When the Boston Celtics won their 17th title in 2008, it seemed like the question of whether you could purchase an NBA championship had been answered once and for all with a definitive “anything is possible.”
Yes, you could ship a bunch of picks and homegrown talent out the door for a pair of high-priced mercenaries (Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, whose salaries totaled $39.75 million in ’07–08 alone). Yes, those mercenaries could gel seamlessly with the rest of your club, helping to instill a culture of winning that could transform it from a 24-58 mess into a 66-win NBA champion in a single year. And yes, you could have all this for a measly $74,509,455 in player salary (per Basketball Reference).
But with that question answered, a fresh one began to crop up, even if only in the minds of the obscenely wealthy: Can I buy an NBA championship?
Heat owner Micky Arison asked it in 2010, the Buss family asked it last season in L.A. and – after his Nets sent five players and three first-round picks to the Celtics for Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry this summer – it seems that Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov is asking it again in 2013–14.
Additions: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, Andrei Kirilenko, Alan Anderson, Shaun Livingston, Mason Plumlee
Departures: Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Damion James
Garnett will be a godsend for the Nets on the defensive side of the ball. At 37, he’s still among the most effective individual defenders in the world, but it’s the energy he brings and his ability to direct the team’s schemes that will be most transformative.
With Garnett on the floor last season, the Celtics allowed just 96.2 points per 100 possessions, a number that was both better than Indiana’s league-best mark of 96.6 and 8.4 points lower than when he sat. Considering Brooklyn’s D ranked slightly below league average last season, KG’s presence alone makes this team a contender.
Kirilenko has an effective-if-ugly ability to score on cuts to the basket and brings a rare combination of length and sure-handedness on defence. Terry adds a bit of depth to the bench, and should help spread the floor if he can overcome a disappointing 2012–13 season in Boston and get back some semblance of the shooting stroke he showcased in Dallas. And Paul Pierce is Paul Pierce: a crafty scorer and proven leader who still sits among the five best closers in basketball.
- Can this team come together fast enough to make a genuine run? It took the South Beach Three two seasons to fully gel, and last year’s Lakers could’ve doubled as a Scared Straight program for NBA owners thinking of shelling out for a super team. Garnett has already proven he can join a club and carry it to the promise land in a single season, but how well he and Pierce can mesh with the Nets’ existing core of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez will dictate the team’s playoff ceiling. And with Williams sidelined for the whole pre-season with an ankle injury, the process has, at the very least, been delayed.
- Rookie head coach Jason Kidd shouldn’t have too many decisions to make when it comes to his new team’s style of play; the Nets, maybe more than any other team in the NBA, are defined by the size (huge), speed (a hair faster than plodding) and talent (immense) of their roster. But he will have some serious wrinkles to iron out in the flow of the offence. Williams and Johnson are both former all-stars who are most comfortable scoring and creating off the dribble. The same could be said of Pierce, who’ll demand touches, and Lopez earned an all-star nod of his own last season. Garnett no longer looks for his own shot too often, and his jumper should help space the floor, but Kidd will still have his hands full finding ways to carve one basketball and 48 minutes of game time enough ways to keep everyone content.
- DNP: Old. A partial solution to the minutes-and-touches dilemma is the fact that the Nets will likely want to keep Pierce and Garnett’s floor time and usage rates down in the regular season. The former Celtics were brought in to get this team to a title, not the playoffs. Keeping them from burning out before May will be a top priority in Brooklyn. Kirilenko’s ability to stretch between the three and four will allow him to cover fairly effectively for both, and Andray Blatche will also be leaned on after taking a leap last season.
Breakout Player: Deron Williams. Yes, it’s stupid to predict that a three-time all-star will break out this season. But two different D-Wills showed up to play last season. Just look at this:
Rather than break out in 2013-14, the good Williams will have to break away from the meh.
Scale of Decency: Quite Decent. The Nets are a surefire playoff team, and look like they could give the Knicks a solid run for the top of the Atlantic. But to justify the more than $102 million in player salary (tops in the NBA) Prokhorov is dishing out, they’ll have to win a title. This season.
Yes, the thought of them running through some combination of Miami, Chicago and Indiana to get to the Finals seems like a stretch. But, hey, anything is possible.
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