Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, two first ballot hall of famers, extremely talented individuals and at this stage in their careers, part of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively. But back in 2013, these two legends of the game were apart of an ageing Boston Celtics team. A team, entering their last stage of its run that started back in 2007, when they traded for both Garnett and Ray Allen, to form a nucleus that would be Eastern Conference contenders for six straight seasons.
The 2012-13 season was a turbulent one for the Celts. They started the season 20-23, a fringe playoff team at best, before losing their best player, Rajon Rondo, to a partially torn ACL. Many believed that this would be the end of the KG/Pierce era Celtics, they had just lost Ray Allen to the Miami Heat the previous Summer and now, had their all-star playmaker missing for the rest of the season. However, this Celtics team was resilient. They attempted to but together one last run for their remaining stars and rallied, despite the Rondo injury, to make the seventh seed in the East, finishing 41-40 (only played 81 games due to the Boston Marathon bombings).
In the first round, the Celtics met Carmelo Anthony's New York Knicks. A team that had surprised the world by going 54-38, the team to embrace the jump shooting movement the NBA is headed in now. Mike Woodson's crew took the first three games, before the momentum shifted in favor of Boston, as they took the next couple convincingly. A game six at the TD Garden was the story for both teams, where the Knicks closed out the Celtics, despite a massive fourth quarter comeback.
The Nets on the other hand, had reason to be slightly more optimistic. Mikhail Prokhorov had moved the team to Brooklyn, to play in the beautiful Barclays Center and he intended to win. Throughout the 2012 offseason, the Nets attempted to pull of a trade for star center, Dwight Howard. When that ploy failed, Billy King decided to trade for all-star Joe Johnson and his massive contract, to form one of the better backcourts in the entire NBA, with Johnson and Deron Williams.
Brooklyn started brilliantly, winning 11 of their first 15 games in November, but struggled to find any sort of form during December, falling to a 14-14 record, consequently costing Avery Johnson his job as coach. Brooklyn surged ahead under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, as the Nets finished the season with a 49-33 record and earning themselves a first round series with the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls.
The series went the full seven games and due to some heroics from stand-in point guard, Nate Robinson and the ball of energy that is Joakim Noah, the Bulls took game seven in front of a sold out Barclays Center, proving the Nets were far from contending with the likes of the Bulls and LeBron's Heat in Miami. For Prokhorov and King, that needed to change and they were willing to do anything in their power to get to championship level.
This takes us to the date of Thursday, 27th of June, 2013. The day that held the 2013 NBA draft, probably the worst draft since 2000, when Kenyon Martin was taken first overall. Draft day was filled with surprises, Anthony Bennett was taken number one, Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore slipped down the board and the world was introduced to Giannis Antetokounmpo. But the biggest surprise was Boston sending its future hall of famers, Pierce and Garnett, to the division rival Brooklyn Nets. A trade that will go down in history, as probably one of the biggest heists ever.
Here's what the trade ended up looking like:
Brooklyn Got: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White
Boston Got: Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Marshon Brooks, Keith Bogans, 2014 first round pick, 2016 first round pick, 2017 right to swap first round picks and 2018 first round pick.
The instant reaction of fans, analysts and experts were practically the same: Brooklyn won the trade. Yes, the NBA world was convinced that Boston made a foolish decision to dump their legends, who will someday see their numbers in the rafters of the TD Garden, for picks and frankly awful players.
Diehard Celtics fan, Bill Simmons, Mr. Boston himself was convinced that Boston got robbed. During the 2013 draft, which he covered, he is even on the record in saying:
"I thought they [Boston] got 35 cents on the dollar."
For some reason, everyone was convinced their could have been a better offer on the table, when the reality is, that with Kevin Garnett's no-trade-clause and him only willing to waive that clause if Pierce was in the deal, made the market for those two incredibly thin. This is because it meant that Garnett and Pierce's massive deals had to be coupled together, meaning that there were only a select few teams that could pull of such a trade. This market was reduced some more, because the teams really had to be close to contending for the title for Garnett and Pierce to be of any use.
These couple of facts, made trading the pair a difficult task as it narrowed possible trade destinations down to basically two teams: Brooklyn and the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers were the only other team in the league that were even remotely considering a trade for the former all-stars. Ainge proposed the idea of trading the two for Blake Griffin, but even Donald Sterling isn't stupid enough to make that trade. There was an option at a possible Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan swap, but the Clippers were unwilling to let go of Bledsoe, due to them wanting to swing a trade for JJ Redick and also, the salaries would only work to get Garnett in, without Pierce.
