This could be a major year of transition for the Nets as the money-losing team is being put up for sale by owner Mikhail Prokhorov, and the club would love to deal away some of its high-priced talent.
Why Sell Now?
Prokhorov bought the 80 percent of the Nets and 45 percent of the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2010 and immediately became the Russian Mark Cuban in that he was not afraid of speaking his mind to the public. Prokhorov guaranteed a championship by 2015, and that's clearly not going to happen with the Nets well below .500 -- although a playoff berth in the weak Eastern Conference is still attainable.
You can't blame Prokhorov for the Nets' failings as he has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into the team. It was really built for a title run last season around Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Shaun Livingston, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the latter two acquired from Boston for future first-round draft picks. Brooklyn, which lost Lopez early to a season-ending injury, was able to upset Toronto in the first round of the playoffs but was no match for Miami -- despite sweeping the Heat in the regular season -- in the conference semifinals. The Nets reportedly lost $144 million last season because they were so deep into the luxury tax; they paid out an NBA -record $197 million in payroll and luxury taxes.
Despite watching Pierce and Livingston leave as free agents, the Nets still opened this season with the league's highest payroll at nearly $91 million, so that likely means more tax penalties and financial losses. At 16-22 entering Wednesday, title contention is an allusion. Garnett is way past his prime and sits out nearly every other game to keep his 38-year-old body in one piece. The Nets would have preferred he retired after last season.
There are two main reasons why the team is now officially available. For one, NBA team values have skyrocketed in the wake of Steve Ballmer's shocking $2 billion winning bid for the Los Angeles Clippers in the wake of the Donald Sterling scandal. All NBA owners salivated when they saw that and by comparison Prokhorov only paid $223 million for the Nets five years ago. Forbes estimated in January 2014 that the team was worth $780 million, the fifth-highest value in the NBA. The sale now could top Ballmer's because it includes a share of the Barclays Center and the fact the team is in Brooklyn and not in New Jersey as it still was in 2010.
In addition, the struggling state of the Russian economy has spurred Prokhorov to make this move. The Russian ruble has lost a lot of value against the U.S. dollar recently because of falling oil prices and economic sanctions against Russia.
There were a few groups who bid against Ballmer to buy the Clippers, but they had West Coast ties so wouldn't be expected to bid for the Nets. Seattle billionaire Chris Hansen was in on bids for the Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings and might be interested in the currently for sale Atlanta Hawks. However, the Nets surely won't interest Hansen because he wants to move any team he buys to Seattle and the Nets aren't leaving Brooklyn.
Over/under price to buy Nets: $1.7 billion. They will be bought in 2015.
Will the Nets Trade Deron Williams?
To help lower the payroll and gain some future assets such as young players and/or draft picks, which the Nets severely lack, the team has said Williams, Johnson and Lopez are all available. The problem is their salaries and, in Williams' and Lopez's case, injuries.
Williams is due $21 million next season and $22.3 million in 2016-17, with the ability to opt of his contract and return to free agency in the summer of 2016. He is nowhere near the All-Star player he used to be. Williams is averaging 13.9 points (on horrific 39.6 percent shooting) and 6.3 assists. He had lost his starting job to Jarrett Jack and hasn't played real minutes since Jan. 4 due to a rib injury. Williams is without a return timetable. Lopez, who signed a four-year, $60 million deal in 2012, has a player option for 2015-16 worth $16.7 million. The former All-Star has had chronic foot injuries and one more could end his career just like it did to another 7-footer, Yao Ming. Lopez is averaging 14.7 points and 6.4 rebounds, and he generally lost his starting spot to younger and cheaper Miles Plumlee, who has been a better player for weeks. Johnson, another former All-Star, is making $23.2 million this season as the league's third-highest player and is owed $24.9 million in 2015-16. Johnson also isn't playing like he used to, averaging 16.4 points.
The Nets and Kings reportedly discussed a Williams deal in December but it died when the Kings demanded Plumlee as part of any package to take Williams' awful contract. The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 19.
SBR projected NBA odds Williams is traded this season: +400. It will only happen if the Nets take pennies on the dollar and/or get back a bad contract in return. Williams' injury only makes it more of a long shot. Johnson and Lopez also likely stay put.
Will Nets Make Playoffs?
The site Predictionmachine.com runs 50,000 daily NBA game simulations while incorporating updated player statistics and injuries, etc. The site projects Brooklyn to finish with 34.3 wins. Those would be the eighth-most in the Eastern Conference, meaning the Nets would sneak into the playoffs. However, teams like Charlotte and especially Detroit are playing much better basketball and are still behind Brooklyn in the East standings. None of the seven teams currently ahead of the Nets are likely to slip. Good piece of information to keep in mind when making your NBA picks for the rest of the season.
NBA Free Picks: Give Nets an 'over/under' of 32 wins and go 'under.' They miss the playoffs. Nets are +10000 to win Eastern Conference.
Will Lionel Hollins Be Nets' Coach in 2015-16?
Hollins was the team's choice to replace Jason Kidd when Kidd lost a power play with the front office and was "traded" to Milwaukee -- and Kidd has the Bucks much improved this season. Hollins was signed to a four-year deal that could be worth as much as $20 million. Hollins is a very respected coach and led Memphis to three straight playoff appearances in his final three seasons there. In his last, 2012-13, the Grizzlies reached the Western Conference Finals.
NBA Free Picks: Yes. Sure, a new owner generally likes to hire his own guy, but Hollins should be safe. GM Billy King is another matter.