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.

Gordon Hayward’s agent says return this season unlikely

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Wednesday night in Boston Gordon Hayward underwent surgery to repair his dislocated ankle and fractured tibia suffered just five minutes into the season-opening game, a gruesome injury that put a pall over the rest of the night.

There had been hope from some Celtics fans that Hayward could return this season, likely for the playoffs, but now that the surgery is complete Hayward’s agent told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN not to expect him back until next season.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who saw the injury. Hayward is in the first year of a four-year deal with the Celtics, they were always going to choose a cautious path rather than rush him back. Under Danny Ainge Boston has always taken the long view, even with all their moves this summer — specifically bringing in Hayward and Kyrie Irving — the target was to be the team set up for next as LeBron James and the Cavaliers faded. That plan does not change now.

Earlier in the day, Hayward had sent a video message out to Celtics fans thanking them for their support in the past 24 hours.

Without Hayward, the Celtics now will focus more on smaller lineups, rookie Jayson Tatum will get more run, as will Marcus Smart in his contract year. Jaylen Brown will be thrust into a more significant role. Also, Kyrie Irving will be asked to do more as the team’s second-best playmaker is now out for the season.

The Celtics will take a step back this season without Hayward, who was going to be crucial for them on both ends of the floor. That’s evidenced by their 0-2 start, falling to the Cavaliers and Bucks on the first couple nights of the season. Boston should still be a team well above .500 and in the playoffs, but they will not be quite the same this season.

Trail Blazers beat Suns by 48, biggest season-opening rout in NBA history

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Any controversy over C.J. McCollum‘s suspension for the season-opener should be put to rest. The Trail Blazers fared fine without him.

More than fine.

Portland beat the Suns, 124-76, Wednesday. The 48-point margin is the largest ever in a season opener, even as the Trail Blazers let a 58-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle.

Here are the most lopsided season-openers in NBA history (openers for both teams appearing twice):

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The 48-point defeat is also the Suns’ worst lost in franchise history, topping a 44-point loss to the Seattle SuperSonics in 1988. It could be a long year in Phoenix.

Marcus Smart and Matthew Dellavedova scrap (video)

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Marcus Smart and Matthew Dellavedova thrive on aggravating opponents, so when matched up, of course they aggravated each other.

Deduct points from Smart for pulling the hold-me-back charade behind a referee. Plus, Dellavedova’s Bucks beat Smart’s Celtics, 108-100.

Report: ‘Tremendous concern’ for Jeremy Lin’s knee injury

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The Nets’ projected record this season came under greater scrutiny when the Celtics traded Brooklyn’s unprotected first-round pick to the Cavaliers in the Kyrie Irving trade. After finishing third-to-last and last the previous two years, were the Nets poised to take a step forward, or would they convey a very high pick to the Cavs?

Jeremy Lin, who missed 46 games last season, getting healthy was a reason for optimism in Brooklyn and pessimism in Cleveland. But it appears the veteran guard could be out a while.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Billy Reinhardt of Nets Daily:

If the injury is as bad as feared, what a bummer for Lin. He came to Brooklyn expecting to play a leading role on a developing team, and he just can’t stay healthy.

The Nets were probably more focused on developing their younger players, but – especially without their own draft picks – there was no harm in shooting for the playoffs. This appears to a blow to that (already unlikely) dream.

It’s a boon to the Cavaliers, though. And whenever something significantly affects LeBron James‘ team, it has ramifications into the entire power dynamic of the Eastern Conference. For an injury to a player on a team most expect to be bad, the medical developments here will be tracked closely around the league.