It seems we are in the age of the superheroes: first the Avengers assembled; then the Lakers ‘super team’ assembled; then Neymar teamed up with Messi; now this.
The deal, confirmed on Thursday, sent Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and former sixth man of the year Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets. In return the Celtics receive Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace Marshon Brooks, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph and three future first round picks. If the departure of Doc Rivers didn’t initiate the inevitable rebuilding phase this move certainly does.
Are the Nets now the best equipped challenger to the Heat in the East? On paper they look like it, but the trade still raises questions that only time can answer. Can they all play together? With a projected starting five of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez they have built an almost unthinkable team with a multitude of all-star appearances between them – then again, so did the Lakers, and we know how that played out.
Will the players rally behind a rookie coach? Again, only time will tell. At the very least, this makes the Knicks - Nets New York rivalry much more interesting.
The Nets are not aiming to improve on their fourth place finish in their conference or on their first round exit: they are aiming to win it all. It’s championship or bust, literally; Garnett and Pierce are 37 and 35 respectively, and Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are hardly spring chickens either.
The Heat stand in their way, and in designing a system with which to usurp them they could do worse than to learn from the Pacers who pushed them to seven games in a thrilling series matchup just last month. The Pacers troubled the Heat with their formidable size, punishing their small-ball line-up both in the post with Roy Hibbert and David West and in the rebounding department.
The Nets now have a big team with an abundance of offensive talent. Brook Lopez is the most talented big man in the league (with the possible exception of a motivated Pau Gasol); Garnett’s powers are waning but can still score consistently in the post as well as bring his fierce defence and rim protecting abilities to complete the second part of an intimidating duo. Paul Pierce is big at the small forward position and Williams and Johnson are big guards.
You do wonder how they would be able to cope against teams with superior athleticism; minimising turnovers will be a priority. They must find the balance between slowing the pace of the game and finding good shots. With the shot clock running out they won’t find it hard to create a shot however – just chuck the ball to Iso-Joe or the Truth, they earned those nicknames for a reason you know.
Of course they’ll need to fill out the second unit, preferably one that adequately makes up for the shortcomings of the starting unit. To press home their size advantage over the Heat they’ll need at least one premier rebounder off the bench to replace the skillset of the departing Reggie Evans, especially as pounding the glass is not a strength of the seven foot Brook Lopez. The centre pulled down a paltry 3.6 rebounds in the 2012 lockout season. He improved last season on that front with 6.9 rebounds, a figure that still pales in comparison with Tyson Chandlers’ 10.7 boards for the Knicks or Joakim Noah’s 11.1 boards for the Bulls.
Another priority will be to manage minutes smartly and keep the players injury free. Garnett and Pierce are very much susceptible to injury and Deron Williams has showed over the past few years that he is too.
Interestingly there is no stand out guy on this squad, no clear hierarchy dictating who gets the ball at the end of the game to make a game-winning play – effectively a higher calibre version of the “problem” the Nuggets had. Some prefer to call it a luxury though, it keeps opponents guessing. The likelihood is that Pierce gets the rock, as he has the most credentials as a clutch shooter. Deron Williams should have no problem deferring to him, he happily deferred to Joe Johnson in the previous season.
If the Nets’ championship bid is going to be a success they would be wise to learn from the Lakers. Even though the team they put together had enormous potential they failed to put differences aside and play in a united fashion. This is Jason Kidd’s primary challenge as head coach, to galvanize the team, and quickly.
This suits Kidd just fine. He admits that he has a lot to learn about coaching, and that he’ll have to rely heavily on his coaching staff. He may not be a strategy genius – not yet anyway, but he is a leader of men. He was widely acclaimed as the best leader in the NBA as a player before he retired; New York Knicks players constantly raved about his leadership during the one year he spent there last season. A comparison can easily be made between him and Doc Rivers – both are great leaders and evidently good in the motivating and man management department.
He is coaching a group of grown, mature men who respect what Kidd has achieved in his Hall of Fame career, and this makes his job easier. Does this translate into job security? Perhaps; but the incredible volume of coaching turnover since the seasons’ end lets you know that no one’s job is completely safe, unless it’s Popovich we’re talking about. The fact that Kevin Garnett waived his no-trade clause to come to Brooklyn indicates he is willing to play for Jason Kidd, a good sign for him.
Where does this trade leave Boston? They have an awkward looking team to say the least, a collection of good young talent (rookie big man Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley), veterans who are not good enough to lead a team above mediocrity (Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Courtney Lee) and in the middle of all this a sulking Rajon Rondo, a bona fide star on a ridiculously cheap contract (he’s earning the same amount of money in the upcoming season as his new teammate Kris Humphries). He’s currently recovering from a torn ACL and cannot be pleased with the predicament he’s found himself in.
It seems as if general manager Danny Ainge is stockpiling assets to position himself to make a move for a superstar or two, similar to what they did in July 2007 to take KG away from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Only Ainge knows for sure what his strategy for leading the Celtics to glory again is but you can bet he is going to be a busy man this summer as he continues his team’s rebuilding project.
Ray Allen was chastised in Boston for swapping the Celtic green for South Beach, but in the wake of the departures of Doc, KG and Pierce how does he look now? Like the guy who sold his shares and left the market at the right time, just before the market crashed and burned, that’s how. He’s laughing; he has one more ring than the other two members of the big three, who are now playing catch-up.
This trade is good news for the NBA.
Last year’s playoffs were rife with startlingly straightforward wins – the Memphis Grizzlies swiftly dispatched the Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder; the Spurs easily beat the Lakers and the Thunder; the Chicago Bulls disappointingly succumbed to the Heat in five games despite hinting at a longer, physical series after winning Game 1 in Miami. The Heat and the Spurs were heads and shoulders above the rest, but the general upheaval the league has seen recently should shake things up. Derrick Rose will return to the Bulls and the teams with cap room – namely the Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets are vying for one or even both of the two marquee free agents, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. Hopefully the changes will close the gap and make the playoffs as a whole a more competitive affair.
The Nets suffered a shock first round exit to the injury plagued Bulls last time round. Apparently they lacked courage, heart, desire. Pierce and Garnett – and Kidd will bring that.
It’s going to be fascinating to watch.
image: © Keith Allison