Woe is us.
ESPN believes that the Nets spending spree of last summer has condemned the franchise to a future where there is limited opportunity for success. In the annual Future Power Rankings survey, four ESPN analysts led by Chad Ford place the Nets 21st, down from 14th last year, before the team's $340+ million orgy of spending last July. They're also down from November 2009 when the Nets were ranked 13th, on the verge of a 12-70 season, still playing in IZOD Center and still owned by Bruce Ratner.
The power rankings, an off-season feature since 2009, are ESPN Insider's projection of the on-court success expected for each team in the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. It ranks each team based on a calculation that includes players, ownership and management, money, market and draft.
The Nets get the highest ranking for market, at fourth, behind the Heat, Lakers and Knicks. Next highest rank is for players, 11th, which "accounts for 50 percent of each team's overall Future Power Rating," but the authors note, "there is very little upside to their talent other than Brook Lopez. What you see is what you can expect to continue to get from the majority of contributors on this team."
In ownership and management, the Nets rank 23rd, in money 29th and draft 26th. Without a coach, ranking the Nets 23rd is hard to argue with. But the other two seem a bit of a stretch. The Nets' "salary cap hell" puts them next to last (ahead of only the Knicks), but Mikhail Prokhorov so far seems willing to spend what's needed to win. We know all about the limitations in exceptions, but the front office believes they have more flexibility than pundits think they do ... and think the lure of Brooklyn will help them entice players who otherwise wouldn't consider them. ESPN thinks that's possible, but adds, "that alone will not be enough to bring the type of game-changing talent needed."
The low rank in draft seems a bit spurious. It's based on the Nets' lack of second round picks! "The Nets also traded away their second-round picks in four of the next five drafts, which robs them of the ability to draft and stash international players." Of course, the Nets used $4.25 million in cash the last two years to buy three second round picks, two of which were used on international players. Also, two of the second rounders they traded were in deals to get MarShon Brooks and Bojan Bogdanovic. The authors admit there is a "silver lining" in the Nets having all their first round picks going forward. (In fact, only seven teams, out of 30, currently have all their own picks through 2018.)
What's the track record overall of the Power Rankings? In their first ranking, four years ago, the Trail Blazers were No. 1 and the Magic No. 2 in ESPN's three-year outlooks. Both did well enough in 2010-11 but went into a decline in 2011-12 and won a total of 53 games in 2012-13. On the other hand, the teams ranked 25th and 26th in that year's ranking were the Grizzlies and Warriors. Things change.