The Nets have learned to live with the disastrous results of their 2013 trade with the Celtics to acquire Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry for what turned out to be an air-ball shot at an NBA title. But those chickens keep coming home to roost, and hindsight was especially painful Tuesday night when the Celtics won the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery with a pick belonging to the Nets, whose NBA-worst 20-62 record gave them the most lottery balls.
Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck reveled in the moment one day after the Celtics won Game 7 over Washington to advance to the Eastern Conference finals against Cleveland, beginning Wednesday night at TD Garden in Boston.
“It’s a great time to be a Celtics fan,” Grousbeck said after the Celtics edged out the Lakers and the 76ers for the top spot. “Now, I have to turn my attention to [Wednesday night]. We’ve got LeBron coming to town. But what a time.”
When former Nets general manager Billy King put together the 2013 trade, the Nets agreed to give up first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018. They swapped 2017 first-rounders as a way around an NBA rule preventing teams from trading their first-round pick in consecutive years.
Revisiting that clever ploy, Grousbeck told Newsday, “This was the last pick that was added to the trade. They didn’t want to give a fourth outright pick, and we said, ‘Lets’ give a swap so you’ll have a pick, too.’ So, it felt like not quite as much of an ask, and we got the deal done.”
At the time, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov was anxious to go for a title with a team that also included Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson. But the Nets wound up losing in the second round of the playoffs.
“Thinking back at the time, the Nets were trying to go for a championship then,” Grousbeck said. “That’s what you have to do when you have a chance. So, respect to them for going all in and trying.”
It was the judgment of Celtics general manager Danny Ainge that Garnett and Pierce, despite having won a title in 2008, were nearing the end of the line. “It felt like it was time to make the trade,” Grousbeck said. “I’m very sentimental about guys, and those guys are Hall of Famers and champions. But it was time to start rebuilding four years ago, and now, we’re starting to see some benefits.”
The Celtics are the first conference finalist with the No. 1 overall pick since the Lakers drafted James Worthy in 1982. The Nets must settle for the Celtics’ No. 27 pick, and they picked up Washington’s No. 22 pick in a trade deadline deal that sent Bojan Bogdanovic to the Wizards. Perhaps they can take heart from the Celtics, who took current star point guard Isaiah Thomas with the 60th and final pick of the 2011 draft. After all, it’s not an exact science.