On July 12, 2013, the Brooklyn Nets officially announced they had acquired Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White from the Boston Celtics in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans and their unprotected first-round draft picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018. The Celtics also received the right to swap first-rounders with the Nets in 2017.
The blockbuster trade was supposed to put the Nets over the top and give the Celtics a chance to hit the reset button. But Brooklyn was unable to win a championship, and currently finds itself in a massive hole because of its old win-now, big-spending, star-chasing strategy. Up-and-coming Boston, on the other hand, has stockpiled a ton of assets with which to build.
With the two teams facing each other in a home-and-home set on Friday and Sunday, ESPN.com's Mike Mazzeo and Chris Forsberg decided to discuss the current state of the franchises they cover, as well as what the future holds:
Mazzeo: Chris, obviously, things are a lot better in Boston than they are in Brooklyn right now. Looking back on the deal, how did it allow the Celtics to really kick-start their rebuilding process? Surely Boston GM Danny Ainge has to be thrilled with how everything worked out.
Forsberg: Mazz, it's funny because Celtics fans were a bit torn on the trade at the time. It was just weeks after Doc Rivers bolted for Hollywood and it was clear it was time to embrace rebuilding. But some were worried Pierce and KG would turn Brooklyn into a championship contender and diminish the return on the picks. We all know that things couldn't have gone worse in Brooklyn, and now Boston fans are maybe more excited about the 2016 unprotected pick than a team that's already wiggled its way back to the playoffs. How are Nets fans handling the team's sluggish start while knowing their pick is bound for Boston?
Mazzeo: As you might expect, not well. But who could blame them? The future looks pretty bleak. Change is obviously necessary, but there are no quick fixes. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov and GM Billy King, who is in the final year of his contract, have deservingly drawn the majority of criticism from fans. A 2-10 start to this season certainly hasn't helped matters, as attendance has dwindled (two recent crowds were a Barclays Center-low 12,000-plus). And fans are already dreading the upcoming draft lottery -- assuming their team can't turn its season around.
The Nets could have around $40 million in cap space going into the summer but fans are already worried Prokhorov and King, if he is still around, might overpay for lesser free agents if they strike out on the likes of Kevin Durant (highly unlikely) and Mike Conley (more plausible, but probably unlikely). Anyway, enough doom and gloom (for a second), how are the Celtics performing in the here and now?
Forsberg: You might want to skip this section, Nets fans. The Celtics have one of the best young coaches in the league, a roster full of affordable young talent eager to develop, and a top-5 defense that has helped the team win five of its past seven games with an average margin of victory of 16 points per game in that span. The Celtics brought back their core from last season's second-half surge -- headlined by trade deadline acquisition Isaiah Thomas -- and added veterans Amir Johnson and David Lee this offseason. Brad Stevens is still figuring out his rotations on a deep-and-even team, but Boston players have embraced the idea that depth and defense will be their primary weapons (at least until Ainge can use his wagon-full of future picks to land another superstar).
To be fair, the Celtics have plenty of concerns, too (inconsistent offense, no go-to player) but there's an awful lot of optimism after this recent stretch. But, hey, the Nets are playing some more inspired ball the past five games themselves, right?
Mazzeo: True. Especially the starters. This might be hard to believe for Celtics fans who don't see the Nets on a regular basis, but the unit of Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Joe Johnson and Jarrett Jack has the second-best net rating of any five-man lineup in the entire NBA (minimum 100 minutes played). The problem certainly isn't that they don't play hard. But they lack quality depth, perimeter shooting (an NBA-worst 28.9 percent from 3-point range) and a go-to guy down the stretch. And while he might disagree, Nets coach Lionel Hollins could do a better job optimizing the talent that exists on the roster (helping to get Lopez more quality touches in crunch-time would be a nice start).
Anyway, it's encouraging the Nets have been putting themselves in a position to win of late. But it's just as discouraging they haven't been able to close the deal -- especially given the improved state of the Eastern Conference. Speaking of which, what do you think would define a successful season for the Celtics? And that being said, do you think they might look to package the 2016 Nets' pick for a superstar in 2015-16?
Forsberg: The Celtics understand that, as currently composed, they are not legitimate contenders. But they believe they should take a step forward from last season, which means getting to the playoffs and winning some games (Cleveland swept Boston out of the first round in April). What Ainge, Celtics president of basketball operations, has maintained, is that he'll be patient in the pursuit of a star but ready to pounce should one become available at the right cost. These picks and all the young talent gives Boston a chance to at least get in on any conversation.
There's a line of thinking that suggests the Celtics should sell early on the Brooklyn pick in case the Nets get themselves together moving forward (and Brooklyn clearly has no incentive to tank, right?) But there's a group of Celtics fans who are adamant they don't want to move the pick in case it becomes a top selection that could land a talent such as LSU's Ben Simmons.
If I'm Ainge, I'm willing to use the pick in trade if I can get an impact talent in return. There's too much risk and uncertainty with pingpong balls and picks, especially when no one wants to deal on draft night (right, Charlotte?). Let's reward Nets fans who made it this far with a reason to be optimistic. What's the best case scenario moving forward for Brooklyn (and will Prokhorov stick around to see this thing through?)
Mazzeo: Well, for starters, the franchise is in the process of wrapping up the completion of a $50 million waterfront practice facility in Brooklyn, which is slated to open sometime in February. The Nets are also getting back their D-League team beginning in 2016-17. The team will eventually play at the refurbished Nassau Coliseum in 2017-18. Hey, at least their buildings are desirable. Also, they still reside in New York, and that has to mean something, eventually, to prospective free agents.
And it stands to reason that with Lopez, Young and the uber-athletic Hollis-Jefferson forming a nice foundation, if the Nets could somehow upgrade at point guard (yes, Jack and backup Shane Larkin have played more than admirably, but still ...) they would potentially get themselves into the bottom of the East playoff mix, and those picks headed to Boston wouldn't look so bad. As for Prokhorov's sticking around, all these new additions, as well as the eventual consolidation of ownership (which would allow Prokhorov to gain 100 percent control of the team as well as the arena), which is expected to be completed at some point, suggest he will stay. Yet skepticism, it seems, will always remain.