Three years ago, a new era of Nets Basketball was to be ushered in. There was a new owner, a revamped team and hope.
None of that ever manifested and all Brooklyn has to show for it is a second-round exit to the eventual Eastern Conference winners, the Miami Heat, during the 2014 postseason.
This year, Brooklyn hovered around the eight seed, proving its worth as a playoff team on some nights and looking more like the team’s cross-town rivals on others.
Falling 13 games below .500 didn’t help their playoff cause either. However, that’s what makes it so impressive. Oh, did I mention that they were 13 games below in March?
Anyway, although it felt great to make the playoffs, Brooklyn is on the brink of being eliminated by the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks. Hats off to Brooklyn, as they fought back from a 2-0 hole to tie the series and still could pull off the upset.
No one is giving the Nets an outside chance to win the NBA title, let alone make it out the first round. Even if Brooklyn manages to miraculously squeeze by Atlanta, it doesn’t cure the issues that Brooklyn must deal with in the future.
First, there’s the Big Three.
Mind you, I’m being very generous throwing around that phrase right now as most of the trio has failed to produce at a high enough level in the postseason and have experienced some overall decline as well.
2012-13 Regular Season Averages
2014-15 Season Averages
Lopez has been the only player out of the three who has sustained his level of play since the three players came together in Brooklyn. Injuries haven’t slowed him down either, as he’s playing well in the first round, outside of a disappointing Game 5. It makes sense considering Lopez is just 26 years old. However, Johnson will turn 34 and Williams will be 31 in June.
How long can Brooklyn wait?
It’s simple really; they can’t. Basketball in the Big Apple demands results, which makes Brooklyn’s situation that much more blue.
Not only does Brooklyn have to move down in this year’s NBA Draft (from 15 to 29) because of Atlanta’s option to swap picks (the irony), but they’ll also have to live in salary cap hell for one more season. Johnson and Williams are on the books for next season, accounting for nearly $46 million of the team’s payroll. Lopez holds a player option for $16.74 million, but how likely is it that he opts in?
Lopez has proved that he can rebound from an injury – twice. An unknown executive told Fred Kerber of the NY Post that Lopez holds all the cards:
“If he walks, where are they going? They don’t have draft picks. They’re flip-flopping their pick [with Atlanta]. They’re getting the 29th instead of the 15th. For their future, I don’t see how they can lose him,” said the GM. “If Brook wants to stay there, he should be able to get whatever he wants.”
The possibility of Lopez leaving should absolutely worry the Nets’ fanbase. It’s a make-or-break situation keeping Lopez, who’s averaging 20 points and 9.4 rebounds on 50 percent shooting this postseason. But what about the other two?
Or how about if Joe Johnson should be considered among the most elite of shooting guards?
It has been a long and graceful fall for both of these two. Yeah, they have their scoring outbursts to lead the Nets to victory sometimes, and yes, Johnson is their most clutch player, but how does that matter? They haven’t produced enough.
Only God knows how Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov will handle the Johnson/Williams situation. Both are tremendous dents on the team’s payroll, and both can’t perform well enough to make us forget.
Although Johnson is putting up a respectable 17.4 points per game this postseason, his field goal percentage is at a paltry 35.8 percent. Williams hasn’t been that much better, shooting the ball at a rate of 37.3 percent, averaging just over 11 points. If it weren’t for his 35-point outburst in Game 4, we’d already be talking about Williams getting the boot out of Brooklyn.
Not that some of you aren’t rooting for that anyway.
The future of Brooklyn is bleak and there might not be a turnaround anytime soon. They don’t have a first-round pick that isn’t bound by a stipulation until 2019. In 2017, Boston has the option to swap first-rounders with Brooklyn.
So if you can’t build through free agency and you can’t build through the draft, where do you go?
Straight to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.