Questions Loom for Brooklyn as Barclays Hosts NBA Selection Show
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It was one year ago that the Nets stole the show at the first-ever NBA Draft hosted by the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn.
General Manager Billy King used the team’s first-round pick, 22nd overall, to select fellow Duke alum Mason Plumlee.
The high-flying 7-footer went on to earn NBA All-Rookie honors after serving as a key reserve in the absence of injured All-Star center Brook Lopez as well as filling in quite ably for Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko, both of whom were limited by back injuries, throughout the campaign.
But it wasn’t the selection of Plumlee that made the Nets the center of attention on Draft Night 2013.
Not by a long shot.
In fact, the rookie pivot man spent most of the evening answering questions about a blockbuster deal his new organization had just swung that promised to change the face of Brooklyn basketball for the foreseeable future.
Though it was weeks away from becoming official, King had acquired future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from Boston, along with veteran sharpshooter Jason Terry, in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, Kris Humphries and three future first-round picks.
“As soon as I’m drafted, I do something wrong,” Plumlee said, recalling his answers that night regarding playing alongside legendary hoopsters the Nets had yet to officially acquire as per the NBA’s rules regarding free agency.
But because he wasn’t officially a Net yet, Plumlee was spared any punishment for commenting on players still under contract to other teams, and all of Brooklyn rejoiced at the pending arrival of the key components to a championship squad.
Adding Pierce and Garnett to a starting lineup that already featured the All-Star back court of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, as well as Lopez in the middle, was supposed to make the Nets the frontrunner for the Atlantic Division crown.
Many were quick to prognosticate that Brooklyn had also become an instant contender to dethrone the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference and make the organization’s first NBA Finals appearance in a decade.
Well, things didn’t quite work out that way.
Brooklyn, armed with the largest payroll in the history of the sport, dropped 21 of its first 31 games, and Lopez was lost for the season with a recurring foot injury before the turn of the New Year.
Though first-year coach Jason Kidd managed to rally the Nets to an impressive 34-19 finish after Jan. 1, Brooklyn needed a last-second blocked shot from Pierce to escape the first round against a resilient Toronto squad and then fell meekly in five games to Miami in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Twelve months after “The Trade”, the Nets find themselves without a pick in Thursday night’s Draft, and with a litany of loose ends and question marks as the offseason hits full tilt on July 1, when free agency begins.
Pierce is a free agent, Garnett hasn’t spoken about whether he will return for the $12 million option year remaining on his contract, and the likes of free-agents-to-be Andray Blatche, Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson – all key elements of the Nets’ reserve squad -- are about to hit the open market.
Williams is coming off surgery on both of his oft-injured ankles and Lopez’s health will again be in limbo after he played in only 17 games last season.
Add to that the thus-far unfounded rumors that billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov is either interested in selling the team or trimming payroll to increase the franchise’s valuation price, and the Nets are swimming in treacherous waters as Draft night approaches.
King, who has been an offseason star in both of his first two summers here in Brooklyn, certainly has his work cut out for him entering Year Three.
He will likely try to bring Pierce back on a one- or two-year deal, all but assuring the return of Garnett for one more season, and then turn his attention to re-signing Blatche, Livingston and/or Anderson, though getting one of the three to return will be a challenge.
As for the draft, which is stocked with talent deep into the first round and early into the second, King will have to swing another deal if he hopes to restock what is quickly becoming one of the older, and more expensive, rosters in the league.
Just one year after their Draft Night coup at Barclays Center, the Nets have seemingly gone from Belles of the Ball to Dancers Without Partners.
It falls on King to get them back on the V.I.P. list.