The one thing that made the Clippers rumor believeable was that Doc Rivers was now the coach of the team. Doc was shipped out by 'Trader Danny' for a first round pick and became the coach and Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Clips. He fancied the idea of reuniting with his 2008 championship stars, but when it came down to it, they wanted to play out the Blake Griffin era, to see if it had any resemblance of a title contender.
With the Clippers out of the way, this left Boston with the only team that was crazy enough to mortgage their entire future for a chance, when I say a chance, I mean one chance and only one, for a shot at the NBA title. This team, was of course, Mikhail Prokhorov, Billy King and the Brooklyn Nets.
The core of D-Will, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez made for good reading, they had played well the season prior and were among the 11 or 12 best teams in the entire league. Prokhorov wanted to get them higher, he wanted a championship and by any means necessary.
So Billy King followed his boss's orders and found the KG and Pierce deal. Boston wanted to enter a rebuilding phase, test their luck out with the lottery and the stacked 2014 NBA draft class and see if Rajon Rondo was a franchise player. Therefore, it made perfect sense, Brooklyn want to enter the title race, Boston want to get out of it. The fix was simple and clear, give the heart of the Celtics to the Nets and create one super team.
Ainge and King came to the agreement that I have stated above. From the outset, Boston asked for too little, Wallace's contract was awful, Bogans and Humphries were useful expirings, but nothing more and Marshon Brooks was a young piece, but had taken a massive step back in his sophomore season. But as we now know, the real killer in this trade was the draft picks. The Nets' opinion was that those draft picks would be late in the first round as they were going to be far too good with their all-star roster to be a lottery team.
Now, that I'm done recapping the trade, let's advance a little bit into the future, to the 2013-14 NBA season. The Brooklyn Nets were proclaimed title contenders from day one, but it was clear that this team was nowhere near that from their opening day loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Kevin Garnett wasn't himself, his regression was evident, he was no longer banging his head against the stanchion, but merely getting a massage from the support. D-Will looked awful, Joe Johnson took a while to get going and Brook Lopez showed no effort on defense or on the glass. In fact, their best player that season was probably Paul Pierce. Pierce was consistent, averaging 14 points and 45% from the field. The Nets started the season with two extremely average months, going 10-21. Even the Celtics had a better record than them and they were tanking.
Things seemingly got worse for the Nets when star center, Brook Lopez, went down with injury on December 21st, ruling him out for the rest of the season. It was about this time however, that the Nets took off, going on a streak, embracing small ball and were playing as a Jason Kidd coached team should. They finished the season with a 44-38 record and the title of everyone's title sleeper for the playoffs. In the first round, they upset Toronto, behind some game 7 heroics from Pierce. But in the second round, LeBron's Heat proved to be their undoing, putting them aside in just 5 games.
Clearly, this Nets team went all in with a team that couldn't go all in. King and Prokhorov were fooled into thinking that their team was just a piece or two away from a championship, when in reality, they were the team that desperately needed to deal their star players. It's a foolish mistake that comes around every couple of years and bites a team in the ass.
Pierce left that summer to go play for the Wizards, Kevin Garnett was traded for Thad Young and Jason Terry wound up on the Sacramento Kings, in exchange for Marcus Thornton, who was dealt for Jarrett Jack. Here's what each team have to show for that trade today, tell me who you think won:
- Thaddeus Young
- Jarrett Jack
- Isaiah Thomas (Traded for Marcus Thornton, who was acquired using a trade exception in the Jarrett Jack three team trade)
- James Young
- 2016 first round pick
- 2017 right to swap first round picks
- 2018 first round pick
The Nets are now languishing, with an 0-7 record. They have become one of, if not the worst team in the league, with no draft picks to show for their demise. They have no young talent, with their only hope being free agency, where they will have cap room. But, being perfectly honest, who would want to go sign for that team in its current state? Kevin Durant? Al Horford? Mike Conley? Hell no!
On the other hand, Boston are reaping the rewards, that trade kick-started a rebuild that landed them Marcus Smart (from tanking in 2014), draft picks and ISAIAH THOMAS. They own Brooklyn's bleak future, which includes a probable top 3 or 5 pick in this year's star studded draft class. Not to mention, for the following to years following the 2016 draft. Make that three straight lottery picks. The Celtics now have the assets to trade for the next superstar who hits the trade block, to add to their exciting nucleus, lottery picks and president elect, Brad Stevens.
The morale of this story is to always wait. The Nets thought they had the deal of the century by assembling an all-star five. But they weren't patient enough. As mentioned above, they went all in with a team that couldn't go all in. They shouldn't have traded their future for two veterans, they could've held out for the right deal, because Ainge was never going to hold onto those two. He wanted a rebuild, it was as clear as daylight. There were no other teams that were competing for their services, so was there a need to make this deal, no.
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