a team with a ton of veteran playoff experience, often times Brooklyn struggled in the closing minutes of games to execute offensively and get stops on the defensive end.

After having spent $190 million, the Nets were able to only yield a team that won 44 games in the regular season and went 5-7 in the playoffs.

As the offseason has hit the Nets have been quiet in free agency as they do not have any cap space to sign any players.  All the team has is its exceptions.

After a messy divorce, Brooklyn has replaced Jason Kidd with Lionel Hollins as its head coach.

They did acquire Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a deal filled with irony.  The biggest part of the deal was so that the Cavaliers would have even cap space to sign James and bring him back to Cleveland.  The third team in the deal was the Celtics.  Celtics GM Danny Ainge was able to trade a second-round pick and the TPE they had acquired from the Nets for Thornton, Tyler Zeller and a future first-round pick.

Then came a surprise this past weekend.  Pierce agreed to a new contract with the Washington Wizards.  It seems as though it was Brooklyn who actually pulled any offers for Pierce off the table.  As Ohm Youngmusik of ESPN wrote, the Nets “didn’t think they were going to win a championship with Pierce and this current roster and they also wanted to start developing some of their younger talent.”

It’s quite possible that Prokhorov’s mentality may have changed, as well.  After having received modest results considering the $190 million he spent this past season, Prokhorov may have decided to scale it back a bit.  Re-signing Pierce, 37, would have cost the team a reported additional $20 million in luxury taxes.

This offseason, Brooklyn has attempted to get younger players on its roster despite not having a first-round draft pick.  The team practically bought three second-round picks and used them to draft Markel Brown, Cory Jefferson and Xavier Thames.  Karasev, despite a highly disappointing rookie season, is still an intriguing prospect.  He was the 19th pick in last year’s draft by the Cavaliers.  After years of failed negotiations, Brooklyn has finally bought out the rights to Bojan Bogdanovic.

After having one of the oldest rosters in the league, Brooklyn suddenly has an infusion of youth.

It was a trade that went wrong.  Expectations were nowhere near having been met.  Terry never worked out and now Pierce is gone.  All Brooklyn is left with is Garnett, who had trouble staying healthy last season and is on his last legs.  Meanwhile, Boston just drafted James Young from Kentucky and acquired Marcus Thornton and Tyler Zeller, all with the help of Brooklyn.

Again, it’s easy to look at things from hindsight.  Prokhorov and King gambled big time on big name veterans who were close to the end of their careers.  It didn’t work out.  Now, they’re trying to get younger while maintaining Williams, Johnson and Lopez as their core three players.

If only they had those first-round draft picks.  As it appears, the Nets seem to be learning from their gamble.