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What’s the Plan?: The Brooklyn Nets

What’s the Plan? is a weekly series where we look at the long-term outlooks for teams that aren’t immediately contending for a championship. We’re starting with a team that has been locked out of the draft by their own trades: The Brooklyn Nets.

Who’s ready for 2019? Seem like a ways off? I promise it seems even further for the Brooklyn Nets and their fans. 2019 is the first year the Brooklyn Nets will have their own first-round draft pick. The Nets swap this year’s first-round pick with Atlanta’s first-rounder (almost certainly to be No. 29), surrender next year’s pick to Boston, swap picks with the Celtics in 2017 and once again give up their first round pick in 2018 to … you guessed it, the Boston Celtics!

The losses of these picks are the lasting results of two incredibly shortsighted trades. The first was to the Hawks for Joe Johnson, who currently makes enough money to pay two Stephen Curry‘s, or, if you’re looking to shore up the wing position, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. The second was to the Celtics for one year of Paul Pierce, a year and a half of Kevin Garnett, less than half a year of Jason Terry and the ability to get rid of the awful Gerald Wallace contract.

At the time, the Nets were trying to jumpstart themselves into a contender and wanting to be relevant right away for their move from New Jersey to Brooklyn. Unfortunately, their shortcuts haven’t paid off, and all they have now is a sub-.500 record and a playoff spot that should probably be given to a Western Conference team that actually wins more games than they lose. Barring a miraculous playoff run, the Nets are smack dab in NBA limbo.

The question becomes: Where do they go from here? With only free agency and the later picks of the draft to build their team, and not having any draft picks available for the trade market, the Nets need to shift away from the present and look deep into the future. If they sign Brook Lopez to a max deal, they’ll have three players taking up approximately $65 million dollars in cap space next year. Deron Williams will be 31 next season and has never looked as good on the Nets as he did in Utah. Unless Williams has a major renaissance, I don’t see him leading the Nets to the Finals any time soon. Johnson turns 34 at the end of this season and will be in the final year of his current deal next year.

With other teams holding the rights to their draft picks, the Nets don’t have any incentives to tank, but neither should they be giving up assets trying to contend now. Unfortunately, the Williams and Johnson contracts are likely too big to move (although never say never), and someone will give Lopez a max contract this summer if the Nets don’t. Thaddeus Young can test the market thanks to an early termination option, and perhaps the power forward moves on.

This all puts the Nets in a tough situation: They’re not awful but not that good, and they have little recourse to prevent themselves from sliding further down the NBA totem pole. If they want to keep their current team intact, they’re going to have to pay for it, something they’ve been doing a lot of over the past few years, putting up record luxury tax figures with little results.

To me, it just doesn’t make sense to try and pay out the nose for a team that doesn’t have a chance at winning in a meaningful way. Tear it all down, trade whomever you can for whatever you can get and don’t extend yourself for players that won’t be making an impact five or six years down the road. Just accept the fact that you went all in and it didn’t pay off. The Nets need to hit the reset button, and they needed to do it last summer; unfortunately that reset won’t really get started until 2019.

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