EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When are the Brooklyn Nets finally going to be more concerned with the details rather than simply getting a deal done? When do they ever plan to operate from a position of power during negotiations?
The Nets seem destined to overpay and/or make concessions in order to retain both Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young in free agency this summer -- if only because that's what they've always done since 2010, when Mikhail Prokhorov took over as owner and Billy King took over as general manager.
The Nets have made it clear they want to keep Lopez and Young, who opted out of the final year on his contract, -- and they should. It just would be nice if Brooklyn could keep them on its terms, not the other way around.
But the Nets are in short-term salary cap hell and don't have total control over their own first-round pick until 2019, so the only thing that really makes them stand out is money. The Nets hold Bird rights on Lopez and Young, which enables them to pay the frontcourt duo more than any other team.
And given that the Nets don't have the financial means under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement to replace Lopez and Young if they were to leave, they are under significant pressure to get a deal done. They have no leverage. They have no choice.
The Nets have no one but themselves to blame for their unenviable predicament. This is the price they're paying for relentlessly chasing stars and going all-in to win now with no regard for the future. It was a nice plan in theory. It just didn't work out.
In 2012, the Nets convinced Deron Williams to stay, ultimately giving him an opt-out clause and about $29 million more than the Dallas Mavericks could offer (five years, $99 million vs. four years, $70 million). Because of a combination of injuries and inconsistent play, Williams didn't turn out to be the franchise player the Nets hoped he'd be after they invested so much into making him happy.
They gave Gerald Wallace $40 million guaranteed over four years after acquiring him from the Portland Trail Blazers in an effort to put some talent around D-Will. It seemed like a panic move. It cost them a top-three protected 2012 first-round pick that became Damian Lillard. Wallace was brought in to upgrade what was thought of as the single worst position of any team in the NBA. He did for a brief period, anyway.
Brooklyn paid a hefty price to take on the remaining four years and $89 million on Joe Johnson's deal. The Nets gave the Atlanta Hawks Houston's 2013 first-rounder (lotto protected) and the right to swap firsts in 2014 and 2015 (which wasn't disclosed for months until some bloggers did some excellent investigative work).
That's why they're picking 29th on Thursday and having trouble moving up in the draft, as opposed to 15th. Johnson has hit some huge shots in the clutch and was terrific in the playoffs two seasons ago, but his production has, understandably, started to decline.
The blockbuster trade that brought Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn from the Boston Celtics in 2013 was the real killer. The original framework of the deal was Pierce for Kris Humphries and Brooklyn's 2016 unprotected first.
But the proposal expanded to include Garnett and Jason Terry. As a result, the Nets had to add in three additional picks: their 2014 unprotected first (for Garnett), their 2018 unprotected first (so the Celtics would take on Wallace's albatross) and a 2017 first-round swap (because Keith Bogans had to be signed and traded to Boston in order to make salaries match).
The Nets then had to fully guarantee the second and final year remaining on KG's contract for him to waive his no-trade clause. They could've at least protected the 2018 pick so it could perhaps be conveyed in 2019 or 2020. They chose not to.
Before coming to terms on a deal with the Nets, the Celtics were just days away from having to make a decision on whether to buy out Pierce, one of the most celebrated players in franchise history, for $5 million. Garnett, meanwhile, was seriously contemplating retirement.
It turned out to be a disaster. Pierce, for all his heroics, lasted only one season in Brooklyn. KG, unfortunately a shell of himself as Father Time set in, was shipped to Minnesota with his blessing in Year 2.
At least when the Nets were still in New Jersey they had an excuse. Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard never wanted to play there. Prokhorov put the kibosh on the team's pursuit of Anthony, while Howard changed his mind at the last minute, and ended up in L.A.
But Prokhorov and King's desire to build an overnight contender in Brooklyn resulted in the depletion of assets -- one here, two or three there -- and that's why the Nets are where they are right now, a mediocre team in cost-saving mode. They spent approximately $400 million in salary and luxury taxes over the past three seasons, and won just one playoff series as a result.
King said Monday that there is a possibility that Johnson ($24.9 million), Williams ($21 million), Lopez and Young could all be on the roster next season. If Lopez gets a max contract starting at $18.9 million and Young receives a multi-year deal worth between $14-16 million, those four players alone could total about $80 million in salary. The projected luxury-tax line for 2015-16 is $81.6 million. The Nets, mind you, would prefer not to be a tax-paying team since they're facing the dreaded repeater tax as an offender in four consecutive seasons.
King and the Nets have their work cut out for them. And tanking isn't an option.
Perhaps most of the core comes back, Williams and Johnson prove unmovable, and the Nets thrive as an underestimated outfit given that they have continuity. That is an optimistic viewpoint, however.
The reality is that the Nets find themselves in quite a bind. They are a team of little intrigue, arguably with no must-watch players on their roster.
Better days lie ahead at some point.
They have to, right? How many teams have a $1 billion arena, a $45 million waterfront practice facility on the way and play in the No. 1 media market in the league?
Perhaps all of those assets will be useful one day.
Perhaps, one day, the Nets will be more concerned with the details than simply getting a deal done.
And perhaps, one day, they will operate from a position of power during negotiations.