Nets con­tinue to suf­fer af­ter fate­ful 2013 trade.

The deal to ac­quire Paul Pierce and Kevin Gar­nett has set the Nets back for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Metro USA (New York) - - Front Page - JOE PANTORNO @JoePan­torno joseph.pantorno@metro.us

The Brook­lyn Nets have built quite a con­tender.

Well, it’s not their own team that’s be­come a con­tender, but the Bos­ton Celtics.

Nets fans, who trudged through a 20-62 sea­son, watched in dis­be­lief on Tues­day night as the No. 1 over­all pick that should have been theirs was swapped to a team that is cur­rently com­pet­ing in the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals.

It all stems back to the sum­mer prior to the 201314 sea­son and a fate­ful de­ci­sion to deal their fu­ture for a chance to win im­me­di­ately.

Af­ter post­ing a 49-33 record dur­ing their first year in Brook­lyn in 201213 and los­ing in the first round of the East­ern Con­fer­ence play­offs, the Nets were look­ing for some­thing to put them over the top.

What no one told them was that there was noth­ing avail­able at the time to do that. The Mi­ami Heat’s “Big 3” of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were fresh off win­ning their sec­ond-straight ti­tle, and no op­po­nent that wasn’t coached by Gregg Popovich was go­ing to stop them.

But the Nets and gen­eral man­ager Billy King thought there was a way to do so. In­stead of try­ing to ac­crue and de­velop any kind of young tal­ent, they pack­aged up their fu­ture to try and ex­e­cute the “win-now” strat­egy.

For a Celtics team that was bur­dened with some big con­tracts head­ing into the 2013-14 sea­son, it was a no-brainer for them.

Nets got:

Kevin Gar­nett Paul

Pierce Ja­son

Terry D.J. White

Celtics got:

Ger­ald Wal­lace

Kris Humphries MarShon Brooks

Kris Joseph

Keith Bo­gans

2014 1st-round pick

2016 1st-round pick

2017 1st-round pick

2018 1st-round pick

It was a puz­zling move con­sid­er­ing Gar­nett was 37, Terry was 36 and Pierce was 35 and in the fi­nal year of his con­tract. The Nets also ab­sorbed Gar­nett’s and Pierce’s con­tracts, which com­bined to over $27.7 mil­lion that sea­son.

But as key mem­bers of the 2008 cham­pi­onship Celtics, there were some that thought they could come in and help de­velop a win­ning cul­ture along­side Brook Lopez, Deron Wil­liams and Joe John­son.

That was once a pretty im­pos­ing look­ing lineup, on pa­per at least.

Even Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov claimed that the “bas­ket­ball gods smiled on the Nets,” de­spite the lu­di­crous haul it took to get Bos­ton to make the deal.

You have to un­der­stand, there was ex­cite­ment gen­er­at­ing around a fran­chise that was de­void of any since its time in New Jersey at the turn of the mil­len­nium. And for a ba­si­cally new fran­chise look­ing to put butts in the Barclays Cen­ter seats, there were rea­sons to be im­pa­tient.

But Lopez and Wil­liams missed a com­bined 83 games due to in­juries while the team with big egos strug­gled to click.

Terry wouldn’t even last the whole sea­son as he was dealt to the Sacra­mento Kings for Mar­cus Thorn­ton.

Brook­lyn had a worse reg­u­lar sea­son than the year be­fore, go­ing 44-38 be­fore none other than the Heat bounced them from the sec­ond round.

Pierce would walk in free agency, sign­ing a two-year deal with the Wizards, while Gar­nett hung on for an­other half sea­son be­fore he was traded to the Min­nesota Tim­ber­wolves.

The ex­per­i­ment failed. The Nets had ab­so­lutely noth­ing to show for it and noth­ing to build on.

Bos­ton, on the other hand, re­mained dili­gent through the first half of the decade. They drafted Avery Bradley in 2010 and Mar­cus Smart in 2014 (the Nets firstround pick that year be­came James Young at No. 17) and ac­quired Isa­iah Thomas, Jae Crow­der and Kelly Olynyk via trades. Last off­sea­son, they made a big splash in free agency by bring­ing in Al Hor­ford and us­ing the first-round pick they ac­quired from the Nets, which was the No. 3 over­all pick af­ter Brook­lyn went 21-61, to take Jaylen Brown out of Cal. Life can’t get much bet­ter for the Celtics, ac­tu­ally.

They went 53-29 this sea­son and are in the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals for the first time since 2012. They are look­ing at al­most $30 mil­lion in cap space this sum­mer and to top it all off, they now have the No. 1 pick which they can spend on Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball or any other prospect who tick­les their fan­cies.

Heck, they can even call up the In­di­ana Pac­ers or Chicago Bulls and swap it for Paul Ge­orge or Jimmy But­ler.

Brook­lyn, a team that is in need of be­ing blown up and pieced back to­gether, has lost out on its largest re­source to do so.

With just un­der $24 mil­lion worth of space, they have some cash to flash this off­sea­son, but it will be a dif­fi­cult sell given the team’s 41 com­bined wins over the past two years.

A No. 1 pick could have helped shift the out­look around the or­ga­ni­za­tion and pos­si­bly lured in more in­ter­est from prospec­tive free agents.

There is an op­tion in trad­ing Lopez, who be­comes a free agent at the end of next sea­son. But he has ex­pressed his de­sire to stay with the team for the long term. If there are doubts, he could be flipped for a few draft picks; some­thing the team des­per­ately needs.

Re­mem­ber, Bos­ton owns their pick next year, too. So an­other hor­ren­dous sea­son in Brook­lyn could be the Celtics’ gain and heap fur­ther mis­ery on the Nets, who must live with the fact that they pulled the trig­ger on one of the worst trades in sports his­tory.

GETTY IMAGES

The trade that sent Paul Pierce, Kevin Gar­nett and Ja­son Terry to the Nets is go­ing to set the fran­chise back for at least an­other few years.

NBA as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner Mark Ta­tum

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