There are no heroes in Stefan Bondy’s lengthy revisit of Draft Night 2013 when the Nets agreed to send three first round draft picks and a pick swaps, none of them protected, to the Celtics for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, three 35+ year old stars.
Instead, it’s a recital of the dysfunction that led to the trade and then the year-long disaster that followed. There’s Pierce and Garnett, one with a little left but still pining for Celtic green, the other just playing out the string at $12 million per. There’s Deron Williams, the moody, insecure team leader who the first two grew to disdain, at best.
Billy King plays the lead role, a flawed negotiator portrayed as a puppet of his Russian bosses who want to win but without a lot of thought to what could happen if things went south. Jason Kidd, the rookie coach, is seen as temperamental and afraid Lawrence Frank, his chief assistant (and the man who got him the biggest contract for an assistant coach ever) is undermining him.
Certainly not Mikhail Prokhorov or Dmitry Razumov, the former described as distant, the latter as meddling.
Bondy even reveals an open secret: Andray Blatche would show up drunk for practice.
A lot of what the former Daily beat reporter writes has been published before and an insider might offer some quibbles here and there, but as the Nets go into a Draft where the big discussion is who will ultimately their pick, it’s worth revisiting for all its horror and incompetence. Bondy also gets Bobby Marks, Kings assistant, and Gary Sussman, the team’s ousted P.R. man, to go on the record about the trade and its aftermath.
Here’s a summary of the highlights, but don’t stop with these...
On the final decision...
The deal with Boston was different. It was backed by logic — albeit flawed in retrospect — and lauded at the time as pushing the Nets into real contention. King had even gone around the room that evening asking about the proposal. There wasn’t much, if any, dissension. According to a report on Netsdaily.com, Milton Lee, the GM of the franchise’s D-League affiliate, represented the lone vocal opposition. “Looking back, my one regret — and I know Billy gets a lot of arrows for the swap rights for this year — was that I shouldn’t have done the swap, or that I should’ve put some type of protection on the swap there looking back on everything,” (Bobby) Marks said. “It wasn’t just Billy. This was a group decision here. This was the group in the room.”
On Billy King’s flaw...
Building slowly for a new arena wasn’t an option — and it dictated most of the moves by King — but not protecting draft picks and agreeing to unnecessary pick swaps also burned Brooklyn. That part was on the GM. “Billy’s literally like an addicted gambler when he’s close to doing those trades,” said an opposing executive. “He’ll do anything when it reaches a certain point.
On Kidd and Frank...
“Sit the f–k down,” Kidd told Frank. “I’m the coach of this f—king team. When you’re on the bench, don’t f—king move!” It reached the point that Kidd, according to sources, offered to pay the rest of Frank’s salary just to get rid of him. Instead, Frank was reassigned to writing daily reports on the opponents — a task he completed diligently throughout the season — and never returned to the Nets sideline.
Ahead of the 2013-14 season, there was actually chatter of Williams being an MVP candidate. But his fragile ankles became an issue before training camp even started, and the locker room turned on Williams when it became apparent he couldn’t handle pressure. “That’s the guy the team is built around?” Pierce condescendingly asked his teammates that season, according to a witness...
About a year later, Joe Johnson made a plea to two reporters on Williams’ behalf, understanding his teammate’s delicate state of mind. “Take it easy on D-Will,” Johnson said. “He can’t handle it.”
The defense of the deal, offered by Bobby Marks and by King, in a statement to Bondy, is that everyone was on board. But as we noted at the end of the King tenure, the Nets were run by a small group ethos centered around King and Razumov, who didn’t talk to Bondy.
The Nets big issue is that there aren't a lot of people inside the organization who could say "no," who even knew enough to say "yes" or "no." Decision-making was kept to a small group who shared an opportunistic mindset, rather than long-term thinking. Dissenting opinions were often dismissed, as were those who pushed them. People who stay learn to shut up.
The meeting Bondy describes at the end of the night wasn’t to discuss the wisdom of the deal, according to more than one of those present. It was so King could proudly announce it was done and then asking those assembled how did they thought he did it. Lee, the D-League GM, had to button hole Razumov in the hall during negotiations to offer some skepticism, which was dismissed. Enthusiasm reigned.
Even before the season began, there were indications of frustration. Sussman recounts an ugly scene in the locker room when while he was explaining media rules to Pierce before the first preseason game, KG exploded on him.
“Garnett ripped me a new one. He went off on me worse than any player has ever done. Worse than any player has ever done. He killed me. Killed me. And I wasn’t even talking to him. And Pierce is just sitting there silent.”
KG later apologized.
Things are different now. It’s an open culture. Prokhorov and Razumov understand the errors of their ways (and would privately admit it) and have given Sean Marks a lot of encouragement and leeway in his patient rebuild. It is one of the hallmarks of Sean Marks culture that everyone get a chance to offer their opinions. Draft Night, if it is conducted the way it was last year, Marks first, will include Marks asking for a broad range of opinion.
But Draft Night won’t be what it should be. The big news will be the trade that sent the NETS’ overall first round pick to Philadelphia and Danny Ainge’s wisdom. Call it “sunk costs” or “water over the dam,” it’s hard on the fans. As we noted, the last two years were the worst back-to-back in team history.
So, Bondy helps explain how and why it happened but the reality of it will be revisited over and over and over. As he writes, it is “the worst trade ever.”
- Worst trade ever: Looking back (and forward) on '13 draft when Nets went ‘all-in’ on deal for Celtics' Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce - Stefan Bondy - New York Daily News