Pierce Departs for D.C. as Nets Go Younger, Cheaper at Forward Spot
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Younger and cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean stronger, faster and better, but the Brooklyn Nets certainly hope it will as they bid farewell this week to the key player in last summer’s blockbuster Draft day deal.
The soon-to-be-37-year-old Paul Pierce said goodbye to his Downtown digs after just one season, inking a two-year deal worth upwards of $5 million per annum with the Washington Wizards.
That leaves soon-to-be-20-year veteran Kevin Garnett, 38, as the only significant piece remaining from the June 2013 swap that brought him, Pierce and Jason Terry – remember him? – to the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues from Boston last June.
Nets general manager Billy King, who has had a busier-than-expected summer following the unexpected departure of head coach Jason Kidd and the subsequent hiring of Lionel Hollins, didn’t bat an eyelash when Pierce took off for the nation’s capital.
Billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s chief basketball operative quickly went about re-signing combo guard-forward Alan Anderson, 31, reportedly for $2.6 million over two years, and is in the process of officially inking 2011 first-rounder Bojan Bogdanovic, who is just 25 and has spent the past several seasons playing professionally in Turkey.
Combining these two players with the likes of Mirza Teletovic, 28, Andrei Kirilenko, 33, Mason Plumlee, 24, and this year’s second-round selection, Markel Brown, 22, gives the Nets a combination of youth, experience, energy, deadeye shooting and inside power at the two spots Pierce filled during the 2013-14 campaign.
And it will save the Nets some serious cash too.
Some scoffed at the notion that the Nets were going frugal this summer, but Prokhorov and King have proven, specifically with their lack of interest in bringing back Pierce, that the organization is determined to get under the salary threshold by at least 2015.
Last season, the Nets spent upwards of $190 million – the largest payroll in the history of the NBA – on a team that got off to a 10-21 start, rallied to earn the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed and was ultimately vanquished by Miami in the second round of the playoffs.
The Worst Team Money Could Buy, they weren’t, but the Nets’ brain trust proved unwilling to hang its fortunes on Pierce rediscovering the glory that helped Boston to an NBA crown in 2008 and a trip to the Finals in 2010.
At least not without significant help from Brook Lopez and Deron Williams, both of whom struggled through injury-plagued campaigns.
Garnett, who will be back for his $12 million option, unless he too is jettisoned via trade, is basically all the Nets have remaining from the deal that sent three, count ‘em, three of their future first-round picks to the Celtics last summer.
Pierce, who put up career lows in scoring and minutes played during his one year in Brooklyn, was also an undeniably clutch performer during the Nets’ thrilling first-round playoff series with Toronto.
The 2008 Finals MVP helped Brooklyn steal Game 1 on the Raptors’ home floor by scoring nine consecutive points down the stretch, and more famously swatted Kyle Lowry’s bid for a series-winning layup as time expired in Game 7 at the Air Canada Centre.
But King found Pierce’s approximated $20 million tag over the next two years too pricey, and so “The Truth” took his talents to Washington to join budding superstar point guard John Wall and the Wizards.
“Obama, [John] Wall here I come” Pierce tellingly tweeted early Sunday morning.
Both Hollins and King may have hinted at Pierce’s pending departure last week, when the new coach and long-time GM were asked about the direction of the franchise.
In an open letter to Brooklyn fans, Hollins noted that he would be “meeting with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett, and the younger players to discuss my expectations of them and to hear what their expectations are for our team. While we are individuals, our players will have to come together as one and make sacrifices for us to be successful.”
Pierce, who was in Vegas at the time participating in the World Series of Poker, was notably left off Hollins’ list of players he would be communicating with.
"We know the number we want to get to, I think they know the number they want to get to,” King said of his negotiations with Pierce’s agent. “We're just trying to get to the point where we're all comfortable and I know what we're trying to accomplish, and it's just in the negotiation process. That's all it is. We have the ability to pay him more than everybody else, but we are going to be a little bit more financially responsible at this point in time."
“A little bit more financially responsible” is certainly new to the lexicon of Nets’ management since the team relocated here the season before last.
The Nets shelled out $98 million for point guard Williams, inked center Lopez to a $60 million pact, brought in shooting guard Johnson and the remaining $90 million left on his Atlanta deal before orchestrating last summer’s biggest blockbuster trade, pushing the budget near the $200 million mark.
What remains from all that spending?
Williams and Lopez will both be coming back from offseason surgeries in 2014-15, raising serious concerns as to how effectively they can serve as the foundation pieces for this franchise going forward.
Johnson, to his credit, has been the Nets’ stalwart in the starting lineup and Mr. Clutch at the end of both regular-season and postseason games.
Garnett, who is long past his surefire Hall of Fame form, may be playing out the string in Brooklyn to collect his final big payday.
And as for Pierce, he may have given Brooklyn fans an indication of where he was ultimately headed last March following a loss to the Wizards.
“They’re good,” Pierce gushed of his soon-to-be Washington teammates. “They’re coming into their own. They’re growing up right before our eyes. You’ve seen their struggles over the years, and John Wall has matured as a player, obviously, becoming an All-Star this year and taking on more responsibilities and becoming a leader for this ballclub. That’s what the Washington Wizards have been waiting on, and you’re seeing it.”
We’re also seeing a new direction for the Brooklyn Nets as this turbulent offseason continues: Out with the old, and in with the new, especially if the price is right.