Brooklyn: The East’s No. 2 Team?

July 13, 2013

Who needs long-term flexibility? The Brooklyn Nets are all in for 2013-14, with a collection of future Hall of Famers and a projected starting lineup that boasts a combined 35 All Star appearances. All 5 of those guys are poised to earn more than $11.5 million next season, and Brooklyn’s payroll will exceed $100 million, almost double the cap.

Look at this roster.

This summer, Brooklyn’s traded for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, all NBA champions; re-signed Andray Blatche, who rocked a 21.98 PER last season, for close to minimum dollars; signed 6-foot-7 backup point guard and former No. 4 overall pick Shaun Livingston for about the same; wooed Andrei Kirilenko, who declined a $10-million player option in Minnesota, for $3.1 million a year; and dumped one of the league’s worst contracts, one that pays Gerald Wallace $30.3 million over the next 3 years, on Boston.

That’s a haul.

Here’s your rotation, assuming full health.

  • PG: Deron Williams | Shaun Livingston
  • SG: Joe Johnson | Jason Terry
  • SF: Paul Pierce | Andrei Kirilenko
  • PF: Kevin Garnett | Reggie Evans
  • C: Brook Lopez | Andray Blatche

Now, add Mirza Teletovic and Mason Plumlee.

Some fortunate circumstances.

The Nets got lucky 4 times this offseason.

* The Celtics were anxious to rebuild and eager to dump Pierce’s $15.33 million this year and Garnett’s $23.5 the next 2 years. Danny Ainge had just traded his $7-million-per-year coach to Los Angeles for a first-round draft pick. For a few extra picks, take 2 of the league’s top 30 players.

* The Wizards infamously amnestied Andray Blatche not too long after signing him to a 3-year extension. So Blatche is collecting $7.8 million this season and $8.5 next, even if only $1.4 million of that’s coming from Brooklyn. Blatche has previously made clear his desire to not let Washington off cheap — the more he signed for with Brooklyn, the less of that $7.8 million the Wizards would have to pay.

Blatche is, from a straight numbers angle, at least a $5-million-a-year guy. Per 36 minutes last season, Blatche averaged 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds on a team where he was, on a lucky night, the 4th option. His PER ranked No. 14 in the NBA and 2nd on his team behind Brook Lopez.

* Brooklyn also gets great value in Shaun Livingston, who will replace C.J. Watson as the team’s backup PG. Signed on Christmas Day by the Cavs, Livingston tallied 7.2 points, 3.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 23.2 minutes over 49 appearances. Not helped by Jarrett Jack’s deal with Cleveland, the market collapsed on Livingston, who’s stayed healthy and productive whenever he’s received an opportunity since 2008-09.

That horrific knee injury is well behind him, and Shaun’s still only 27. He’s not an elite defender, but he has enough length to disrupt passing lanes. On the other end, he’s a solid facilitator and very underrated back-to-the-basket scorer, particularly against smaller guards.

* And, the most mysterious of all, Andrei Kirilenko, who’s making $6.9 million less (plus cost-of-living increases in New York!) than had he accepted his player option in Minnesota. Perhaps the incentive was his relationship with Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who, as owner of CSKA Moscow, employed AK-47 from 1998-01.

This deal seems so fishy, Yahoo! Sports ace Adrian Wojnarowski even reported some team executives are asking the NBA to investigate, wary of potential side deals between the two Russians. Unless something materializes, Brooklyn scored big-time, grabbing a former teammate of Deron’s in Utah and one of the league’s best perimeter defenders to guard the likes of LeBron James, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

Prokhorov may have said it best in a statement after the Pierce-KG trade became official. “Today, the basketball gods smiled on the Nets.”

How do they stack up?

There’s 5 frontrunners in the Eastern Conference: Miami, Chicago, New York, Indiana and Brooklyn. Miami, 2-time defending champs, return the same team and are atop the throne. But, then, all hell breaks loose.

Chicago adds Mike Dunleavy and returns a healthy Derrick Rose, but drops Marco Belinelli, Rip Hamilton and, most likely, Nate Robinson. Indiana returns David West and a healthy Danny Granger, adds C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland, and drops Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin. New York adds Andrea Bargnani and returns J.R. Smith and a healthy Amar’e Stoudemire, but loses Copeland, Steve Novak and Jason Kidd … to Brooklyn!

Those are not bad offseason, by any measure, but not on par with Brooklyn’s. With the Ak-47 move, the Nets boast the deepest bench in the Eastern Conference, maybe even the NBA. Of course 2 big questions remain: How will Kidd fare as a rookie head coach, and how will these guys mesh?

