There's an elephant in the room and it seems to have been spotted: The Nets' "big three" that opened up the first Brooklyn franchise since 1957, composed of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, may play their last game together Tuesday in Memphis.
The three have played in just one postseason together, resulting in a premature first-round exit from the Chicago Bulls. The next season, Brook Lopez broke his foot in December and missed the rest of the way, leaving Williams & Johnson by themselves.
Now, two and a half seasons later, the Nets are 21-30 and have nine days off - playing their first game of the ‘second half' of the season one day after the February 19th trade deadline. With Brooklyn failing to meet lofty expectations for a third straight year, Billy King has reportedly made the three available on plenty of occasions.
We begin with Deron Williams, the former face of the franchise and star-studded diva who played hard-to-get prior to the inaugural season in Brooklyn. The Nets gave Williams a max-deal and had a tacit agreement that he was indeed the face of the Brooklyn Nets. But things haven't gone the way the Nets had hoped for.
As we wrote earlier, Williams is having his worst statistical season as a pro and seems to be a fixture on the bench following the stellar play of Jarrett Jack. He's averaging 13 points and six assists per game, but has missed his last 19 shots - and went 0-for-5 in Monday's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. It couldn't be improving his trade value. It was reported in late December that the Nets and Kings were talking a deal centered around Williams and Darren Collison, but Sacramento supposedly wanted Mason Plumlee included and the Nets instantly shot it down. Those talks were deemed ‘dead' back on January 21.
Then, there's Brook Lopez, the focal point of many trade rumors this and every season. The big fella is coming off season-ending foot surgery but hasn't looked bad recovering. Lopez has sat out in 10 games this season and in the 41 that he has played, he's averaged 15.4 points and 6.3 rebounds. The rebound numbers stay low, but his offensive skill for his size is one that plenty of teams would kill for, likely a contender out West.
Rumors swirled several times that deals were in place to move Lopez to Charlotte for Lance Stephenson. Then, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Nets were talking to Oklahoma City and Charlotte about a deal that would send Brook Lopez and Jarrett Jack to Charlotte in exchange for Lance Stephenson and Kendrick Perkins, who supposedly would have then been swapped for Thaddeus Young.
Those died after the Nets decided to pull out.
A week ago, Marc Stein reported the Denver Nuggets offered JaVale McGee, J.J. Hickson and a first-round pick for Lopez, but the Nets declined, and probably for the better. Since that rumor, Lopez has averaged 16.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and two blocks during the five game span. It might be a product of him buying into Hollins' system, or possibly a near-recovery for the former All Star. There's always a possibility that Brook will walk away after this season, essentially leaving the Nets stranded with nothing in return. It's like a chess match; any move can make or break your game. Except in this scenario, whether Billy King decides to keep or trade Lopez, the decision will play a huge effect on the Nets' game plan moving forward.
Finally, there's Joe Johnson, the leading scorer for the Nets this season at 15.6 points per game - and arguably the best player of the Big Three since they moved to Brooklyn. During his two playoff appearances with the team, he's averaged 18.8 points on 49% shooting. Not to mention he had plantar fasciitis throughout the Chicago series two years ago. He's also provided the Nets franchise with plenty of thrilling moments at or near the sound of the final horn..
Joe voiced his displeasure on his usually muted twitter back on November 9th:
I'm off this shit!!— Joe Johnson 4real (@TheJoeJohnson7) November 9, 2014
Nothing was clear with Joe's happiness with the franchise, but on January 25th Woj reported the Nets and Hornets were in talks surrounding Johnson and once again, the pride of Coney Island, Lance Stephenson. Those talks, too, became extinct real quick. Joe is owed more than $28 million through the 2015-2016 season. So if the Nets hope to clear space for 2016 - moving Joe may be one of the better options.
It would be tough to see Joe go. One of the few guys that has played through it all and up until the tweet above, has been a silent soldier under four different head coaches.
One underappreciated aspect of all this talk is that the Nets would like to get at or near the point where they can use sign-and-trades, the full MLE and the biannual exception this summer.
Nothing is promised. After all, Lionel Hollins told reporters after Monday's loss that the Nets may just stand pat and wait until the offseason. We'll just have to wait and see during these next 10 days, but one thing's certain with the "big three": They haven't gotten the job done.
They may have their last test against Memphis.