Anyone's level of success is judged on levels of expectation. Since buying the team, while still in New Jersey, Nets ownership has repeatedly said it's willing to do whatever it takes to win an NBA Championship, but said it might take up to five years. By those expectations, their first two seasons in Brooklyn can be considered a disappointment, but their initial priority was to make the Nets and Brooklyn basketball a relevant brand in the NBA. They’ve done a great job at that.
It all started with the purchase of the Nets franchise by a tall, basketball-loving Russian billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov, the NBA's first Russian, European and international owner. Prokhorov was committed to make the Nets the first professional sports team to play --and win-- in Brooklyn since the Dodgers left in 1957. To buy the team and invest in Barclays Center, Prokhorov laid out $223 million in cash, assumed $160 million in cash and agreed to eat up to $60 million in the last two years in New Jersey, including $4 million to buy out the lease at IZOD.
Barclays Center has given Brooklyn the identity it deserves, with an increase in real estate sales, business success, and a place to watch the greatest entertainment in New York. The arena has also brought jobs to the neighborhood, employing 2,000 people, 80% of which are Brooklyn residents.
"There is no question that the Barclays Center — America’s most beautiful arena — is a true Brooklyn success story," said the former Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz.
Of course along the way people have helped represent the brand, but none better than Jay-Z. He lured in a specific demographic of adolescents and young adults that love the branding of the Nets’ ‘hip hop’ feel and black and white colors. The colors were appropriate for Brooklyn, given all the black and white signs displayed through train stations and streets of the borough. And while many claimed that it was too ‘plain’, the Nets’ color scheme and logo can be seen anywhere around the world.
The rise was evident in all the big business statistics...
--In sales of team merchandise they went from 31st (behind the defunct Seattle Supersonics) to fourth in their inaugural year in Brooklyn.
--Attendance went from 30th in their last year in New Jersey, with an average of under 14,000 per game to 16th and 17,000+ in Brooklyn (with still a growing fanbase).
--Ticket revenue went from 27th in the league in New Jersey to fifth in Brooklyn.
--Sellouts went from four in their last year in New Jersey to 22 in their first year in Brooklyn and 26 last year.
But, the process isn’t done just yet.
Following the 2014-2015 NHL season, the New York Islanders will call Brooklyn and the Barclays Center home. It will be the first hockey team to ever play in Brooklyn, but yet another attempt for Prokhorov to have his brands compete with the New York Knicks and now, the New York Rangers. Between the Nets, Islanders and shows, things are only getting better for the Barclays Center.
The Nets and Barclays Center are reportedly the best investments Prokhorov has made in the last five years. The Nets, being a competitive their first two years, are largely responsible for that. With the fanbase still growing, the Nets front office and Prokhorov know the decisions they make now can affect everything they’ve worked so hard for. Mistakes and poor judgment can lead to heavy consequences, but a lot of their transactions, trades and picks have worked out.
Lets take a look:
The Big Pickup:
Trade for Joe Johnson:
Prior to the inaugural year in Brooklyn, Deron Williams was contemplating a future with either the Nets or his hometown team, the Dallas Mavericks. Williams was disgusted with his experience in New Jersey and wasn’t sure the Nets would surround him with the star power he felt he deserved to win.
Billy King called his old Duke teammate, Danny Ferry, on his new job in Atlanta and the conversation quickly turned to the availability of Joe Johnson, a six-time all-star with a cap-choking contract. Talks got serious and moments before Deron Williams walked into a crucial meeting with Nets ownership, King closed on the deal: Johnson for Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, Jordan Williams, Johan Petro, DeShawn Stevenson and the Rockets 2013 lottery protected first round pick which the Nets had acquired in a deal for Terrence Williams.
In his first two seasons with Brooklyn, Johnson has averaged 16 points per game. He’s hit endless amounts of clutch shots and has displayed great playoff leadership. Even with the star-studded Nets team in 2013-2014, Johnson was the first option in the playoffs, averaging 21 points per game on 53% shooting.
In the same summer that the Nets traded for Johnson and retained Deron Williams, they signed a 27-year-old European superstar, the Bosnian-born Teletovic. He had been the leading scorer in the Euroleague regular season in 2011-12 and wanted to test his skills in the NBA. The Nets signed him to a three-year, $10 million contract, using their mini-MLE.
In his first year, Teletovic struggled to find consistent playing time his first year in the NBA under Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo, neither of whom believed he was much of an NBA player. But with Jason Kidd at the helm in 2013-2014, Teletovic averaged eight points in 19 minutes of action. He was a model player for the Nets’ global branding strategy, a national hero.