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

Related: Semi-delayed thoughts on the KG, Pierce deal

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Semi-delayed thoughts on KG, Pierce deal

June 30, 2013

The biggest news in the NBA world Thursday was not connected to the Draft. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski dropped a bomb that afternoon — the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics were in serious talks regarding a trade that would send Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets in exchange for three first-round draft picks and cap fillers.

As early as Thursday evening, Woj reported an agreement was reached in principle after Garnett agreed to waive his no-trade clause. The trade, Woj said, could not be finalized by the league office until July 10.

Per Woj, the Nets will receive Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry in exchange for first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 (and the right to swap in 2017), Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, Reggie Evans, and a signed-and-traded Keith Bogans. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated reported Saturday MarShon Brooks would be included in the deal, and not Evans and Joseph.

One of the most lopsided trades in recent NBA history.

That’s how I’d describe this trade two days after the fact, should it be league-approved. Boston loses a 15-time All Star in Garnett, 37, and a 10-time All Star in Pierce, 35; both of whom are closer to retirement than their primes, sure, but I’d insist both are still top 25 talents in this league, without debate.

Boston gets 3 good things in this deal: a) Brooks, 24, who averaged 12.6 points per game in less than 30 minutes in his rookie season, before seeing his PT more than halved this year; b) 3 (likely very late) first-round draft picks, including one next year, which is already considered to likely be one of the elite classes in NBA history; and c) the good fortune to wave goodbye to Terry’s contract, which pays him close to $11 million over the next 2 seasons.

But Boston also gets cast-offs in Humphries, Bogans and Wallace, all unlikely to make a major difference on a likely non-playoff team. Oh, and the right to pay Gerald Wallace $10.1 million per over the next 3 seasons. Wallace’s scoring has dropped every season since 2009-10, and he averaged only 7.7 points on sub-40% shooting last year, his lowest totals since 2003-04 in Sacramento.

To Boston’s benefit, Humphries is a $12 million expiring and Brooks is still earning a rookie wage. But Pierce was, assuming GM Danny Ainge picked up his option, a $15.3 million expiring this year, and Garnett, considering his value, is owed a very reasonable $11.5 and $12 million over the next 2 seasons, before his deal expires.

It’s clear the Celtics are blowing the whole thing up. Rumors circulated Saturday of a potential Celtics-Mavericks Rajon Rondo deal. If he’s not dealt this summer, I’d expect Rondo on the block by February’s trade deadline, pending a healthy return from a torn ACL suffered in January.

Can the Nets compete in the East?

Assume this trade goes through and head coach Jason Kidd boasts an opening day starting lineup of Pierce, Garnett, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. That’s 35 All Star appearances among 5 guys. If Brooklyn can round out their bench with quality ring-chasing veterans to surround Terry, you have to think they’re right there with Chicago, Indiana and New York, behind Miami.

But lots of questions remain. Can Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony both stay healthy … and co-exist? How does Derrick Rose return after missing an entire season due to ACL surgery? Are Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer still Bulls, and who does GM Gar Forman find to replace likely free agent departures Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and Richard Hamilton? Does Danny Granger return healthy as instant offense off Frank Vogel’s bench, or does Indiana ship him elsewhere for assets? Can Indiana re-sign David West?

Oh, and how does a starting lineup of 5 former All Stars — all of whom, minus Lopez, have previously been the star of a playoff team — co-exist?

Only time will tell.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


30 in 30: BROOKLYN NETS

February 5, 2013

If you had asked me (OK, you’re not asking me now, either) to write this post 6 weeks ago, it’d be a whole different story. The Nets, 14-14 and losers of 10 in 13, had fired Head Coach Avery Johnson, and everyone and their mother in the news media was, and rightfully so, targeting Deron Williams with the blame. But it’s different now — the Nets have found new life under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo (though, at this rate, he’s probably not interim for long), winning 14 of 19 and reaching the No. 5 spot in the East standings heading into Tuesday’s games; in fact, the Nets are only 4 games behind the top-seeded Miami Heat.

Top to bottom, the Nets’ roster is as talented as any in the Eastern Conference, with Miami the obvious exception, and should they happen to advance to the No. 2 or 3 seed by season’s end (and thus avoid the Heat in round 2), there’s no reason to believe Brooklyn can’t make a run to the conference finals. With Williams, Joe Johnson and All Star reserve Brook Lopez, albeit due to Rondo’s torn ACL, Brooklyn boasts their own ‘not-as-big-but-still-very-good 3.’

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — ATLANTA HAWKS

Williams, 16.8 points per game; Lopez, 18.7; and Johnson, 17 despite early season struggles, are all coming into their own under P.J.’s tutelage. For the first time since his Phoenix days, Johnson doesn’t face the pressure of being the franchise player. For the first time in his career, Lopez is on a team, barring a major collapse, that’s playoff-bound (the last time the Nets made the playoffs was 2006-07). And Williams is playing with the best supporting cast of his career, even including his 2006-07 Western Conference Finals run in Utah.

