It didn’t come to them exactly as planned or in the form they would have most preferred, but they got what they angled for and that was a shot at the champs. The Nets were constructed to compete against the Miami Heat, even acquiring noted Heat antagonists Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to join their cause. The duo was supposed to be the shot in the arm that provided the experience, professionalism, personality and heart anybody with a pulse could see the Nets lacked.
It almost worked, too.
For all the “we aren’t afraid of them” talk and the overemphasis on their regular season sweep of Miami, the Nets still suffered the same fate as other Heat playoff foes in recent years. Now it’s time to reflect.
Brooklyn endured a season befitting a Greek tragedy.
From being the co-laughing stocks of the league with their crosstown rivals in the season’s first two months, to reassigning an assistant coach they so heavily sought to remedial daily reports (ah, who could forget that amazing Lawrence Frank parody blog), there was a lot happening on — and off — the court.
There was also the mercurial process the new life blood from Boston took in shaking the green off to get fully acclimated to the foreign situation in Brooklyn. There was the season-ending injury to Brook Lopez, the questions about Kidd being fired then Kidd winning coach of the month…twice.
The Nets jettisoned “The Jet” Jason Terry, acquired Marcus Thornton, played small, moved KG back to center and became a team with an identity of sorts. They thrived in a 19-game regular season stretch in which KG sat due to injury. That stretch gave them the opportunity to develop rookie center Mason Plumlee only to forget about him in the playoffs.
This season for the Nets truly had it all.
Brooklyn broke the bank as if they played the lottery’s mega millions with a payroll in excess of $102 million this season. That payroll positions them to pay the highest luxury tax ever recorded in the Association. At least they are first in something, right? OK, too soon.
They put all of their eggs in one basket hoping to catch lighting in a bottle and instead caught blisters from the Heat who dispatched them in five games. Pierce and Garnett weren’t enough and were forced to play larger roles in light of Lopez’s injury and Deron Williams’ seemingly diminished skills and confidence. Seriously has anyone aged and become more destitute on the court due to injury than Williams in recent years?
So is there hope in an equivocal future?
Their payroll will “shrink” to a pauper’s wage of just $89.9 million next season and that’s without Pierce, Shaun Livingston (likely to get a host of offers) and Alan Anderson under contract. At least they don’t have a first-round draft pick to tie up cap space as a result of the trade that netted them the veterans that may only play one year. So, yeah, good times. At least Brook Lopez will be back…they hope: the right foot that knocked him out this season is the same one he’s had surgery on before.
Jabs and sarcastic undertones aside, this team has enormous questions moving forward. If Pierce decides to go to another team, like to rejoin former coach Doc Rivers with the L.A. Clippers or back to Boston, Garnett may very well retire. To even say KG has been a shell of himself would be disrespecting how great his former self was. If his road dog Pierce goes, I don’t see why Garnett would stick around Brooklyn. Pierce said he will evaluate his season and speak to his family, but he thinks he has one “maybe two” years left in the tank. Exactly where that tank will rest on empty, he doesn’t know.
Overall the team seems to enjoy playing with one another and would like to take another crack at gaining elite status. The key components involve health (mainly the return of Lopez), Kidd’s growth as a coach with a full season under his belt and the returns (or retirements) of both KG and Pierce.
When Joe Johnson was asked about running it back with the soon-to-be Hall-of-Famers next year he said, “I’d love to have those guys back. It was a great opportunity for me to get the chance to play with those guys…they are important and very valuable to what we do here.”
Williams said: “Of course I would want to take another shot (with this group). We started really bad and ended up where we were — without Brook, that says a lot. I think we can take it to another level. It took us a while to get comfortable with each other and build that chemistry. So I just think another year could only help. If we can keep this group together, that’d be great.”
In an awkward twist of irony the victorious duo of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade also chimed in on Brooklyn’s future but more specifically Pierce and Garnett.
“I don’t think you ever bury these guys,” said Wade. “They are unbelievable competitors, I don’t know if we really want to (bury them). They bring something out of you and we can credit them for the team that we are today because they were the team we had to get by when they were in Boston. Playing them made us mentally strong.”
James added of the two: “Those guys challenged me. They have helped me to become the player that I am today and they’ve helped our team because they challenge you in so many facets. Even as weird as it is seeing them in black and white you still see green on them. Those guys just have a championship DNA and to compete against those guys in a series is the ultimate for a competitor.”
Kind words and respect do not equate championships. They don’t even equate more than a lone win in the Conference Semifinals.
Brooklyn wanted to play the champions two of their own were responsible for creating, but Pierce and Garnett are no longer able to slay the monster they’ve created — instead, they have become its prey. The Nets need more and another year together isn’t likely to provide the answer.
Where do the Nets go from here?
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