It’s been almost six years since it happened. Time flies, folks. I don’t think I need to explain what the most famous trade of the decade consisted of, but just to refresh your mind here are the assets that moved from Brooklyn to Boston and the other way around on July 12, 2013:
The Nets Acquired:
- Kevin Garnett
- Paul Pierce
- Jason Terry
- DJ White
- 2017 1st Round Draft Pick (used to trade for D’Angelo Russell)
- 2017 2nd Round Draft Pick (to be Aleksandar Vezenkov)
The Celtics Acquired:
- Keith Bogans
- MarShon Brooks
- Kris Humphries
- Kris Joseph
- Gerald Wallace
- 2014 1st Round Draft Pick (to be James Young)
- 2016 1st Round Draft Pick (to be Jaylen Brown)
- 2017 1st Round Draft Pick (to be Jayson Tatum)
- 2018 1st Round Draft Pick (used to trade for Kyrie Irving)
Essentially, we can say that Brooklyn and Boston made a three-player deal in which the Nets landed the trio of Garnett, Pierce, and Terry while the Celtics picked up Brown, Tatum, and Irving.
I’m not saying that is what originally happened. That is not what was written on the official papers. It wasn’t even on Boston nor Brooklyn’s FO minds at the time (just for reference, Irving had finished his sophomore season in the summer of 2013 and there wasn’t a single person out there thinking he would ever leave Cleveland).
But in any case, that is what the trade ultimately amounted to. And here are the season-by-season results by both Brooklyn and Boston following the transaction. Each line includes the winning percentage of each team and the point they reached in the post-season if they made it:
- 2013-14 / Nets .537 (Conf. 2nd Rd) / Celtics .305 (No playoffs)
- 2014-15 / Nets .463 (Conf. 1st Rd) / Celtics .488 (Conf. 1st Rd)
- 2015-16 / Nets .256 (No playoffs) / Celtics .585 (Conf. 1st Rd)
- 2016-17 / Nets .244 (No playoffs) / Celtics .646 (Conf. Finals)
- 2017-18 / Nets .341 (No playoffs) / Celtics .671 (Conf. Finals)
- 2018-19 / Nets .512 (Conf. 1st Rd) / Celtics .598 (Conf. 2nd Rd)
In nothing close to a surprise, the trends that both franchises followed were those we all expected them to. While Brooklyn traded for a shot at instant glory, Boston did it for a brighter future.
The Nets made the playoffs two years in a row but were shown the exit in the 2nd and 1st rounds of the Eastern Conference side of the bracket before crashing as hard as they could in 2016. Boston, on the other hand, had a rough 2014 season but was back on the playoffs in 2015 and maintained their run up to the current postseason.
A quick look at the trade assets that were exchanged would undoubtedly lead one to think that, obviously, Boston won the trade and Brooklyn depleted the franchise of valuable pieces for an extended timespan down the road.
But after the Celtics collapse against the Bucks, losing the 2nd round series by a hurting 4-1 total outcome, did they actually won the trade? With what the franchise has ahead, are they in a more comfortable position than Brooklyn is at?
What happened after the trade?
The Nets had to navigate a rough path after dealing away most of their draft picks in 2013. That meant that Brooklyn’s only first-rounder between the trade and the Jarrett Allen pick in 2017 was Chris McCullough. Tough to win like that.
Brooklyn free agent signings weren’t mindblowing during the time, either. It wasn’t until that 2017 draft that the Nets landed a stud in Allen and then traded for D’Angelo Russell throwing a dart almost blindfolded, and rolling the dice on someone who seemed to have everything going against him after flopping in Los Angeles.
In the same frame, Boston made a deal vastly focused on its future. They threw their key players to date away and banked on draft assets more than anything, expecting a Nets’ drop in production sooner rather than later. They were right.
To trade for assets that in time and thanks to good managing become good players is good. To trade for assets that ultimately turned into Brown, Tatum, and Irving is just masterful. The problem with having such players, though, are high expectations that to a certain point should (or even maybe must) be fulfilled, which Boston hasn’t.
The Celtics have not missed the postseason in the past five seasons yet they have never made the Finals. Although three of those five years may be left out due to the key pieces of the team not being yet in place, the last two seasons paint an ugly picture.
Irving hasn’t been able to carry the weight. Hayward was added to the roster yet he never truly engaged due to injuries or chemistry issues. Brown and Tatum keep improving but after a good first run last year this season has seen them both drop their outcomes a notch. Milwaukee was just too much, as Cleveland was in years past.
Where do both teams stand now?
If we reassess the outcome of the infamous deal between the Nets and the Celtics at this exact point in time, with both franchises already out of contention and another offseason ahead, the optics change a bit.
The Nets enter the summer with nothing to lose. The only piece of the current roster on a somewhat “unstable” position is Russell, who is a restricted free agent. Even in the worst of cases, Brooklyn could always match the offer sheet of any team and retain him. Not that bad.
Barring that, Brooklyn is in position of landing a top-tier free agent, be it Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, or any of the other coveted names to make it to free agency this summer. That player could also be Kyrie Irving, by the way.
And that is what leads us to Boston’s situation, which is a complete mess right now and could turn out in any possible way you can think of. Most of them, mind you, don’t look any good for the Celtics.
As I already said, Kyrie could very well be on his way out of Boston. I’d bet on that myself. I don’t see a scenario in which he remains with the Celtics past July. Worst of all and in a beautiful turn of events, he could even end in Brooklyn. Cold world.
Keep going down the C’s roster and more problems are to be found. Al Horford could opt out of his contract and leave Boston this summer. Terry Rozier, another young player with upside, could also bolt away.
Maybe the most important thing concerning the Brooklyn-Boston connection thanks to the trade, is what happens with Brown and Tatum. If Boston loses Irving, they would be the key pieces the team is left with and they will need to play out of their minds to make it through the playoffs in future seasons. If Irving stays, it is probable that they are traded away for Anthony Davis. That would make Boston the clear winner over Brooklyn, but Davis is nothing close to a lock to re-sign with Boston per his own words.
What if Irving leaves and Boston goes playing dices again trading Brown and Tatum for Davis anyway (same as Toronto did with Kawhi), and ultimately he leaves in 2020? They wouldn’t be in a much better position than Brooklyn in 2015.
And this is why we should reconsider this transaction and put it in perspective. Boston has gotten deeper in the playoffs but won nothing. Brooklyn, on the other hand, has suffered and gone through terrible years but is now at a much more stable position and can only do good this summer.
The Celtics future and the assets they acquired from the Nets could all be gone in no time now. Brooklyn traded for its then-present, trashed its future, and is now at a point where all that has flipped and what was a doomed future has turned into a better-shaped present than that of Boston.
Even if not at the Celtics’ level yet, these Nets have much more things going their way than Boston, which makes me think that even if they didn’t know at the time, they probably played the right cards on those days of July 2013.