By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The date was June 28, 2013, and the Brooklyn Nets were ecstatic. “Nets Acquire NBA Champions Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry,” boasted the top line of the press release. Coming off a promising first season in Brooklyn, the Nets felt confident that with their new acquisitions, they were ready to compete with the NBA’s best.
And to reach that new height, general manager Billy King was ready to pay a lofty price. King had already traded away two draft picks that became Damian Lillard and Draymond Green in the 2012 draft, but he was not afraid to dig back into the well of future Nets picks. He knew it might sting in the long run, but if the Nets found their way into the NBA Finals, then it would be worth it.
So, in exchange for four players and a pair of picks, King agreed to send to Danny Ainge and the Celtics the following package — one that would quickly become a point of infamy for the Nets franchise:
2014 first-round pick
2016 first-round pick
2017 (rights to swap) first-round pick
2018 first-round pick
The five players were inconsequential to the Celtics, who were prepared to bottom out and hit the reset button the franchise. Three of them (Bogans, Brooks, Joseph) played 10 or fewer games for the C’s, while Humphries (69 games) and Wallace (90 games) were a part of the Celtics’ 25-57 season in 2013-14. The players didn’t really matter … except when it came to posing for this incredible photograph:
As it turned out, though, the players didn’t really matter for Brooklyn, either. The 37-year-old Garnett played just 54 games. The 36-year-old Pierce did play in 75, but the 36-year-old Terry played in just 35 games off the bench as the Nets went 44-38 — a record five games worse than the previous year. They beat the Raptors in seven games before getting eliminated in five games by LeBron James’ Heat.
Pierce left via free agency, leaving Garnett in Brooklyn, and the Nets would drop to 38-44 the following year. They lost to the Hawks in the first round. They’ve gone 41-113 since.
Suffice it to say, the trade didn’t work out for the Nets.
Meanwhile, Ainge carefully kept those Nets picks in his possession, because he likely knew that it wouldn’t be long before the Nets plummeted to the bottom of the NBA standings. Those picks became incredibly valuable to a rebuilding franchise, and Ainge was smart enough to hold on to the 2014, 2016 and the 2017 first-round picks through this summer. And it was only when four-time All-Star Kyrie Irving became available via trade that Ainge actually pulled the trigger on moving one of those picks.
And so now with the Irving trade executed, we can put the Nets-Celtics trade to bed. In the four years that have followed, here’s what has happened to the Nets:
Two appearances, one series win
Mozgov and Russell were acquired by the Nets when they traded the first-round pick they had acquired from the Celtics to Los Angeles this past June. Vezenkov was drafted with the second-round pick the Nets acquired from the Celtics.
And, by contrast, here’s what the Celtics have gotten out of that franchise-altering trade:
Three appearances, two series wins
Additionally, because the 2017 first-rounder became the No. 1 overall pick and Ainge traded it to Philadelphia, the Celtics acquired another potential high pick by spinning that pick to Philly. That pick will be the Lakers’ 2018 first-round pick if it ends up being either the second, third, fourth or fifth overall pick. If it ends up being the No. 1 overall pick or the No. 6 or later pick, then the Celtics will instead get either the 76ers’ or Kings’ 2019 first-round pick (whichever pick is better, unless it’s the No. 1 overall pick).
So the book can’t quite be closed on the deal, as it will likely land the Celtics one more lottery pick before all is said and done. But unfortunately for Celtics fans who kept a watchful eye on the scores of Nets games over the past several years, the days of “The Nets Picks” are, for all intents and purposes, over.
(As an offshoot, Celtics fans also got to witness some nice moments in the return of Garnett and Pierce to Boston as visitors. Garnett’s tribute video was pretty good, but Pierce’s tribute video made grown men cry.)
When that deal went down four years ago, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov confidently stated in the announcement, “Today, the basketball gods smiled on the Nets.” It’s clear that those gods were most definitely smiling that day, just not for the reasons Prokhorov imagined.