With CJ Watson signing in Indiana, the Nets were in need of a backup point guard a year ago. Originally Billy King was considered Jamaal Tinsley, but Kidd insisted they pickup Livingston for the minimum. It certainly paid off as Livingston worked his way into the starting lineup and gave opponents trouble at both ends.
His lanky body helped him size-up defenders on offense; on defense, his long arms often disrupted the passing lanes, causing steals and easy fast break points for the Nets.He quickly became a big part of their identity. Livingston’s excellent play this past season landed him a three years-$16 million contract, unfortunately with the Golden State Warriors.
The Nets got a bargain with Kirilenko. They locked up the Russian star for the mini-MLE of $3.1 million per year the year after they used the same exception they used on Teletovic. He left $10 million on the table from Minnesota, opting out of his last year with the Timberwolves. As friends from their time at CSKA Moscow, Mikhail Prokhorov and Andrei Kirilenko finally joined forces in the NBA. Kirilenko didn’t see much of a role his first year with the Nets, missing more than 30 games with muscle spasms, but picked up his second year option to give it another shot. The Nets are expecting a healthy Kirilenko to produce in Lionel Hollins’ system.
When the Nets draft prospects, they’re often very high on NBA-ready players who have a four-year college experience. This is where Plumlee comes in: Billy King decided to take Plumlee at the 22nd slot in the 2013 draft, minutes after he concluded the deal for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Acting on the recommendation of his scouting staff, King give the former Blue Devil a shot to run in Jason Kidd’s offense.
Usually you don’t draft seven-footers for their ability to run with a fast-paced offense, but athleticism isn’t a problem with Plumlee. At the Pre-dDraft Combine, Plumlee’s max vertical was 36" and his reach was nine feet. To put things into perspective, Plumlee’s max vertical was a half-inch higher than Blake Griffin’s.
Plumlee excelled in running the floor and capping off a well-hustled play with an aggressive slam – 116 of them to be exact, which was tenth in the league overall and first among rookies. He was voted to the NBA All-Rookie First Team and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. The Nets have a potential star in the making and with Kevin Garnett’s guidance, Plumlee’s in very good hands.
Jason Terry and Reggie Evans had very little to offer Brooklyn with Jason Kidd as the coach. Before the trade deadline, Billy King was able to move the both of them for Marcus Thornton. Thornton turned out to be a nice asset off the bench, but was then traded this offseason for Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev in a last minute salary dump Cleveland needed to find the cap space to sign LeBron James. Jack can serve as a trusted backup to Deron Williams or play alongside him. Sergey Karasev is a 20 year-old prospect from Russia with plenty of potential. Ownership loves that they have two Russian players, and hope their bond will result in wins and some in-country global branding.
Buying second round picks: The Nets went into the 2014 NBA Draft with zero picks and very little flexibility. Billy King spent $1.9 million that he would’ve lost anyway, in exchange for the 44th pick, 59th and 60th pick. They turned into Markel Brown, Xavier Thames and Cory Jefferson. It wasn't the first time. In 2011, King bought the first pick in the second round to take Bojan Bogdanovic to stash for three years. Cost: $1.5 million.
Compensation for Kidd: The Nets were OK with letting Jason Kidd walk for Milwaukee. They would not fire him. Ownership and upper management WERE angry with Kidd, but it was business, not personal, and they were able to nab two second-round picks for their coach, sort of a ‘trade’ between the two teams. They would have preferred a first rounder, but time was of the essence. As Ian Eagle noted, there was an additional value in the deal: it strongly implied that Kidd's hiring was just a bit tainted.
To be determined: Lionel Hollins & Bojan Bogdanovic
As of right now, the Nets look to have made the right moves in signing Lionel Hollins and [finally] Bojan Bogdanovic. The Nets are very high on both. Hollins, they hope can bring the tough mentality to Brooklyn, while they hope Bojan Bogdanovic eases some of the pain of losing Paul Pierce.
There are no shortages of expectations with these two, even though they’re in different situations. One can even argue the signings are Billy King’s top moves of the 2014 off-season. But if either doesn’t fit the roles they were signed for, the Nets could be in some trouble – publicly and the on-court production.
You can judge the last two years you’d like. As far as championships, they’re 0-2, but four years ago, the last season before Prokhorov took over the Nets, there were among the worst teams in NBA history, losing their first 18 games. In terms of relevancy and the remodeling a franchise from one of the worst to one of the best -- the Nets are winners.
It won’t get much easier, but look for the Nets to consistently compete and put butts in the seats. Remember, when things get tough with the [Brooklyn] Nets, never forget it can’t get much worse than the dark days in New Jersey, ones that overshadowed some of the finest moments in Nets history.