The Brooklyn Nets will likely be eliminated from the playoffs on Tuesday night at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers. If they don’t lose Tuesday, they’ll likely fall in Game 6, and if not Game 6, then Game 7. The odds of Brooklyn coming back from a 3-1 deficit are astronomical. With that said, the fact that they’re even there is impressive. The Nets followed a blueprint that the Minnesota Timberwolves should take notes from.
On June 28, 2013 the Brooklyn Nets struck a deal with the Boston Celtics that saw the Nets acquire Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, and D.J. White from Boston in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, three unprotected first-round draft picks, and first-round swap rights in 2017. That deal was a shortsighted one made by former general manager Billy King.
That deal was done in part to help the Nets be viewed as a legitimate threat to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Garnett, Pierce, and Terry all had championship experience, but were all at least 36 years old at the time of the trade.
At the time of the deal, first-round draft picks weren’t thought of as the hot commodity that they are right now. Especially with the last pick of the deal coming five seasons later.
The deal didn’t work out for Brooklyn. It’s now regarded as one of the most one-sided trades in NBA history. The Nets won 44 games, finishing sixth in the East. They beat No. 3 seed Toronto in seven games in the first round of the playoffs before losing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Miami Heat in five games. The next season, Brooklyn made the playoffs again as the No. 8 seed with none of the players acquired from Boston on the roster in the playoffs.
After that, the Nets went into a downward spiral over the next three seasons. Normally, that’s a fine rebuilding strategy, but the Nets didn’t have any of their draft picks. They combined to win only 69 games over the next three seasons, and never benefitted from a lottery pick in the draft, those all went to Boston (with one of them being shipped to Cleveland as part of the package for Kyrie Irving).
The Nets were looking at a very bleak, lengthy rebuild and it looked difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel at times.
Brooklyn re-assigned King in early 2016 and hired current general manager Sean Marks away from the San Antonio Spurs where he was an assistant coach. Marks later hired one of the scouts in San Antonio as his assistant general manager – Trajan Langdon.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are currently in the middle of the hiring process for the team’s vacant President of Basketball Operations position. There are four candidates the team will be interviewing, with one of the more interesting names being Brooklyn’s Langdon.
What Marks and Langdon have done in their time on the job in Brooklyn is nothing short of impressive – and something the Wolves can learn from.
The Nets didn’t have a talented roster, or the ability to bolster it with highly-touted young players. They had to be creative with signings and trades in order to make themselves competitive. An emphasis on player development had to be part of the process too.
Four of the most important players for the Nets were reclamation projects. Sharpshooter Joe Harris – once a 33rd overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers – was out of the league when Brooklyn signed him in the summer of 2016. The Cavaliers traded an injured Harris to the Magic in January, and he was subsequently waived. The Nets took a flier on him, and this season he led the NBA in 3-point percentage.
Spencer Dinwiddie, the Nets’ sixth man, was also out of the league. Things didn’t work for him in Detroit, then he was traded to the Bulls where he was cut twice. The Nets signed him in December of 2016, and he’s been a mainstay since.
D’Angelo Russell is the most highly touted guy on the roster for the Nets, but he was on thin ice with the Lakers before they dealt him to Brooklyn in order to get out from under the Timofey Mozgov nightmare of a contract. Russell has since turned into an all-star.
Caris LeVert was part of a draft day trade to Brooklyn. The Pacers selected him in 2016 before sending him to Brooklyn for Thaddeus Young. LeVert had multiple foot injuries in school at Michigan, and saw his draft stock hurt because of it. The Nets took a chance on him, and so far it’s paid off.
The Nets had to be smart with how they acquired first-round picks. LeVert was one of them, and center Jarrett Allen was another player selected in the first round after the Nets traded a pair of assets to the Wizards for the pick.
There certainly are differences in the way the Nets have built and the way the Wolves are built. Minnesota has a pair of homegrown No. 1 overall draft picks on its roster and hasn’t traded away its own first round picks. The Nets weren’t in salary cap hell the way the Wolves are, so taking on a guy like Russell in exchange for eating a monster contract isn’t an option. But there are some similarities between the situations.
The Wolves, like the Nets, made a very shortsighted trade that ultimately hampered the future of the franchise. The Nets made strides because of player development and smart signings. That’s something the Wolves will need to attempt to do. It’s tough to envision situations like Joe Harris’ becoming the norm, but there’s no good reason why Cam Reynolds can’t have a similar story in Minnesota.
There’s no easy way out of the mess that the Wolves are in right now. The cap situation – with money tied up in Andrew Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng beyond this upcoming season – isn’t a pretty sight. That means if Minnesota is going to make changes to the roster, they’ll have to be creative.
Langdon has been part of one of the most creative revitalizations in the NBA. Speaking with him regarding the opening is certainly a wise move for a franchise that’s done almost nothing but the opposite of make smart decisions throughout its 30-year existence.
It’s unknown if the President of Basketball Operations will have the ability to choose their own general manager and head coach, but it’s worth noting that while Langdon was working in San Antonio as a scout, current Wolves general manager Scott Layden was the assistant general manager. What their relationship was like then – and know – isn’t currently known. But it’s not out of the realm of thinking that he’d be more likely be okay with keeping Layden due to his past experience working with him.
Langdon’s experience in cleaning up one mess – even if it had some big differences – could give the Wolves confidence to hire him to clean up the current one that was created by the Thibodeau era in Minnesota. It won’t be a quick fix, but then again, it wasn’t in Brooklyn.