Anchored by Lopez, the Nets boast one of the East’s strongest frontcourts, right next to Chicago and Indiana. Brooklyn’s only 18th in rebounding, but P.J.’s crew is No. 5 in total defense, surrendering only 94.5 points a night. Lopez is the cornerstone, but the Nets are deep; 4 different guys — Lopez, 40; Reggie Evans, 22; Kris Humphries, 20; and Andray Blatche, 7, have started for Brooklyn this season. Evans, 8.8 boards a night, is the team’s leading rebounder, and both Lopez, No. 4 overall, and Blatche, No. 14, are rated among the league’s best in PER. Add in the notoriously scrappy Gerald Wallace and ace defender Keith Bogans coming off the bench, and that’s quite the unit.

The best part? Depth. Lopez plays the most minutes of all the team’s power forwards and centers at only 29.4 a night. Crazy to imagine he’s putting up 19 points in less than 30 minutes. And even though Brooklyn’s bench is ranked No. 20 overall in scoring, they can sure overcome adversity. 16 players have suited up in at least 2 games this year as the team’s fought the injury bug; Johnson and Blatche are the only 2 guys to appear in all 47 games.

Weaknesses? Well, 3-point shooting is one; Brooklyn, as a team, averages 35% on 3-balls, good enough to tie the L.A. Clippers for 19th in the NBA. Rumors are swirling GM Billy King could swap Humphries for a guy like Orlando’s Hedo Turkoglu, due at least a $6 million buyout next season, or could consider J.J. Redick, an expiring $6 million player averaging 15.3 points a game this season, but such a trade could require losing promising sophomore guard MarShon Brooks given Redick’s demand. Nevertheless, gone are the Lopez-for-Dwight Howard rumors, at least so we think, given Dwight’s back, shoulder and, well, talent problems, as well as Lopez’s ascendance.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — BOSTON CELTICS

The only obstacle in the way of a Nets’ title run this year is LeBron James. The Nets are 0-3 against Miami this season, losing by 30, 13 and 20 points, respectively. But, for better or worse, the Nets’ core is in place for years to come. On the plus side, all three Heat stars could become free agents in the summer of 2014, thereby potentially breaking up their core (or maybe creating more Eastern Conference threats, we don’t know). On the negative end, the Nets already have at least $77.5 million, far above the league’s luxury tax, on the books through 2014-15.

But, boy, have the Nets come a long way under King, hired a mere 6 days after “The Decision.” A week earlier, the Nets had thrown all their cards on the table, Jay-Z and Brooklyn included, to lure LeBron James, or at least one of the half-dozen big names available. Their biggest score that summer was Travis Outlaw, since amnestied. Yet Lopez has come into his own, the Nets acquired Williams, Wallace (though gave up a lottery pick in the process) and Johnson, even convincing Williams to ink a long-term deal. Oh, and they call Brooklyn’s beautiful Barclays Center home … and have an owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, worth an estimated $13.2 billion.

It’s a good year to be a Net.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


Brook Lopez, the All Star snub.

January 25, 2013

The NBA unveiled the 7 reserves for both the Eastern and Western Conference All Star teams earlier this evening. And, of course, after every All Star roster is announced, the only logical question to ask is, “So, who was snubbed?” Cases can probably be made for Warriors’ PG Steph Curry, Grizzlies’ center Marc Gasol, Brooklyn Nets’ two Joe Johnson or, if we’re forgetting defense, maybe even the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, among a host of others. But the snub, in my mind, has to be Brook Lopez.

Here’s a quick look at the reserves in the East:

  1. PF Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
  2. C Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks
  3. PF/C Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
  4. SG/SF Paul George, Indiana Pacers
  5. SF Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls
  6. PG Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers
  7. PG Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

No Brooklyn Nets, no Brook Lopez. What gives?

Here’s a guy who was dangled in Dwight Howard trade talks all summer, before signing a max 4-year, $61 million deal this offseason, much to the chagrin of NBA pundits, myself included, who didn’t see Lopez as a max guy, especially on a team with max deals already devoted to Deron Williams and Johnson. Now, with the Lakers in free fall and the Dwight Howard experiment not working as planned, L.A. may be looking for pre-deadline suitors for its impending free agent big, and Brooklyn, contrary to when he was with Orlando, is unlikely to come calling.

