As Friday’s game progressed into a full-blown laugher, and Celtics fans watched the home team constantly score and the visiting team look disheveled and uninterested, a throng among the TD Garden faithful began chanting, “Brook-lyn Draft Picks!”
It was an appropriate time. The Celtics were coasting, sending the Nets to a 2-11 record, and the home crowd is fully aware that Boston owns Brooklyn’s first-round pick next season, unconditionally. No protection, no limits. It’s the Celtics’ pick.
So as the Celtics dream of nabbing the next great one-and-done superstar, thanks to that lopsided trade that sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry to the Nets for three first-round picks and the right to swap another, Brooklyn is desperately trying to move forward.
It’s been a futile effort.
The Nets are loaded with veterans who would help playoff teams, such as former Celtic Joe Johnson, pick-and-roll ace Jarrett Jack, sharpshooter Wayne Ellington, and versatile Thaddeus Young. But together they are a collective mess, none seemingly engaged enough in this rebuilding effort to foster the process. So the Nets are getting pounded on a nightly basis. General manager Billy King traded away most of his draft picks, so getting younger is a challenge.
King nabbed former first-round pick Shane Larkin, traded for rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and used the 29th overall pick this year (from Atlanta) to take Syracuse swingman Chris McCullough, who is still recovering from anterior cruciate ligament surgery.
But with little youth to inject into the lineup, King is relegated to using his veterans — tabbing Brook Lopez and Young as cornerstones — and then waiting, and waiting, for the Celtics’ draft pick stranglehold to end. It will be a while. The Celtics have the right to swap first-round picks with Brooklyn in 2017 and also own the Nets’ 2018 first-rounder.
“Well that’s what we said when we re-signed those guys,” King said of Lopez and Young. “I said, ‘If you’re coming back, I need you guys to be the leaders of this team and not accept certain things.’ I think Thaddeus and Brook have made more efforts to be more vocal.”
On Friday, Young, a former lottery pick of the Philadelphia 76ers who has found stability in Brooklyn, ripped into his team for its lack of effort.
“We just basically let them do whatever they wanted to do,” he said. “Defensively we just played terribly in every position, including myself. We played terrible; we played terrible, that’s the only thing you can say right now. We came out and thought that we were ready and we weren’t. There’s no excuse for how we played tonight.”
The Nets dropped their first seven games, won at Houston, had Golden State beaten before losing after allowing a tying 3-pointer to send the game into overtime, and then came back to beat Atlanta. They had been increasingly competitive over the past few games — until Friday.
In today’s salary cap-driven NBA, draft picks have become even more valuable, and King handed three first-rounders to the Celtics — the first eventually became James Young — for a berth in the Eastern Conference semifinals with Pierce and Garnett.
“Not having the picks, you’ve got to figure out other ways to get it, second-round picks,” King said. “If you don’t have picks, you just get young guys.”
King said he talks with coach Lionel Hollins on a daily basis. They agree they are going to combine their fortitude to put the house back together. Trading for Pierce, Garnett, and Terry was a franchise-altering risk.
Pierce played one productive year but the Nets didn’t try to re-sign him and he headed for Washington. Garnett played hard for the Nets but wasn’t the impact player he was in Boston, and King shipped him to Minnesota in the deal for Young. Terry didn’t even play a full season in Brooklyn before being shipped to Sacramento. So the residuals from the trade were nothing but rubble for King.
The salaries of Johnson ($24.8 million) and Jack ($6.3 million) come off the books this summer, giving King a chance to chase a premium free agent with the advantage of selling the New York market.
“We took our shot and it didn’t work,” he said. “And now to see some of these guys develop and to get it back and for us to have the cap space [next summer], we can do it pretty quickly. We want to win but we knew we may take a step back when some of the decisions were made. But what I like is we’ve put ourselves in the position to beat a Golden State, we just didn’t make the right plays. That’s just learning how to win. We’re talking the steps.”
The Celtics will benefit greatly from King’s costly gamble, and their faithful should keep abreast of Brooklyn’s scores because this may be the best draft pick Boston gets for several years. It adds intrigue to an already intriguing season, and the grand prize will come in June.