It appears that the Brooklyn Nets aren’t for sale. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov has ended an agreement with an investment bank he hired in January to explore a sale of the team. The Russian billionaire was exploring a sale in the wake of the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer, as Prokhorov’s stake in the Nets and Barclays Center could potentially fetch a similar number.
But for now it looks like Prokhorov will hang onto the team, although perhaps he should reconsider, because the Nets aren’t in great shape.
Despite having the highest payroll in the NBA the last two seasons (and a whopping $144 million in basketball operations losses last year), Brooklyn has had little to show for it on the court, and the future isn’t all that promising. The Nets finished a mediocre 44-38 last season (thanks to a miserable start), and while they upset the Toronto Raptors in seven games in the opening round of the postseason, Brooklyn was bounced in the next round by the Miami Heat in five games.
The offseason featured the bizarre Jason Kidd saga that saw Kidd wind up with the Milwaukee Bucks (where Kidd has the Bucks in line to make the playoffs), and this season is heading straight down the tubes for Brooklyn. The Nets have lost four straight games and are 25-37 after a 111-91 loss at home to the New Orleans Pelicans. The playoffs aren’t yet out of reach because the Eastern Conference is no good, but the seventh-seeded Indiana Pacers are surging and the eighth-seeded Charlotte Hornets are getting Kemba Walker back. The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics are also both ahead of Brooklyn in the standings.
Here’s where you may be thinking “Hey, it probably would be better for the Nets to miss the playoffs. They need an infusion of young talent and could use a high draft pick.” And this is where it gets ugly.
Thanks to the Joe Johnson trade with the Atlanta Hawks in 2012, the Hawks have the right to swap first-rounders this season. The Nets are currently in line to pick ninth, while the Hawks are in line to pick 29th. So that’s right, the 50-13 Hawks could get a top 10 pick and the Nets will end up picking at the end of the first round.
But it gets even better. Thanks to the blockbuster deal involving Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Nets owe the Boston Celtics first-round picks in both 2016 and 2018, and the Celtics have the right to swap picks in 2017. All for one season of Pierce and one-plus season of Garnett that didn’t result in any type of significant winning. To be somewhat fair, Garnett has been turned into a solid player in Thaddeus Young, but Brooklyn needs a lot more help moving forward.
Outside of Young (who could potentially leave in free agency this summer), the Nets’ roster isn’t very appealing and is stocked with three overpaid veterans. Joe Johnson is still a solid player, but he’s due nearly $25 million next season and will be 34 in June. Deron Williams is owed over $21 million next season and $22.3 million (ETO) in 2016-17, and considering his game has cratered due to injuries, I don’t see how he would want to give up that $22.3 million. Brook Lopez has a player option worth $16.7 million next year and has been good when healthy, but Lopez is rarely healthy and has been the subject of trade rumors for several years.
Mason Plumlee is a keeper and Jarret Jack is a solid backup point guard, but the rest of the roster is a bunch of whatever. And with that disastrous draft pick situation plus several severely overpaid veterans, it’s hard to see how the Nets are going to get out of this rut anytime soon. General manager Billy King could certainly try and pawn off those big deals as expiring contracts, but I don’t know how much value King could extract out of those deals.
King tried to make big splashes by acquiring all these expensive veterans. Instead, he just mortgaged the future in disastrous fashion. Perhaps he can finagle his way out of this mess, but it won’t be easy.