Nets let Pierce go and close title window

July, 13, 2014
Jul 13
3:32
AM ET
It was only a year ago when the Brooklyn Nets put their chips on the table and were all-in.

General manager Billy King sent three first-round picks to the Boston Celtics for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The Nets had visions of Pierce, Garnett and rookie coach Jason Kidd bringing a black-and-white confetti parade to Brooklyn.

[+] EnlargePaul Pierce
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesPaul Pierce is jetting off to Washington.
"Today, the basketball gods smiled on the Nets," owner Mikhail Prokhorov said in a statement after the trade became official on July 12, 2013.

A year later, Kidd and Pierce are gone. Things have dramatically changed in Brooklyn about as fast as Kidd fast-breaked his way out of town.

The Nets, who compiled that $200 million roster with the sole purpose of winning it all, have shifted their approach, perhaps by a combination of choice and circumstances. They’ve gone from thinking only about immediately winning a title to more of an approach of remaining competitive but also being a bit smarter with their money and developing some younger talent.

League sources say the Nets decided not to offer a deal to Pierce that would match or exceed the two-year, $11 million deal he finalized with the Wizards late Saturday night.

The Nets owned Pierce’s Bird Rights and could have paid him as much as they wanted. But they passed on Pierce for a couple of reasons: They didn’t think they were going to win a championship with Pierce and this current roster and they also wanted to start developing some of their younger talent, according to sources.

Remember those days of Prokhorov spending money like it was going out of style? After the basketball side of the Nets’ business lost a projected $144 million over the 2013-14 season, as reported by Grantland’s Zach Lowe, Brooklyn is going to be a bit more thoughtful about its spending.

The Nets still want to remain competitive but also reload when their cap situation is expected to allow them to in 2016-17. They just didn’t see a championship happening this season with LeBron James now in Cleveland with a stable of No. 1 overall picks and the Bulls hoping Derrick Rose comes back healthy and Chicago having reached an agreement with Pau Gasol.

There’s still Indiana to contend with, and the Raptors and Wizards are only going to get better.

So as it turns out, Pierce was just a one-year rental, now off to tutor John Wall and Bradley Beal on how to win. Kidd is in Milwaukee now coaching Jabari Parker. And that leaves Garnett with a decision to make.

[+] EnlargePaul Pierce, Kevin Garnett
David Richard/USA TODAY SportsHow will Kevin Garnett react to playing in Brooklyn without his best friend?
Does the Big Ticket want to keep playing and return to Brooklyn for the final year of his contract, which is worth $12 million? A league source said the Nets fully expect him to.

But even if KG does come back, how happy will he be? Garnett is an absolute professional. But he clearly didn’t envision playing for the Nets without his best friend Pierce and Kidd gone just a year after waiving his no-trade clause.

This is just one factor that could lead to a potentially rocky start to the upcoming season for the Nets. Brooklyn is now going from all-in on winning a title to returning to their original blueprint for success.

The Nets are back to leaning heavily on Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson being good enough to keep them in playoff contention with the right surrounding pieces.

But remember that Williams and Lopez are both coming off surgery. The Nets simply have to take it slow with their two franchise players and make sure there are no more setbacks. After Williams suffered repeated setbacks in recent years, the point guard is going to want to make sure he doesn’t come back until absolutely ready. The Nets should also be just as cautious, if not more, with Lopez and his fragile feet. So Lopez should be on a minutes restriction and perhaps even held out of playing back-to-backs for a while.

Add on the fact that the Nets have a new head coach/new system to learn for the second time in a year while trying to develop some younger, inexperienced players and Brooklyn has the potential for another shaky start to the season.

Last season, the Nets got off to a disastrous 10-21 start. Lionel Hollins is a veteran coach who should be able to manage this start better than Kidd was able to last year before he finally got comfortable and the Nets got healthier.

Hollins and the Nets will also want to develop young talent like Mason Plumlee, Mirza Teletovic, recently acquired 20-year-old forward Sergey Karasev and prospect Bojan Bogdanovic, who will sign for their mini-midlevel exception sometime this week, according to sources.

Hollins won’t have Pierce’s leadership and experience to be the glue for the team. And he could have an unhappy KG on his hands. As you can see, the Nets are moving on from the Pierce-Garnett-Kidd era.

Some might criticize King for giving up three first-round picks for Pierce. It’s a heavy price to pay for basically getting the Nets out of the first round with a series-clinching block by Pierce against Toronto in Game 7 and the hope that his championship experience rubbed off on younger guys in just one season.

Was it a mistake to give up that many picks? Yes. But it does take courage for the Nets to realize this and basically cut their losses and alter their approach. The Nets are right in the fact that they weren’t going to win a championship even if Pierce, Garnett and Kidd returned for another season.

At the very best, the Nets might’ve been able to get past the second round if things had broken their way. The East is somewhat open since LeBron left Miami. Cleveland could go through growing pains with young players like Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins still needing to learn how to win. And there are no guarantees with Rose’s health in Chicago.

Bringing back Pierce would have helped the Nets remain in the discussion, but not at the top of the East.

Perhaps the Nets also might’ve sensed the possibility that Pierce ideally wanted to be somewhere else. After the season ended, sources said Pierce really wanted to only play in two places -- either Brooklyn or for the Los Angeles Clippers and his former coach Doc Rivers.

That was before Kidd went through a messy divorce with the Nets. No matter who is to blame in the Kidd split, Pierce could not have liked seeing something as dramatic as that happen on the eve of free agency. The Nets looked a tad dysfunctional even if they were blindsided by the Kidd fiasco.

King moved quickly to stabilize the situation with the Hollins hiring. Now the Nets are also heading in a different direction than the championship-or-bust path they were moving in last summer.

Kidd is gone. And now Pierce is, too. KG could be next eventually.

Not even the basketball gods could have predicted this just one year ago.
Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Brook Lopez
PTS AST STL MIN
20.7 0.9 0.5 31.4
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsK. Garnett 6.6
AssistsD. Williams 6.1
StealsD. Williams 1.5
BlocksB. Lopez 1.8