As Cavalier Nation reels from the explosive Kyrie Irving deal consummated with Boston on Tuesday, plenty of questions remain. Will Irving thrive as the top dog in Beantown? How is Isaiah Thomas’ hip feeling? Will Jae Crowder and JR Smith room together on the road? Who is Ante Zizic? Perhaps as important as any of those queries – how are the Brooklyn Nets looking this season?
Despite the fact that Brooklyn was not directly involved in the Irving deal, the Wine and Gold faithful should closely monitor their fate in 2017-18. The Cavs have the rights to Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick, and it’s unprotected; so no matter where the selection lands, Cleveland will obtain it. In other words, the more Brooklyn loses, the more Cleveland wins.
The Celtics became pick hoarders in 2013. During a gigantic draft day deal Brooklyn acquired Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, and D.J. White from the Boston Celtics. The Nets front office, including Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, wanted to add some veterans for an all-in push at the postseason. All Brooklyn had to give up was Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans, and three (3!) first round draft picks in 2014, 2016, 2018 and the right to swap picks in 2017 – a right the Celts smartly exercised this past June. Brooklyn mortgaged their future in exchange for the present, and it didn’t really work out for them. In 2014, the Nets finished in the sixth seed, and did manage a seven-game upset of third-seeded Toronto. LeBron James and the Heat then proceeded to boot them out of the Conference Semifinals in five games. In 2015, Brooklyn continued to slip as they snuck into the playoffs as an 8-seed before losing to the Hawks in six games. Time performed its terrible dance as the Nets’ vets suffered injuries and aged out of the team’s plans. The past two years, a stretch when Brooklyn needed young, cheap talent more than anything else, they have mostly struggled and wished they had draft picks.
Last season, the Nets stunk up all of Flatbush. The club finished 20-62, 21 games out of the playoffs, and 33 games behind division-winning Boston. The Nets at one point lost sixteen straight games including an 0-for-February, a month in which they dropped all ten contests. First-year coach Kenny Atkinson could do little but shrug as the woefully inept Nets slouched their way to the bottom of the standings. The good news is they won the draft lottery and received the first overall pick! The bad news is they lost that pick to Boston so the Celtics traded it to Philadelphia and instead took Duke’s Jayson Tatum third. Womp womp.
Unfortunately for Cavs fans, the Nets may finally be turning it around. They drafted Jarrett Allen and Aleksander Vezenkov in June, and have become a bastion of bad contracts for more well-to-do teams. Brooklyn dealt Brook Lopez, their best player, and a pick to the Lakers for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov’s bloated contract. In July, the Nets picked up the underwhelming but well compensated DeMarree Carroll and two picks in exchange for center Justin Hamilton. Luckily they did not sign any players of note. Third-year forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has promise, but when your biggest name is arguably Jeremy Lin it says a lot about the supporting cast.
The Nets are not trying to win this season. Their championship odds are laughable, and they understand that the process of taking on big contracts in exchange for draft picks and young talent may be the best way to go. It’s fair to guess that with the new players in the fold the club may be marginally better than last season so something in the 18-23 win-range seems about right. Normally that would be enough for a top three pick. Unfortunately for Cleveland, there are a bevy of teams that are trying just as hard to tank for a top pick including Orlando, Chicago, and Indiana so there may be some competition in this twisted race to the bottom. Hopefully the Nets struggle early, late, and in between.
The Cavaliers will get to help their own cause the four times they play the Nets. Mark your calendars for Wednesday October 25 (@ Brooklyn), Wednesday November 22 (in Cleveland), Tuesday February 27 (in Cleveland), and Sunday March 25 (@ Brooklyn). A tidy 4-0 sweep of the Nets would help Cleveland both short and long term.
Amid all the hype surrounding the Brooklyn pick, Cavs fans should remember that it may never result in a drated player for Cleveland. The pick remains as valuable now as it was last week and may rise in value as the Nets’ campaign unfolds. So if Brooklyn’s season is in the toilet at midseason General Manager Koby Altman could package the Nets pick plus a current player for a star. Would the Knicks consider the pick plus a package for Kristaps Porzingas? Would the Pelicans part with Boogie Cousins or (*gasp*) Anthony Davis? There are a lot of ways the pick could play out, but just about all of them benefit the Cavaliers. If Altman can parlay the pick into a bonafide superstar it may influence No. 23’s decision too.
It’s a precarious position, pinning one’s hopes on a hypothetical player. Even if the Cavs retain the pick and it ends up in the top three there is still the risk of selecting the wrong fit for the team. A team, by the way, that may or may not have the world’s best player on the roster a few weeks after the draft. Scouts drool over Missouri small forward Michael Porter and the college basketball world took notice when power forward Marvin Bagley III decided to forego his senior year of high school to join Duke this autumn. Either player would be a desirable prize for any club. If the Cavs are lucky enough to select one of these players we still might not know if they will be another squire for the King or the future face of the franchise. For now, all Cavs fans can do is hope the team puts together a fourth straight Finals run and pray the Nets continue their steady plummet to rock bottom.