Blatche opting out, Pierce and Livingston free agents; Brooklyn has tough summer ahead

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Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov just paid $180 million in salary and luxury tax to win one game in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

And to assemble this older, one-and-done roster they traded away a lot of young players and draft picks.

Nets fans, things are going to get worse before they get better.

Paul Pierce is a free agent, Shaun Livingston is a free agent, and Andray Blatche says he is going to opt out and test the free agent market.

And even without those three, even if other guys with options (Andrei Kirilenko and Alan Anderson) opt out, the Nets payroll is above $85 million next season — more than $10 million above the luxury tax line. The Nets can pay more than anyone to keep Pierce (and they want to keep Livingston and Blatche), but that is going to come with a healthy tax burden.

One they have no choice but to pay. Not that Prokhorov seems to care. The question is does Pierce want to come back to a team destined for mediocrity? He dodged the question when ESPN New York asked.

“I haven’t really put much thought into it,” Pierce said of what his future holds and if he wants to remain a Net. “I put my whole focus into this season, it’s my last year of the contract. I will sit back and talk to the family and see where my options are from there and go from there.”

GM Billy King at the urging of Prokhorov built for this past season with no concern for the future — now they are stuck. The NEts don’t have a draft pick this year, next season the Hawks can swap picks with them, then in 2016 they again do not have a draft pick. Actually, they don’t have their own draft pick unfettered by a possible swap until 2019.

What they have is two more years of Joe Johnson at $48.1 million, three years of Deron Williams and his bad ankles (he says he may need surgery on both this offseason) at $63 million, another year of Kevin Garnett at $12 million (you really think he’ll retire and awl away from that?), plus there Marcus Thornton for one more year at $8.5 million.

What they have is a roster they are largely locked into. There is no easy way to get more athletic, younger, less expensive talent to replace the old guys. Teams are not trading young for old like they used to, not under this CBA.

The one ray of hope is Brook Lopez getting healthy — he is the best scoring center in the game. Problem is, the Nets could not figure out how to use him properly, their offense actually dipped two points per 100 possessions when he was one the court this season. The Nets didn’t find their identity until he was gone for the season and coach Jason Kidd was forced to go small, putting Garnett at the five and Pierce at the four.

The Nets have to find a way to better use Lopez.

Then they have no choice but to keep spending — the NEts need to bring back Pierce, Livingston and Blatche. If they can make a trade that sees them take on another bad contract but brings in real talent, they have to do it.

It’s a spiral of spending and getting older, it’s a road GM Billy King has always driven down and Prokhorov feels comfortable with. It’s not going to get them a title, they can’t just buy their way to a ring, they can’t get free agents, but they can’t get off this road now. Eventually they will need to strip it all down and rebuild, but with no picks for so long at this point they might as well just keep on trying to spend their way.

All the way to the second round.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.