EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jason Kidd once saved the Nets from themselves, using his visionary playmaking skills to take the franchise places its fan base would've never imagined, if only those Nets had a fan base.
They were stuck somewhere in Jersey back in 2001, and they'd managed to lose at least 50 games 10 times in the previous 15 seasons. On arrival, the point guard predicted the Nets would be a .500 team, and a playoff team, and before the laughter even died down Kidd had led the Bad News Bears to two consecutive trips to the championship round.
All while a 28-year-old LeBron James is right smack in the heart of his prime, a liberated two-time winner whose reputation has been cleansed so thoroughly that he's suddenly among America's leading commercial pitchmen?
This is going to be much harder than that, and not only because Kidd had the ball in his hands a dozen years ago, and enough command of his craft to intentionally throw away passes in the first quarter so his teammates would chase them with more passion and fury in the fourth.
The Brooklyn Nets are built to win now because they have a win-now owner with a win-now mandate and, more importantly, a win-now bank account. Mikhail Prokhorov isn't merely trying to buy the biggest piece of the city game in the New York Knicks' city; he's trying to buy control of the NBA away from his opponent in Friday night's home opener, LeBron's Miami Heat.
Only Prokhorov and Kidd probably have little idea just how unlikely it is that they'll realize their mission statement objectives this year or next. The Nets do have a starting five good for a combined 35 All-Star Game appearances, not to mention a bench to die for. They do have a rookie head coach with the kind of starpower that counts, and a veteran bench coach (Lawrence Frank) who's the NBA's highest-paid assistant for a reason.
This formula should result in a top-four seed in the East, and maybe even a first-round playoff victory over the Knicks. But expecting a best-of-seven triumph over LeBron's Heat with a 37-year-old Garnett and a 36-year-old Pierce, two old Celtics who at times looked severely diminished in their first-round playoff loss to the Knicks, is not what any neutral observer would call a smart bet.
Miami might want to remind the Nets Friday night that they don't represent the first team to plug in big names on the fly in the hope the chemistry somehow works. In 2010, the Heat added a 25-year-old James and a 26-year-old Chris Bosh to a certified champion, Dwyane Wade, with some life still left in his legs, which is a whole lot different than adding the 30-somethings Pierce and Garnett to a ring-free starting lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez.
And even that Miami team died a slow and painful death in the 2011 Finals, all while a certain Dallas point guard (and much of the country) watched with great satisfaction.
Of LeBron James, the conquering Kidd said after the Nets' practice Thursday, "He's a totally different player than when I faced him. He's even gotten better. When we faced him we just got lucky. Now he's the best player on the planet."
"We got lucky," Kidd said, "that Dirk [Nowitzki] was big for us. ... When you talk about that team, they were just put together and they've been to the Finals the last three years, and they've won two out of three. So the ball bounced our way that year."
The Heat proved that even when adding supreme talent to a roster, it usually takes time for the stars to align.
"I think Boston also did it and the first year they won the championship," Kidd countered in referencing the 2007-08 Celtics, who added Garnett and Ray Allen to Pierce and Rajon Rondo in the offseason and immediately beat the Lakers in six.
But again, Garnett was 31 and Allen was 32 when they were acquired. And this isn't to second-guess Prokhorov or Billy King on the blockbuster deal they struck with Boston; it was a trade worth making, a long shot worth taking. Of course you move Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, Gerald Wallace, and a few future draft picks (Prokhorov is going to spend, spend, spend his way out of the lottery, anyway) for even a remote chance Garnett and Pierce can win a second ring together before fading away.
Just understand that Brooklyn's big play here reminds less of what Boston did in the summer of 2007, or of what Miami did in the summer of 2010, and more of what Los Angeles did in the summer of 2003, when the Lakers signed 35-year-old Gary Payton and 40-year-old Karl Malone.
"Sometimes it works," said Brooklyn's Andrei Kirilenko, 11-year NBA veteran, "and sometimes it [doesn't]."
"I hope we're going to go the Boston way," Kirilenko said.
It didn't go the Brooklyn way in the season opener Wednesday night, when Williams was limited by injury (again) and the hosting Cavaliers took advantage of the Nets' predictable lack of cohesion. Serving the front half of a two-game DUI suspension that will also keep him out of the gym against Miami, Kidd watched on TV and said it was a game his team should've ground out.
But grinding won't be the problem for any team manned by proud Celtics the likes of Garnett and Pierce. The forces of nature and gravity, on the other hand, are a different story. With the score tied and 41 seconds to play in Cleveland, Pierce was beaten on the boards by Earl Clark, whose offensive rebound led to the Anderson Varejao shot that was the difference maker.
Pierce would've had that rebound in '07-08, and if he can't grab it in late October against Earl Clark, he's not going to grab it in late May against LeBron James.
It doesn't mean the Nets shouldn't have traded for him. It only means that the aged Pierce and Garnett are unlikely to score an upset for the ages over Miami when it matters most.