EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The conversations began on the Nets' plane ride from Miami in the wee hours Thursday.
Billy King was chatting it up with Kevin Garnett, the man he shipped a pair of first-round draft picks to Boston for some 10 months ago hoping it would help alter the franchise's landscape. With the roller-coaster season of these nearly $200 million Nets in the books following the Game 5 loss to the Heat, King must begin the task of retooling their roster and he has to know the plans of Garnett and Paul Pierce going forward.
A grand total of six players -- three unrestricted free agents and three with contract options -- can change allegiances if they want this summer. The Nets also don't own their first-round pick in next month's draft thanks to sending it the Celtics' way in their blockbuster trade, and they can't trade their first-round pick until 2020 anyway.
So King may have to get creative as he puts together a team -- and he needs to have a better understanding of what Garnett and Pierce want to do.
"KG is under contract, and we talked last night on the plane and I said we'll visit," King said Thursday after the players cleaned out their lockers at the practice facility. "Get away, spend some time and talk with your family then we'll talk again. There's no need for an answer now."
And Pierce? "Paul is a free agent and obviously we want him back. So come July 1, we'll start that process."
The Nets can offer Pierce a hefty raise that tops the amount anyone else can pay him, giving them the financial advantage. Pierce, who made $15.3 million this season, was noncommittal about his future Wednesday night, and Thursday strolled past a pack of reporters without saying a word.
"We have the ability to pay him more, but like Paul said, it's overall picture at this point in his career," King said. "He wants to spend time with his family. And I think when you lose a game like you did [Wednesday] night, lose a series when you think you should have gone further, you have to step back. And so I'm going to give him some time. He and I will get together . . . Our goal is to try and bring as much of the core back and add to the core and go at it again."
That won't be easy.
Shaun Livingston, an unrestricted free agent, might have priced himself into a much higher tax bracket with a stellar campaign. Andrei Kirilenko, Andray Blatche and Alan Anderson each hold player options and may seek more money on the free-agent market. At least the Nets will get Brook Lopez back and have him in the mix after a season-ending foot injury in December.
King wouldn't play the hypothetical game, refusing to call the trade a failure if Garnett and Pierce decided to bolt after just one season in Brooklyn. He didn't surrender all those future picks for a quick rental. It was mostly about changing the franchise's culture, a feat King believes has already happened since Garnett and Pierce were officially brought on board in July.
"I think what they taught Mason [Plumlee], what they taught Blatche, what they taught a lot of guys, there are some things you can take, guys will take that for the rest of their career," King said. "I think Mason Plumlee as a rookie will be a much better player for the rest of his career because he played with Paul and KG, and I think a lot of guys, just to be able to experience for a year, they understand that. But I'm not writing those guys off that they're not coming back.
"I know that's the easy story to write. But I think they gave a lot to us, and I think we gave a lot to them, and we're going to do our best to bring them back."