The Brooklyn Nets' flirtation with mild success mercifully ended when the Hawks ejected them from the NBA playoffs on Friday. We now enter an offseason of decisions for Brooklyn, and perhaps one of regime change. There's no guarantee Mikhail Prokhorov will keep the team to see next season begin. If Prok is gone, surely Billy King and the Russians the rumor mill says actually run the team, will have followed.
Brook Lopez can become a free agent and would be smart to do so after a nice run to finish the 2014-15 season. Brook Lopez is also potentially one foot injury away from early retirement. Deron Williams would be on the trade market if anyone believed there was a team willing to pay Deron Williams $43 million over the next two seasons. Instead, he may be a candidate for the stretch provision. (If Williams is waived before August 31, the Nets can release him and take an $8.6 million cap hit in each of the next five years instead of the $43 million over two years.) Joe Johnson has $25 million due next season, so he could also be stretched over three years if Brooklyn wants to free up space and move on.
The Nets had two rotation players under the age of 25 this season. Both were essentially unusable in the playoffs. One of them, Markel Brown, is a fringe NBA rotation player who'd play bench minutes for maybe a third of the league's teams.
The other, Mason Plumlee, is a far more confusing prospect. He made Team USA and he was deemed untouchable around the trade deadline. (The Kings reportedly tried to pry Plumlee away from Brooklyn in order to swallow Williams' contract. The Nets said no.) Plumlee then averaged eight minutes per game in the playoffs. He's clearly not a future NBA star and he's perhaps not even a starter on many teams. He's the best player under age 25 the Nets have. Some achievement.
Bojan Bogdanovic is pretty good, and he just turned 26. He's certainly an NBA rotation player and he's on a sweet little contract ($7 million) over the next two years. The Nets likewise have Bird rights on Thaddeus Young, who could be a free agent if he opts out. Young showed he can do interesting things next to Lopez and seems like a good fit with coach Lionel Hollins, presuming Hollins is retained. He won't be cheap, but with the salary cap rising in 2016, he'll be affordable, in all likelihood.
And ... that's it.
This is what Nets fans have to get excited: The possibility of re-signing Brook Lopez (real good but one injury to his chronically injured foot from retirement), Thad Young and Mirza Teletovic, plus two rotation players in their mid-20s and one additional fringe rotation player under age 25.
It gets worse! The Nets don't own their own first-round pick outright until 2019. The Joe Johnson trade included a pick swap option for this year, so instead of picking No. 15 overall, the Nets will use the Hawks' No. 29 pick. The 2016 pick is owed to the Celtics in the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett deal. The 2017 pick is involved in a swap option with the Celtics as a part of the Pierce-Garnett deal. The 2018 pick is owed outright to the Celtics as a part of -- you guessed it -- the Pierce-Garnett deal.
Remember that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were gone from the Nets within 18 months of the trade. If Young leaves Brooklyn in free agency, the Nets will have nothing to show for that trade, yet will lose their own first-round picks for three more years because of it. And there are no protections on those picks. Good job, Brooklyn.
So, there's no incentive to be bad, even. The Nets can't follow the Knicks into the tank because going into the tank will only benefit the Celtics. That means that Brooklyn has nothing to lose by cobbling together playoff chases for the next three seasons despite a dearth of assets. If Lopez walks, is there any hope Brooklyn will be able to replace him with a good starting center, or will Plumlee retake the spot by default? If the team stretches Williams and/or Johnson, is there any guarantee the Nets can use that salary space wisely to reboot the team around Lopez? Can you build a good team when you have no assets and a front office that topped out at 49 wins with the league's highest payroll?
Plenty of NBA teams fail miserably. At least for most fans, there's a bright light to wake you in the morning. A promising young star like Andrew Wiggins, a reliable beast like DeMarcus Cousins and a bucket full of ping pong balls heading into the lottery.
That's not the case in Brooklyn. What an incredible failure.
SB Nation presents: As the playoffs intensify, so do the fights