The Brooklyn Nets are quickly falling out of the conversation, their once-growing relevancy in the sports world fading fast.
The star-hungry Nets have the NBA’s highest payroll, yet sport the league’s lowest local TV ratings despite their multiple Emmy-award-winning broadcast team.
And now that Kevin Garnett has been traded to Minnesota, they lack any player who moves the needle on a national level despite fielding three max-salaried players on their roster.
Make no mistake: Getting Thaddeus Young for KG was a nice haul. KG is obviously on the decline, and Young is 12 years his junior. The Nets desperately needed an infusion of youth and athleticism, and, despite Young’s dunk totals dropping fairly considerably (82, 57, 14) over the past three years, they got at least some of that in this deal.
But this isn’t about the Nets bolstering their halfway decent chances of qualifying for the playoffs. They did that. They even managed to save some money, too. No, this is about the grand scheme of things, and in the grand scheme of things, the Nets are still an $88 million mess.
Win-now deals by GM Billy King for Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and KG cost the Nets significant assets -- including Derrick Favors, the future first-round picks that became Enes Kanter, Damian Lillard, Gorgui Dieng, Shane Larkin and James Young, a 2015 first-round pick swap with Atlanta, their 2016 unprotected first-round pick, a 2017 first-round pick swap with Boston and their 2018 unprotected first-round pick.
Add it all up, and you get eight playoff wins and one playoff series win. And with Garnett gone, all that’s left from those moves are Williams, Johnson and Thad Young, who will make his Nets debut tonight against the Lakers.
Thursday’s trade deadline could have provided the Nets the opportunity to blow it up and rebuild. It’s just that they put themselves in a position where they couldn’t do that -- a guaranteed lottery pick would be headed Atlanta’s way if they were to tank -- and the closest they got to breaking up their Big Three was the Brook Lopez-Reggie Jackson deal that fell through at the last minute. But somehow, Lopez (whose genuine loyalty to the franchise that has wanted to trade him seemingly on a daily basis for years cannot last -- or can it?) is still here, and Jackson is in Detroit.
Think about this: The Nets were on the verge of handing the keys to their franchise over to the disgruntled Jackson and probably maxing him out. That move would’ve meant permanent backup duty for Williams, who has fallen mightily from his once joked about power position of assistant to the assistant GM.
If Williams (2016-17), Johnson (2015-16) and Lopez (2015-16) stay until their contracts expire, the Nets would still owe the trio $85 million.
Their books get much lighter in the summer of 2016, and you wonder if things will be different by then. Will they have a new owner? Will they become a profitable franchise?
The Nets lost $144 million in basketball-related business last season. They’ve cut their combined payroll and luxury taxes from nearly $200 million in 2013-14 to under $110 million in 2014-15.
The Nets are currently being paid about $25 million this season in local TV rights fees -- about the equivalent of the small-market Minnesota Timberwolves, according to sources.
Their deal with YES Network contains a reset in 2017-18, sources said. The Los Angeles Clippers, who recently sold for a staggering $2 billion, are hoping to get triple what the Nets are getting when they negotiate their new local TV contract in the near future.
The Nets, who ESPN.com reported in January are up for sale, would like to match both of those numbers -- if not exceed them. But that’s going to be tough given their current situation.
They have a lot of good things working for them: a beautiful $1 billion arena, the development of a $45 million practice facility on the waterfront in Brooklyn and the New York market, which could eventually be an asset one day. It’s just that they’re missing a golden opportunity to gain momentum when their city rivals in Manhattan, the New York Knicks, are just as much of a mess themselves.
The Nets got themselves into this mess. And it won’t be easy getting out of it.
In a business in which winning and interest usually go hand-in-hand, the Nets have a long way to go to restore relevancy and get themselves back in the conversation once again.