It may be early in the season, but it is abundantly clear that the Brooklyn Nets are the worst team in the NBA. With a horrific record of 0-7, the Nets are rock bottom in the shallow Eastern Conference with blowout losses to the Spurs, Hawks and the Bulls on opening night standing out. The Nets are one of three teams without a win in the NBA and things do not look to be turning around any time soon. You could make a case that it would be best for the Nets to ‘tank’ the season and begin to look to the future, but the fact is that it's not even an option at this point. The Nets have become the perfect example of when a ‘win now’ mentality doesn’t work out.
By the time 2013 came around, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat ‘super-team’ were dominating the league, the Eastern Conference in particular. In order to knock the Heat off their Eastern Conference throne, which they had comfortably held since 2011, the Nets decided to make a blockbuster trade in an attempt to oust the Heat as the top dog. The trade blew the minds of every NBA fan across the globe as the legendary tandem of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett joined Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson in Brooklyn. The Nets had become a contender immediately with the trade, essentially being an attempt to one up the Heat’s ‘big three’ and create a somewhat ‘big five’ starting lineup.
The excitement around the team was through the roof. In an interview with NBA.com, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov was quoted, “Today the basketball gods smiled on the Nets” further adding “With the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce we have achieved a great balance on our roster between veteran stars and young talents. This team will be dazzling to watch…”.
The Nets got their star players, but in turn gave up a ton of draft picks, which included first rounders in the 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018 drafts. Brooklyn had essentially traded away their future for a short term experiment and a chance at glory. Fast forward two years and the basketball gods are long gone from Barclays Center.
Despite not giving up much in terms of players in the trade, the Nets would pay just shy of $200 million in salary and luxury tax, an astounding amount for a team that would finish sixth in the Eastern Conference in the 2013-2014 season. The Nets, in fact, were one of the worst performing teams in the league and could not muster a winning record until March of that season, in which they finished the month 39-33 before being knocked out in the second round of the playoffs four games to one by the Miami Heat.
The following season would see drastic changes throughout, as the Nets cut their losses. Head coach Jason Kidd was traded to the Bucks, Kevin Garnett was shipped to the Timberwolves, and Paul Pierce left for the Wizards in free agency. The Nets finished eighth in the Eastern Conference with a losing record of 38-44 before being dumped out of the playoffs by the Atlanta Hawks. The very small championship window was shut almost as quickly as it had opened, and the team followed the early playoff halt by releasing Deron Williams via a contract buyout.
Which leads us to the current situation the Nets find themselves in. As previously mentioned, when teams find themselves in a rebuilding situation, much like the Nets do now, the idea would be to bottom out and ‘tank’ for a lottery pick in the upcoming draft. However, with Boston owning Brooklyn’s 2016 pick as well as having the ability to swap their 2017 pick with the Nets, there is no advantage in a tanking situation for Brooklyn.
In reality, the only way Brooklyn will get any better would be to trade Brook Lopez and/or Joe Johnson but realistically, which team is going to take on either one of those players right now for something valuable? Despite being a free agent next year, Joe Johnson is a shell of his former self and is also owed just shy of $25 million this season. The often injured Brook Lopez signed a brand new three-year contract and may be difficult to move for something that can truly push the team in the right direction, with over $40 million owed to the former All-Star center over the final two years. Trading Lopez would also mean trading the only ‘impact’ player on the roster.
Free agency is the only way that things can be turned around in Brooklyn over the coming years but how attractive is this situation to free agents really? Can you see Kevin Durant joining a winless Eastern Conference squad ranked in the bottom three in offensive and defensive efficiency? There are some dark days ahead in Brooklyn.