In the Community (Thursdays this…. sometime in the coming months… on NBC!) episode “Remedial Chaos Theory,” the writers took the ol’ alternate timeline theory and spread it out like a Nuggets fast break. The concept is simple. The cast of man characters are at an apartment, sitting around a table. The door buzzer buzzes with the arrival of the pizza guy. Someone has to go all the way downstairs to get it. The main character, Jeff, rolls a die to determine who will go get the pizza. Abed, the so-meta-it-hurts character who is constantly referring to how the characters are interacting in a show, comments that Jeff has now created six alternate universes (there’s actually seven, since Jeff is purposefully excluding himself by rolling the die). The rest of the show goes through what happens in those six varying timelines.
Now some things happen in almost every timeline (Britta trying to sing “Roxeanne” and getting shut down by Jeff, Jeff getting injured, etc.) because some things are inevitable, but the branching system of scenarios speaks to the consequence of both decision and random, unstoppable luck.
And this is a lot like what is happening with the New Jersey Nets at the moment.
There are two ways of looking at this. Either they already rolled the die, so to speak, prior the season, in not acquiring Dwight Howard before the Magic took him off the market (or “off the market” if you’re into that kind of thing), or they’re facing rolling the die this season with whether they can get him at the deadline or not.
If the die has already been cast, this is, in fact, the darkest timeline.
Brook Lopez? Broke his foot. Kris Humphries? Shoulder injury. Deron Williams? Can’t shoot, and looks like he’s just about checked out… five games in. The rest of the roster? Abject disaster. They won their opener against Washington, after being down 21. That should have been a sign right there, and says more about the Wizards than the Nets. Since then it’s been a steady string of beatdowns.
And that’s how insane all of this can be, with the way teams can shift dramatically within the course of a matter of days following a decision. This is one of the few elements of the NBA that are actually a reflection of real life, where similarly any decision you make can impact the next and the next. In essence, a butterfly flaps its wings and the Nets lose Deron Williams after having traded the farm for him.
Let’s explore some possibilities.
Reality 1: The Nets neglected to trade for Howard when they had a chance, and now that Lopez is injured leading to a deep hole for them to dig out of and more wear and tear for Williams handling the load along with the short-term injury to Humphries, the result is Howard becoming turned off by the prospect of the Nets and not approving a trade there. He either departs in free agency or via trade to Los Angeles or Dallas. The result? The Nets are crushed beyond all reason and are somehow left with an even worse team than they had the year they were epic bad back in 2009. It was an inherent risk when trading for Williams before he sought out the Nets, essentially gambling that you could build around Williams, then striking out on the big name addition.
Reality 2: The Nets pulled in a third team back in mid-December and the result is Deron Williams and Dwight Howard anchoring a new Nets team. With just those two and a pile of bones, the Nets are able to make a steamy delicious basketball stew going into their first year in Brooklyn. This is obviously not our reality.
Reality 3: King is somehow able to pull of such a trade between now and the deadline. Nets fans have reminded me approximately 700 times that King loves to involve three and four teams in a trade, somehow never commenting on the fact that very rarely has he been established as the winner in such a trade. But let’s say he’s able to. From there the question is whether just Deron Williams and Howard, along with either Humphries or Marshon Brooks (it’s assumed one or both would have to be moved in any deal), along with likely Hedo Turkoglu (who’s actually playing surprisingly well this season) is enough to make a foundation to convince Williams and Howard to stay. Let’s say it does. The Nets become perennial contenders with Howard and Williams, though facing the same struggles as the Knicks in regards to building a team around the two guys with little else (again, besides Humphries or Brooks, and potentially Anthony Morrow if they hang on to him).
Reality 4: The same as the above happens but the half-season run ends with the Nets narrowly missing the playoffs, Howard decides he hates the cold and he and Williams both book it in free agent, leaving millions and millions of dollars on the table. (Nets fans call this “the impossible nightmare” due to the money they would have to surrender.) The Nets in this scenario lose everything they gave up in the Utah deal (picks, Derrick Favors, Devin Harris), and whatever they give up in the Howard trade (picks, Lopez, and having to take on Turkoglu’s salary) and wind up with nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. They have all the cap room in the world but will have struck out on the following players in free agency or trade talks: Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard. At that point you’re running out of All-Stars to try and buy yourself. This is, in fact, “the darkest timeline.” And the monkey probably steals King’s pen.
Reality 5: The Nets suddenly turn things around. Williams get healthy and back in form, and puts together an MVP season. Alongside Kris Humphries who heals and Brook Lopez who not only recovers at full strength, but actually learns to crash the glass, the Nets take off like a rocket, shocking the world by not only making the playoffs as the sixth seed, but upsetting the New York Knicks in the first round! After this heartwarming season, Dwight Howard is so sold on the team, that he not only signs with New Jersey, but takes less money up front in order to allow the team to grow. This is the Nets version of Troy and Britta getting together. Also, you’d have to be high to think this happens.
Reality 6: The Nets did trade for Howard back in early December, but the match between he and Williams was so terribly bad that it flamed out after one year. Deron Williams re-signs, but Howard heads elsewhere in a sign-and-trade. Bizarre.
The point in all this is that so much of the Nets’ future depends on how December 9th through mid-March go. The Nets have to manage to not scare off Howard, and to pull off the trade, and have it work out, in order for everything to fall into place. But at least they have a management that is actively pursuing rolling the die. Because the worst thing you can do is be a bystander and watch as chaos unravels your world without your having had any say in the matter.
“Evil Dwight and Evil Der-on!”