The New Jersey Nets’ mercilessly ended their existence as a franchise last Thursday night with a dud performance in Toronto when they scored a season-low 67 points and lost by 31. It was a fitting end to what was a very bad final season in New Jersey. However, before the season officially ended, since their last home game in New Jersey last Monday night, Nets’ CEO and marketing maven Brett Yormark has been on a publicity tour hyping the team’s move to Brooklyn, including the release of their new logo. One of Yormark’s stops was on the “Boomer & Carton” radio show on WFAN in New York City where when talking about the team’s future, said, “This team is bigger than one particular player.” He was obviously referring to Deron Williams.
Upon seeing that comment, as a Nets fan, I shook my head out of complete frustration. Now I like Yormark. I think he has done an outstanding job making the Nets relevant in the marketplace and has created a buzz around the team. But this statement is just preposterous and almost insulting to Net fans. Obviously, he can’t say that the organization currently revolves around one player, but to say the team is bigger than just one player (Deron) is just not true, and hasn’t been true since the summer of 2010.
During the summer of 2010, in what was regarded as the best free agent class in NBA history, the Nets came out swinging. They were coming off a 12-win season with loads of cap space, tons of future draft picks, and a brash new owner. They went after LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, David Lee, and Amar’e because they wanted to make a statement. They wanted the NBA to know that 12 wins wasn’t going to happen again and they wanted a star on board to prove it. They wanted to sign someone to be the face of the franchise going into Brooklyn. They were desperate for star power, and trumped up their vision of turning a player like LeBron into a global icon.
Ultimately, they didn’t sign any of those players, and as a backup plan, the Nets brought in four players: Johan Petro, Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, and Travis Outlaw. While that wasn’t what they hoped for, the Nets retained cap flexibility and didn’t vastly overpay for mediocre talent, leaving them in a good position going forward to get the star they so desperately craved. This longing for the homerun move to usher in the new era of Nets basketball led to ‘Melo-Drama last season.
As soon as training camp began, the Nets were offering their prized rookie (Derrick Favors), best player (Devin Harris), and multiple draft picks to the Nuggets for Carmelo Anthony. The trade talks lasted through training camp and into the regular season where the Nets yet again struggled as they alienated Harris and destroyed the confidence of Favors. The drama came to an end when Mikhail Prokhorov proclaimed the ongoing saga had taken enough of a toll on his team and trade talks would be halted. That halt lasted about a month before the Nets’ insatiable craving for a superstar got the better of them. They got dragged back into the drama, ultimately to find out ‘Melo wouldn’t sign an extension with them before seeing him get traded to the Knicks. Ouch.
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The Nets rebounded from that defeat however by acquiring Deron Williams from the Jazz. This was a huge moment for the franchise. They FINALLY got the star they were looking for and would have a year and a half to convince him to stay with the team into Brooklyn. At the moment they acquired Williams though, this team became about him first and everybody else second. The Nets enjoyed a mini-surge in the second half of the season, but still missed the playoffs and headed into what would be a huge offseason for the team.
With the lockout preventing any NBA transactions from occurring over the summer, the Nets were in a holding pattern. The more time they lost, the less of a chance they had to improve the roster to make Williams happy.
The lockout ultimately ended, and upon ending, the Nets’ universe began to center solely around Deron Williams. The Nets began training camp much the same way they had the following year: mired in trade rumors, this time with Dwight Howard.
The indecisive Magic center had let it be known that he wanted out of Orlando. The Nets wanted in. They were willing to throw anybody and anything at the Magic in order to acquire Howard, which would essentially ensure Williams’ future with the team. They even supposedly offered Brook Lopez and five first-round picks for Howard, showing their total desperation to please Williams. At the same time these discussions were taking place, Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams had an inside look at Nets’ training camp and what he found was Deron Williams dining with Billy King each day for lunch and anointing himself “assistant general manager.”
While every team’s star player certainly has some input on personnel decisions, from the article it was obvious Williams was getting quite comfortable in King’s office. Knowing that the future of their organization depended on Williams, the Nets continued forward with the trade talks surrounding Howard, especially after Brook Lopez broke his foot. Yet again, Avery Johnson was left to coach a team filled with uncertainty at who would be there on any given day. This continued all season long.
The Nets ultimately brought Lopez back (perhaps prematurely) a few weeks before the trade deadline in the hopes of showing the Magic that he was healthy and good to go. Lopez played all of five games before reinjuring the foot and putting a damper on the Howard talks. When Howard opted-in to his contract with the Magic, the Nets were left hanging at the altar, and that is when they made the move most designed to appease Williams.
After missing out on Howard, the Nets traded their first-round pick (top three protected) and a couple of spare parts to Portland for Gerald Wallace. Wallace is one of those players who would be a great veteran piece for a contending team, which is why Portland traded for him last season, not the second-best player on one destined for the lottery. By trading for Wallace, the Nets were obviously trying to say to Williams, “Look, we will do whatever it takes to win” even if winning meant finishing 10th instead of 11th in the standings. For a team mired in mediocrity, the chance to draft a prospect who could be an impact player for the next 10 years in a loaded draft is not one the Nets should have given up for a pseudo-playoff run. Wallace also had the option to opt out after this season, which he appears likely to do as he seeks a long-term contract. The Nets would be wise not to overspend to keep Wallace around, but the loss of a draft pick unless they luck out and land in the top three is one the Nets won’t be able to get back, and if Williams leaves, their future will be incredibly bleak going forward.
So while Brett Yormark can tout Brooklyn and the Barclays Center all he wants, and he has done one hell of a job at that, the statement he made about the team being bigger than one player is just not true in this case. For the Nets, these last two years were always going to be about one player: One star who could be the face of the organization as they moved to Brooklyn. That star happened to be Williams, and since acquiring him the Nets have played all their cards to keep him happy and they should just be honest with themselves, and their fans. It’s the least they can do at this point.
Will a move to Brooklyn turn things around for the Nets?
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