The Brooklyn Nets have a legitimate chance at making the playoffs this year, only a half game behind the Charlotte Hornets. But it doesn’t matter, as the Nets current roster cannot make a deep run in the playoffs. And with the way the roster is constructed, they also shouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon.
The Nets, as mentioned, are right on the cusp of playoff contention this year. With Hornets PG Kemba Walker recently announced to be out at least six weeks after undergoing knee surgery, it’s realistic to think the Nets could surpass the recently surging Hornets. But would this really matter? Sure, the Brooklyn fanbase would love to cheer on their team for another week this year, but that’s all it would be. The NBA’s top seeds in each conference advance 92% of the time, giving the Nets very little chance against what would currently be the Atlanta Hawks, who are playing on a level that would simply embarrass the Nets. Could the Nets take a short series loss, regroup, and compete next year? In short, no.
The Nets roster is filled with aging veterans, overpaid ex-superstars, and undesirable situations. Joe Johnson and Deron Williams alone will combine for $45 Million in cap space next season. Even if the Nets unloaded Johnson onto Charlotte for guard Lance Stephenson, as recent rumors suggest, their cap situation and overall competitiveness would not change much. The kicker on Deron Williams is that he is under contract for two more seasons after this one, and no NBA team would realistically take on Williams and his albatross contract for any reason. Brook Lopez is the Nets most valuable trade asset besides Mason Plumlee, but the returns from trading him likely wouldn’t add up to his current contributions to the Nets.
Strapped for cash under the NBA’s salary cap regulations, could the Nets look to build a young, scrappy team through the draft? Due to decisions already made by GM Billy King, no. The Nets hold a first round pick this year, but the Atlanta Hawks have the option to swap pick slots with the Nets as part of the Joe Johnson sign and trade. This means the Nets draft pick, which would currently fall in the favorable 12th spot, will likely be one of the final picks of the first round, as the Hawks currently hold the second best record in the NBA. In the 2016, the Nets will not make a first round selection as their pick goes to the Celtics, part of the Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett blockbuster deal. This is also the case in 2018, and the Celtics hold the option to swap picks in 2017. Although NBA rules stipulate each team must have a first round pick every other year, the Nets will not be guaranteed to make their own first round pick until 2019. The impulsive decision to acquire Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will continue to cost the Nets for years to come.
The Nets, in their current state, are doomed for mediocrity in the next few years, and will soon be closer to their embarrassing 12-70 season than competing for a championship. Joe Johnson and Deron Williams will likely play out their contracts in Brooklyn, and only Mason Plumlee stands as a player with a truly bright future. The Boston Celtics trade was one made with a win-now mindset, and the Nets brief championship window ended when Paul Pierce left for the Washington Wizards. Being handcuffed by bad contracts isn’t uncommon in the NBA, but the lack of first round draft picks in the coming years are what really dooms the Nets. Fans are clamoring for the Nets to make a run at Kevin Durant in the summer of 2016, which they probably will. But what reason would a player in his prime have to pick Brooklyn as his destination? The Nets best bet at building a viable team will be miracle second round picks and smart cap management as cap space begins to clear up. Barring a major trade or unexpected breakout player, things are going to get worse in Brooklyn before they get better.