Neither Garnett, Pierce nor Prokhorov was smiling after the Miami Heat eliminated Brooklyn in the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games.
“The only reason we came to Brooklyn was to win another ring,” Garnett said.
In retrospect, Brooklyn took a gamble that didn’t pay off. The Nets gave up a king’s ransom to acquire Garnett and Pierce to win a title this season, not exit the playoffs in the second round.
Brooklyn will forfeit its first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 while swapping first-round picks with the Boston Celtics in 2017.
Pierce averaged career lows in points (13.5) and assists (2.4), as well as field goals made (4.3), field goals attempted (9.5) and minutes (28) this season.
Garnett averaged career lows in points (6.5), assists (1.5), steals (0.8) and blocks (0.7), as well as field goals made (2.9), field goals attempted (6.6), field goal percentage (.441) and minutes (20.5) this season.
Now, after vastly underwhelming performances, Garnett may retire and Pierce is an unknown as an unrestricted free agent. Coupled with other key rotation members, that leaves a muddled picture for the team with the highest payroll in the league.
While Garnett is scheduled to make $12 million next season, he will heavily contemplate retirement after his worst statistical season across the board. He did not speak to the media after Wednesday’s loss, nor on Thursday.
Prior to this season, Garnett’s decision to continue playing was swayed heavily by Pierce before the two were traded to Brooklyn.
Speaking of Pierce, Brooklyn owns his “Bird Rights,” which allows the Nets the opportunity to offer more money than any other team.
As close friends, the futures of Garnett and Pierce may correlate depending upon what the other does.
If Garnett retires, Pierce may be more inclined to leave. If Pierce stays, Garnett may hold off retirement for another year.
Should Garnett ultimately walk away, he’ll feel “salty” knowing Ray Allen – his former teammate turned nemesis – had a profound effect on Brooklyn’s playoff exit.
The Los Angeles Lakers could also emerge as a potential suitor for Pierce, knowing the window to compete with Kobe Bryant is only two years.
However, a return home for Pierce is unlikely. If Pierce leaves Brooklyn, the most likely scenario is joining a title contender for one last title run at a discounted price. Or, he could rejoin the Celtics, as colleague Peter May has reported.
Several league sources are split on Garnett’s future, citing his declining skill, athleticism and production vs. one final payday for a man who has made a record $315 million in salary.
Regarding Pierce, the prevailing notion is that he will ultimately return to Brooklyn, where he would continue to have a prominent role, according to league sources.
Keep in mind the Nets are still over the luxury tax threshold even if Garnett and Pierce both are gone next season. That means Brooklyn’s financial flexibility in free agency and any attempts to make a trade will be severely limited.
While bringing back Pierce is high on the agenda, Billy King said in March that bringing back Shaun Livingston was his top priority as general manager.
Livingston set career highs in games (76), starts (54) and steals per game (1.22) while becoming a vital starting role player in a dual point guard lineup alongside Deron Williams as the primary ball handler.
Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports Management represents Livingston and Pierce, as well as Williams and Mirza Teletovic.
Currently, Livingston could command anywhere from the taxpayer exception ($3.3 million) to the conventional mid-level exception ($5.3 million).
Brooklyn can keep Livingston with the taxpayer exception, but doing so would mean the team can’t use it on anyone else.
In addition, key bench veterans Alan Anderson, Andray Blatche and Andrei Kirilenko all have player options for next season.
While Anderson could be expendable with Marcus Thornton and his guaranteed $8.6 million on the roster, Blatche has proven to be a valuable inside scorer during his tenure in Brooklyn after being made a scapegoat in Washington.
Blatche made it clear he intends to opt out of his $1.4 million contract for next season and become an unrestricted free agent. At just 27, his size and skill set will make him an attractive commodity.
“I’m going to see what’s out there for me,” Blatche said. “I would love to stay here.”
Should Blatche opt out and generate a bidding war among various teams, Brooklyn may find it prudent to give more playing time to Mason Plumlee, a younger and cheaper option who finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting.
Kirilenko’s versatility at both forward positions is comparable to a Swiss Army knife and would be the toughest to replace of the three veterans.
Last summer, Kirilenko opted out of a guaranteed $10 million with Minnesota, looking for a multi-year deal. But the market dried up, and he was forced to sign a two-year, $6.5 million deal with the Nets. This season, he was limited by injuries to just 45 games and may opt in for $3.3 million, having been burned once already.
Kirilenko is an excellent cutter who has great chemistry with Williams. He also is an underrated passer out of the high post and can stay in front of the league’s top forwards from Carmelo Anthony to LeBron James.
It’s unlikely that Brooklyn will carry four centers next season in Blatche, Garnett, Lopez and Plumlee.
Should Garnett retire, keeping the other three is plausible – especially with Lopez’s injury history and the contrasting styles of the offensive-minded Blatche and defensive-minded Plumlee. If Garnett returns, Blatche is the likely odd man out.
Expect Pierce to return as a stretch forward since he no longer can elude small forwards off the dribble. Teletovic and Pierce combined to form an ideal stretch forward over the course of a 48-minute game.
If Brooklyn loses Livingston in a bidding war, it would be a crushing blow to the team’s ball movement on the court and locker room camaraderie off it. Livingston’s length on defense is unmatched by any other guard on the team.
For better or worse, Brooklyn made its bed and will likely sleep in it for one more season.
Once the roster is assembled, the pressure will be on Lopez and Williams to return to form and for Joe Johnson to maintain his impressive playoff form over the course of an entire season.
Williams is no longer a max player due to deteriorating ankle injuries that have limited his explosiveness over the years. He has little trade value since he has three years and roughly $63 million remaining on his contract.
Johnson has similarly limited trade value despite coming off an All-Star berth and great playoff run where he carried the offense because he has two years and roughly $43 million remaining.
Lopez has little trade value after missing most of the season due to injury. If the Nets receive trade interest in Lopez, it will be teams calling to buy low on him.
The Nets aren’t the Brooklyn “Bums” by any means heading into next season. But the franchise is stuck in a fringe contender position at best while clinging to the hope that the AARP cards of Garnett and Pierce haven’t expired.