On June 27, 2013, the Brooklyn Nets sent three first-round draft picks to the Boston Celtics for future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. There were more players and picks swapped in that deal, but those are the most pertinent details.
Brooklyn’s plan, while questionable, had relatively clear intentions: trade away pieces of the future for a shot at glory in the present. The Nets’ championship hopes did not come to fruition, as they bowed out of the 2014 playoffs in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. A few months later, Pierce skipped town for Washington.
Cut to present day. At this very moment, the Nets are 1-9, and firmly entrenched within the league’s bottom five teams. Boston is in possession of Brooklyn’s 2016 first-round draft pick, which is nearly guaranteed to be one of the highest picks in the draft. They also hold Brooklyn’s pick in 2018, and an option to swap picks in 2017.
For Celtics fans, this is a glorious possibility, as they will likely add a top-tier prospect to their exciting roster of burgeoning talent. For Nets fans, a small but dedicated group which I count myself a member of, this is a miserable situation unlike any other in American professional sports today.
See, sports fandom can bring one incredible joy, but you have to invest yourself first. I fully invested myself into the Nets in 2011, when the move to Brooklyn was imminent. The 2014 playoff run was an exciting one, as the Nets duked it out with Toronto and Miami in thrilling postseason battles. A Game 7 victory over the Raptors represented one of the most fulfilling sports moments I had ever experienced.
The loss that ended that run was painful, but the pain was only temporary. After a gut-wrenching loss, we as fans can pack up and move on. We can look to the future. As a fan of the New York Giants, this is part of my weekly routine; no NFL team loses more painfully than the Giants, but the team makes up for it with incredible championship runs.
The Brooklyn Nets have no future. After they finish this season as one of the very worst teams in the NBA, they will hand over their first-round pick to their divisional rivals, and begin another horrendous, hopeless season. And another one. And another one.
Look at the other dumpster fires burning around the league. The Sixers have more draft picks than they know what to do with. The Lakers can head home after a loss and comfort themselves with a humongous pile of trophies. The Pelicans have one of the league’s very best young players to build around.
But most importantly, these teams have not given away their entire suite of draft picks. Their fans may not watch many games this season, but come spring they will be sifting through YouTube highlights and scouting websites to build excitement for the excellent prospects they are about to receive.
I have not watched a single Nets game this season. I have no reason to. They have very few young players to develop, and most games will end in a loss, which will only serve as an unwelcome reminder that the team isn’t working towards anything this year.
When the situation becomes this dire, it becomes necessary to take a step back. I very strongly respect the Nets fans who still follow the team closely, but I do not have the mental fortitude to do so. This is a very far cry from the situation just two short years ago, when the Nets were a crucial part of my identity.
I wish that I could quit. Across town, the New York Knicks are on the rise as rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis lights up Madison Square Garden on a nightly basis. If it were easy to switch allegiances, I might consider it. I want to like professional basketball again.
That’s not how sports fandom works. I’m invested in the Nets, and I cannot get out. Right now, being a Nets fan is like owning Enron stock in 2001. There is no escape, and Brooklyn fans are forced to go down with the ship.
Maybe one day, the Barclays Center will be alive again with star players and/or the promise of youth. Today is not that day.