The Brooklyn Nets have built quite a contender.
Well, it’s not their own team that’s become a contender, but the Boston Celtics.
Nets fans, who trudged through a 20-62 season, watched in disbelief on Tuesday night as the No. 1 overall pick that should have been theirs was swapped to a team that is currently competing in the Eastern Conference finals.
It all stems back to the offseason prior to the 2013-14 season and a fateful decision to deal their future for a chance to win immediately.
After posting a 49-33 record during their first year in Brooklyn in 2012-13 and losing in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Nets were looking for something to put them over the top.
What no one told them was that there was nothing available at the time to do that. The Miami Heat’s “Big 3” of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were fresh off winning their second-straight title and no opponent that wasn’t coached by Gregg Popovich was going to stop them.
But the Nets and general manager Billy King thought there was a way to do so. Instead of trying to accrue and develop any kind of young talent, they packaged up their future to try and execute the “win-now” strategy.
For a Celtics team that was burdened with some big contracts heading into the 2013-14 season, it was a no-brainer for them.
2014 1st-round pick
2016 1st-round pick
2017 1st-round pick
2018 1st-round pick
It was a puzzling move even then considering Garnett was 37, Terry was 36 and Pierce was 35 in the final year of his contract. The Nets also absorbed Garnett’s and Pierce’s contracts, which combined to over $27.7 million that season.
But as key members of the 2008 championship Celtics, there were some that thought they could come in and help develop a winning culture alongside Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.
That was once a pretty imposing looking lineup, on paper at least.
Even Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov claimed that the “basketball gods smiled on the Nets,” despite the ludicrous haul it took to get Boston to make the deal.
You have to understand, there was excitement generating around a franchise that was devoid of any since its time in New Jersey at the turn of the millennium. And for a basically new franchise looking to put butts in the Barclays Center seats, there were reasons to be impatient.
But Lopez and Williams missed a combined 83 games due to injuries while the team with big egos struggled to click.
Terry wouldn’t even last the whole season as he was dealt to the Sacramento Kings for Marcus Thornton.
Brooklyn had a worse regular season than the year before, going 44-38 before none other than the Heat bounced them from the second-round.
Pierce would walk in free agency, signing a two-year deal with the Wizards, while Garnett hung on for another half-season before he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The experiment failed. The Nets had absolutely nothing to show for it and nothing to build on.
Boston, on the other hand, remained diligent through the first half of the decade. They drafted Avery Bradley in 2010 and Marcus Smart in 2014 (the Nets first-round pick that year became James Young at No. 17) and acquired Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk via trades.
Last offseason, they made a big splash in free agency by bringing in Al Horford and using the first-round pick they acquired from the Nets, which was the No. 3 overall pick after Brooklyn went 21-61, to take Jaylen Brown out of Cal.
Life can’t get much better for the Celtics, actually.
They went 53-29 this season and are in the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2012. They are looking at almost $30 million in cap space this summer and to top it all off, they now have the No. 1 pick which they can spend on Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball or any other prospect that tickles their fancies.
Brooklyn, a team that is in need of being blown up and pieced back together, has lost out on its largest resource to do so.
With just under $24 million worth of space, they have some cash to flash this offseason, but it will be a difficult sell given the team’s 41 combined wins over the past two years.
A No. 1 pick could have helped shift the outlook around the organization and possibly lured in more interest from prospective free agents.
There is an option in trading Lopez, who becomes a free agent at the end of next season. But he has expressed his desire to stay with the team for the long term. If there are doubts, he could be flipped for a few draft picks; something the team desperately needs.
Remember, Boston owns their pick next year, too. So another horrendous season in Brooklyn could be the Celtics’ gain and heap further misery on the Nets, who must live with the fact that they pulled the trigger on one of the worst trades in sports history.