Following a 94-86 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Brooklyn Nets are now a miserable 0-7. The team’s centerpiece, Brook Lopez, left the game with a sore right foot. Let’s turn to friends of Pro Hoops History, Devin Kharpertian and Tim Bontemps, for insight on how this confluence of events is like a hurricane merging with a sharknado:
So, Brook Lopez has a sore foot – a sore foot that’s been operated on before. The Nets are winless. The Boston Celtics own all of the Nets’ first round draft picks for eternity. This nest of trouble was made when Billy King forked over first round picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018 for the decaying basketball skills of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Furthermore, the Celtics have the option to swap picks in 2017. You can best believe that’s happening.
Amazingly, this situation is not without precedent in Nets history. A team with their star player brutalized by foot injury and hapless on the court with no picks to ease the pain and bring about a sliver of hope.
Tiny Trade of Doom
So, let’s quickly set the scene here for one trade that was probably unavoidable and another that looked good at the time, but turned out horrible.
The year is 1976. The New York Nets have won two of the previous three ABA championships, they have three-time reigning MVP Julius Erving, and they’ve just been accepted into the NBA. Awesome!
As condition of joining the NBA, the Nets had to pay a $3.2 million fee. Annoying, but the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets, and Indiana Pacers had the same financial toll placed upon them. But then the New York Nets were slapped with an additional fee of $4.8 million for infringing upon the territory of the New York Knicks. Complicating matters further, Julius Erving wasn’t entirely happy with his Nets salary. Uh oh.
That fall of 1976, the Nets gambled and traded Jim Eakins, Brian Taylor, a 1977 1st round draft pick, and a 1978 first round draft pick to the Kansas City Kings for Tiny Archibald. A core of Archibald and Erving would guarantee contention for years, but y’all ain’t ever heard of Tiny and Doc drubbing the late 1970s NBA together, so you know something went awry.
The first shoe to drop came in late October 1976. The day before the 1976-77 season opened the Nets – strained by the Erving salary demands and the entry fees – sold the Doctor to Philadelphia. They got no players back, no draft picks either. They received a handsome $3 million check from Philly and hoped Tiny Archibald could lead the team to respectability.
Through 33 games that season, the Nets were a mediocre 12-21. Meeting up against the Philadelphia 76ers and Dr. J on January 2, 1977, the Nets again lost: 139 to 110. What made the contest all the more crushing was Tiny Archibald broke his foot that game. He would miss the remainder of the season and never played again for the Nets.
So, About Those Draft Picks
New York finished 10-38 for the remainder of the 1977 season for a final record of 22-60. It was easily the worst record in the NBA – next closest team were the Milwaukee Bucks with a 30-52 record.
Back in the pre-lottery NBA draft, the worst East team (Nets) and the worst West team (Bucks) would flip a coin to determine who got the #1 overall pick. This meant the Nets would have no worse than the second overall pick in the 1977 draft.
And the 1977 draft was STACKED. Jack Sikma, Marques Johnson, Cedric Maxwell, Walter Davis, Bernard King, Tree Rollins, James Edwards, Brad Davis, Greg Ballard, Otis Birdsong, Robert Reid, Norm Nixon, Rickey Green, Eddie Johnson, TR Dunn, and Ray Williams were all selected that year. All of them above-average rotation players or All-Stars.
But remember, the Nets didn’t own their own draft pick that year. Kansas City did. The Bucks won the coin flip and got the #1 overall pick taking… Kent Benson?! The Kings with the #2 pick selected shooting guard Otis Birdsong who would play in four All-Star Games and make the 1981 All-NBA 2nd Team.
For the 1977-78 season, the Nets again finished with the worst record in the NBA: 24 wins and 58 losses. And again the Kansas City Kings got the #2 overall pick thanks to the Nets’ bungling. This time KC took point guard Phil Ford who took home Rookie of the Year honors in 1979. Ford and Birdsong wound up as the backcourt cornerstone of the Kings team that made the 1981 Western Conference Finals.
Clearly the Nets woulda liked a do-over on that Archibald trade. What they did do is salvage something from Tiny. They traded him to the Buffalo Braves in the fall of ’77 for a pretty nice haul of shot-blocking extraordinaire George Johnson, a 1978 1st round pick (that they stupidly traded for a washed up Phil Jackson), and a 1979 1st rounder that they used to pick Cliff Robinson.
They continued their surprising bounce back given the circumstances. Midway through the 1976-77 season, they traded scoring machine John Williamson to the Indiana Pacers for a 1977 1st round pick. With the #7 pick of the ’77 draft, the Nets scored big time with Bernard King who averaged a silly 24 points and 10 rebounds per game his rookie year.
Despite King’s play, the Nets would trade him in 1979 and not fully return to respectability until the 1981-82 season behind Buck Williams and two 1977 draft picks they wound up eventually trading for… Ray Williams and Otis Birdsong.
But that was 1982. The Nets had been bungling around since 1976 due to massive financial burdens and unfortunate injuries. The Archibald and Erving trades handicapped them, fueled a Kansas City Kings resurgence, and took them a half-decade to recover.
And as bad as that situation was this current situation is worse. The Archibald trade is defensible, but turned out horrible. The Garnett-Pierce trade was unbelievably bad when it happened and has only continued to get worse with time. Because of it the Nets have no reasonable expectation for even the commencement of serious rebuilding until 2018 or 2019 while the Celtics will be fueled – like KC of yesteryear – by Nets losing.
Nothing but a struggle face can sum up this matter: