It ended up being one of the worst trades ever in the NBA, certainly the worst in the last couple of decades.
In the summer of 2013, the Nets — at the behest of an ownership group that wanted to win big heading into a new arena in Brooklyn — put together a trade that netted them Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (to go with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez), two Hall of Fame players but guys now on the downside of their career. Both guys lasted two seasons with the Nets.
The cost? Brooklyn surrendered a 2014 first rounder (turned out to be No. 17), a 2016 first rounder (No. 3), the rights to swap picks in 2017 (No. 1), and the Nets 2018 pick (likely to be high lottery again).
How did this happen? How did the Nets give up the motherload? Stephan Bondy at the New York Daily News has a great retrospective piece talking to people, and it wasn’t as simple as “GM Billy King screwed up.” If you read one thing today on hoops, it should be this piece.
The downfall started with an ownership group obsessed with having the best toys right now – they wanted big stars to open their new arena (remember they chased Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, too). The formula included the fact the Nets in 2013 looked like a team on the rise (and LeBron James looked almost vulnerable). There was King not getting enough protections on picks. It led to a level of arrogance in the organization that backfired.
The first deal negotiated with the Celtics was just for Pierce, and the Nets only had to give up one draft pick, Kris Humphries and MarShon Brooks. But then Doc Rivers left the Celtics for the Clippers, and Garnett came into focus because there was nothing left for him in Boston. To match salaries, the Nets had to get rid of Gerald Wallace and his ugly contract paying $30 million over the next three years.
Shedding that cost Brooklyn another first-round draft pick, along with the two they were giving up for Garnett and Pierce. For a year in between, the Celtics negotiated the right to swap first-round picks. That turned into the Celtics landing No. 1 overall in 2017, which they’re reportedly close to trading to Philly for even more lottery picks.
“The arrogance in the room was that we were going to roll, we were going to win these next couple of years,” said a former Nets staff member who was in the draft room. “Maybe not the championship, but we were going to win the next couple of years and have sustainable success. We were going to keep signing free agents. We were always going to draft between 20 and 30. So if we’re going to swap with the Celtics, who gives a f—? That definitely was the thought.”
Also forgot in all this, and brought up by Bondy — the move was praised at the time for the most part. The Nets came in second in the annual GM survey at the start of next season for having had the best off-season (they got 25 percent of the vote). It also worked to boost Nets ticket sales in Brooklyn.
Of course, everything went sideways from the start for the Nets. Williams was injured and missed training camp, and more importantly he never really wanted to be in that spotlight as the leader anyway. Coach Jason Kidd squabbled with assistants and banished Lawrence Frank. Garnett missed 30 games. He and Pierce seemed disengaged from the team. Brook Lopez broke his foot just a couple of months into the season. Andrei Kirilenko was not the same. And Bondy reports “Andray Blatche allegedly showed up drunk to practices, according to multiple sources.”
Eventually, Kidd bolted for Milwaukee (after his bid to gain GM power failed) and ownership decided to close its wallet to the big spending.
It all came undone within a couple of years, but the Nets are still paying the price.
New GM Sean Marks is shrewd and made smart plays — like going hard after restricted free agents Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson — even if he came up empty. He made a smart move to bring in Jeremy Lin, who unfortunately was injured much of last season. They are trying to develop Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
But the Nets are years and years away. Mostly because of this one horrible trade.