That’s all due to the season Lopez is having. In 35 starts, he’s averaging 18.6 points and 7.4 rebounds a night, all while shooting 52% from the field, 2 points ahead of his career mark, and 73% from the line (if only Howard could do that) — a symbol of  consistency of a team with a coaching change and inconsistent play from its two stars, Williams and Johnson, in the past three months. He’s fourth in the NBA in PER, behind only superstars LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, and ahead of fellow New Yorker and likely MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony.

His 18.6 points lead the Nets — I mean, who would have thought Lopez, not Williams or Johnson, would be the leading scorer on this team? And his 2.1 blocks a night, also team-leading, help anchor a solid defensive front alongside Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries, as their 94.1 points allowed per night is third in the Eastern Conference, only trailing Indiana and Chicago.

The Nets, 26-16 and 9-1 in their last 10, are thriving under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo and have pulled within a game of the Atlantic Division-leading New York Knicks and 2.5 games of conference-leading Miami.

But it’s easy to say someone was snubbed without answering who you’re leaving off. Bosh, Chandler and Noah are the three big-man reserves with whom Lopez is competing, and Kevin Garnett was the only true big to be named, by fans, a starter. Chandler’s 19th in the league in PER, Bosh 22nd, Garnett 52nd and Noah 78th, a spot behind teammate Nate Robinson.

I don’t take exception with Chandler’s All Star nod, if only because of the defensive force he remains in the middle and how drastically his departure has killed a Dallas Mavericks team a year-and-a-half out from a championship. I also find it tough to criticize the selection of Bosh, who’s averaging 17.3 points per game and 7.2 rebounds on the East’s top team.

Noah is perhaps deserving of an All Star bid, but not over Lopez. Yes, he anchors one of the league’s best defensive units. Yes, he’s one of the main reasons Chicago is fourth in the East, even minus it’s franchise player. But his 12.2 points, a career high, and 10.9 rebounds aren’t screaming All Star at me.

Nor does Garnett’s 14.7 points, the third-lowest of his career, and 7 rebounds, the lowest since his rookie year, on a mediocre Boston squad that may just sneak into the playoffs. Of course Garnett was voted in by the fans, so that’s a whole different bag of worms. (Food for thought: Garnett’s averaging 0.9 offensive rebounds per game, easily the lowest mark of his entire career.)

All Star rosters are never perfect, but if this year’s was, Brook Lopez’s name would be included.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


Dribbles: About those BK Nets

November 3, 2012

In only a few minutes, the Brooklyn Nets are scheduled to make their season debut … for real this time. The Nets are a sexy team this year, given their very active offseason that most notably included the permanent move to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the re-signing of Deron Williams and a trade for the Atlanta Hawks’ Joe Johnson.

This is a playoff team, let’s not fool ourselves. But this is not a championship contending club, nor will it be any time soon.

Cap flexibility, or lack thereof…

I understand the win-now-or-else mindset in Brooklyn, I do, but I don’t understand the move for Joe Johnson. BK now owes Joe Johnson, a very good second- or third-tier star, close to $90 million over the next four years. The Nets also signed Brook Lopez to a four-year, $60 million deal, which he’s not worth; Kris Humphries to a two-year, $24 million deal, which he’s not worth; and Gerald Wallace to a four-year, $40 million deal, which he’s not worth. You get the picture.

And with Williams locked up for five years at the cut rate of $98 million, which he’s worth every penny of, BK has a cap roll exceeding $85 million. Hell, the Nets have almost $78 million in payroll locked up … for 2014-15, even after Humphries’ $12 million per comes off the books.

Of course, this isn’t an issue for Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov, whose net worth exceeds $13 billion (with a b), according to a Forbes valuation in March. Almost $30 million over the league’s $58 million cap? Pay the luxury tax!

But this roster is not good enough…

Luxury tax means no free agent signings, or at least none that pay more than the league’s mid-level exception, putting the Nets between a rock and a hard place. They seem to want a build a super-team, ala the Miami Heat, especially considering their failed courting of Dwight Howard … and Orlando Magic executives. But they don’t have a third star, and that’s if we’re going to consider Joe Johnson, a career 16.9 points per game scorer in the playoffs, a star; Chris Bosh, the lowest scoring member of Miami’s “Big Three,” has a career 17.6 points per game average in the postseason.

Nor is their roster deep enough. Miami won a championship with timely shooting from Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Norris Cole and Mike Miller. New Jersey’s bench roster, though with a few nice pieces like MarShon Brooks, Josh Childress and C.J. Watson, hardly strikes that same kind of fear into opposing defenders.

So … now what?

Well, Brooklyn, based on Williams and Johnson alone, is a playoff team. But putting them in the same sentence as heavyweights Boston or Miami is not practical, and whether they can beat second-tier teams like Indiana, Chicago (first-tier upon Rose’s return), Philadelphia and New York remains to be seen.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


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