With minutes to go before the trade deadline, the Nets thought they had an ideal trade: Brook Lopez, who few saw as a a strategic fit for the future, for Reggie Jackson, the Thunder's hotshot point guard, Kendrick Perkins and Perry Jones III. Perkins would have been ditched somewhere along the road, along with some trinkets and baubles, to satisfy the CBA.
In the mind of many in the front office war room, the Jackson trade made perfect sense. From the team's perspective, Jackson was to be the engine of a remake, a 24-year-old who in the absence of Russell Westbrook early in the season had averaged 20 points and nearly eight assists for the Thunder. With Perkins' $9 million bill unloaded, probably in Philadelphia, and the KG-for-Young deal, the Nets would have gone under the luxury tax threshold for the first time since leaving New Jersey. That would have freed them to do sign-and-trades for free agents, use the full, not mini- MLE and exploit the bi-annual exception which now pays close to $3 million a year.
There were still problems to be dealt with --like giving the keys to the team to Jackson while Deron Williams is still wearing black-and-white-- and a huge risk --maxing out Jackson come July. That would have been a five-year commitment to a player who, truth be told, hasn't done anything of note to deserve it. But it was a plan.
Then it happened. The Pistons came crashing through the door and stole Jackson away. The Nets still got a very good player in Young, who is athletic (but not quite as athletic as he was a couple of years ago), quick, a solid defender who makes the top 10 in steals most years and a character guy. But if the goal was that remake, disposing of KG while keeping the big three (no caps), they didn't get there. At all.
That's not to say they didn't accomplish anything. In addition to acquiring Young, they got young-er. going from one of the league's oldest teams last year and even earlier this year, to among the dozen or so youngest NBA teams. Last year, at one point, they had seven players 30 and above with three 35 and over most of the season. Now, they are down to four, with 33-year-old Joe Johnson the oldest. They saved $10 million in salary and taxes, grabbed a small ($2.4 million) trade exception, their fourth this season.
They also make the argument that while they didn't restock their draft locker, they acquired a player who they note was deemed worthy of a first rounder only last summer. They add they have also gotten value from signing Bojan Bogdanovic, demanding Sergey Karasev in the Cleveland trade, both first round equivalents.
So what happens now.? Their tax bill is still $19 million, down from $90 million but still the NBA's highest. They still owe Joe Johnson nearly $25 million next season, D-WIll $43.4 million the next two seasons and must deal with Lopez's player option in July. If he doesn't exercise it, they owe him $16.4 million. If he does, do they try to sign him to a longer term deal or let him go .. for nothing.
They still have to swap picks with the Hawks and if they don't make the playoffs, there is a risk their pick could wind up in the top four in the lottery while the Hawks' pick is likely to be 30th and last. Oh, the horror. And none of the swaps and picks they still owe are protected. Not the 2016 and 2018 first rounders owed to the Celtics, not the swap owed the Hawks this year, not the swap owed the Celtics in 2017. And they are still 21-31, facing a horrid road trip and at this point, a game out of the playoffs.
More importantly, do they have a plan? It would appear the first point of any plan is to find a way out of Williams contract and in the interim, get better play out of him. But he must have noticed what was going with Jackson. What's his attitude going to be? He still isn't starting. Jarrett Jack, who they almost traded as well, remains the starter. Lopez, if he continues to play well, will have no value at the Draft, not with his player option. Johnson? $24.9 million is still $24.9 million, last we checked. That's a big nut to crack.
Things could turn around. They are in the East, after all. D-Will does have his pride and he has a record of magically becoming a better player after the break. Johnson appears healthy and still knows how to get to the basket or let fly from the corner. Lopez has been filling the stat sheets, if not consistently. Getting to the playoffs could help a lot of things, but the next move will have to wait .
That's a lot to hope for, but at this point, hope IS the strategy.