A tremendous amount of praise is due to Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and GM Billy King. They have pulled off what was widely assumed to have been impossible. Not just the move to Brooklyn, but putting together a product that could actually make residents of New York City contemplate, even if for a fleeting moment, whether or not they should change allegiance from the Knicks to the Nets.
Consider for a moment where the Nets were entering last season. The team had Deron Williams on an expiring deal, intent on surveying the landscape and exploring his options. The team was actively pursuing Dwight Howard, widely viewed as the only way keep Deron. Then consider where the team was at the trade deadline. The Nets abandoned hope for Howard as the deadline approached, and traded an unprotected first round pick to Portland as the centerpiece to land Gerald Wallace. Wallace, an aging wing who could also opt out and leave the Nets at the end of the year. The Nets made a big play, and it took some serious stones.
This offseason Wallace opted, but then re-signed with Brooklyn to the tune of 4 years and $40 million. The deal was scoffed at. After all, Wallace is a wing who relies on athleticism and will be 34 when the deal expires. The Nets then swung a trade where they somehow sent a pile of scrap to Atlanta for an All-Star in Joe Johnson. Yes, Johnson has a horrendous contract, but he's an excellent shooting guard, especially if he doesn't need to be the primary option for a team. The Nets then gave up their offseason pursuit of Dwight Howard, re-signing center Brook Lopez to a 4-year max contract worth roughly $60 million. Power forward Kris Humphries was also retained on a new 2-year contract worth a reported $24 million. And of course the coup de grace was that Deron Williams stayed with the Nets, signing a 5-year max deal for $100 million.
Seriously, just let all of that sink in. Billy King went all in and won. Regardless of what happens this season, regardless of what happens over the life of those contracts, the Nets won. They kept their best player in Williams, added an All-Star shooting guard, kept Crash, kept their front court. Oh, and they picked up international prospect Mirza Teletovic, they still have MarShon Brooks, and they filled their bench with solid if unspectacular NBA players like Josh Childress, Reggie Evans, and Andray Blatche (who, for all his issues, still has a lot of potential in new scenery).
As for the money, do you think the Nets care? They are owned by a oligarch billionaire, and moving into Brooklyn equates to printing your own money. Jersey sales, ticket sales, merchandise sales, and the new revenues from little things like Jay-Z concerts to celebrate the opening of the Barclay's center, will more than cover any losses from eating some bad contracts. I really don't think the Nets are worried about their payroll costs, or the NBA's luxury tax.
The Nets arrive in Brooklyn with incredible buzz, and it seems inconceivable that they will miss the playoffs, especially in the East. But the Nets may not live up to the hype. Even though several Nets players, including Deron, have acknowledged that the team was checked out in the second half of last season, this team was still awful last year. A healthy Lopez should help. A full season of Wallace will help. Joe Johnson will absolutely help. But now the Nets need to deliver. They've created the buzz, built a respectable and exciting roster, and delivered on every promise they made. Now they need to deliver on the court and redefine what it means to be watching Nets Basketball.
Coming up next: the New York Knicks