What If the Nets Drafted Gary Payton?

Gary Payton Nets 1

Every Wednesday, Pick and Popovich will dive down the rabbit hole and explore a different NBA “What if.” The only rule is that the scenario must come from a place that is somewhat realistic and grounded in at least somewhat believable rumor or hearsay. Otherwise, anything goes. 

The rest of the league calls them crazy. How could the Nets possibly pass up a franchise center like Syracuse’s Derrick Coleman? But New Jersey simply fell in love with a person rather than a player. Maybe Gary Payton doesn’t have Coleman’s natural ability, but his tenacity, loyalty and heart make him a far more attractive Net. So with the No. 1 pick in the 1990 NBA Draft, the Nets take Payton leaving Coleman for Seattle at No. 2.

Payton has a stellar rookie year, but the team still lacks talent around him. He plays a big chunk of his minutes next to another short point guard, Mookie Blaylock, as the team doesn’t have a suitable shooting guard, and while the pair plays great defense it is too young to make the Nets competitive. A trade is explored with Portland for their young shooting guard, Drazen Petrovic, but ultimately the Nets decide to save their assets to find a big man to pair with Payton down the line.

Their search doesn’t take particularly long. While the rest of the league fawns of high-flyers Larry Johnson and Kenny Anderson in the 1991 NBA Draft, the Nets key in on Georgetown center Dikembe Mutombo right from the start and waste no time in grabbing him with the No. 4 pick. With Payton and Mutombo in place, the Nets finally feel as though they have the core of a future champion.

Mutombo Georgetown 1

They’re too young to reach those heights in the early 90’s. The NBA belongs to Michael Jordan’s Bulls through 1993, but a window is pushed open when Jordan retires surprisingly before the 1993-94 season. The Nets take advantage. They win 59 games in the regular season and take down the favored crosstown Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals thanks to Mutombo’s lockdown defense on Patrick Ewing. Dikembe is just as effective against Hakeem Olajuwon, and the Nets win arguably the most surprising championship in league history.

They repeat a year later, even with Jordan rejoining the Bulls late in the season. Houston adds Clyde Drexler to prepare for another run to the Finals, but Payton absolutely smothers him when the teams meet in a rematch. The Nets become two-time champions, but never win another title. To many casual fans, they were simply the beneficiaries of Jordan’s absence and their titles deserve something of an asterisk.

But the Payton-Mutombo years reinvigorate New Jersey’s interest in basketball. Fans pack the arena, TV ratings skyrocket, and while some talk surfaces about moving the team to Brooklyn late in Payton’s career fan support is ultimately too strong in New Jersey to make such a move. In fact, many argue that Payton is the greatest player in the history of the New York area, and as the Knicks spend most of the post-Ewing era out of the playoffs the Nets remain and stake their claim as New York’s favorite basketball team.

Fake NBA Trade of the Day 7/3/16: Brook to Houston

Brook Lopez Rockets

Every day, Pick and Popovich will post one fake trade and explain why it makes sense for every team involved to make it. There are no parameters beyond fitting within the salary cap. Sometimes the trades will involve stars, others role players. They are not grounded in actual rumors, they just make sense on paper. 


Nets logo

Brooklyn Nets Receive: 

Corey Brewer

K.J. McDaniels

Houston’s 2018 First Round Pick (Top-5 protected)


Rockets Logo

Houston Rockets Receive:

Brook Lopez



Why Brooklyn would make this trade: They get a worthwhile young project in McDaniels and a valuable first round pick for Brook Lopez, a player they don’t need as they obviously are no longer looking to compete.

Why Houston would make this trade: Not only do they get Brook Lopez without surrendering any major rotation players, but they also shed Brewer’s contract in the process. They could still be active in free agency but they’d at least guarantee themselves Lopez, a decent haul for the offseason on his own.

The Nets Are Proving You Can Tank Without Picks

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 19: Newly hired Brooklyn Nets General Manager Sean Marks answers questions during a press conference before the game between the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks at Barclays Center on February 19, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

There was never a right way for Sean Marks to rebuild the Nets. He took over a team with worse current players than just about anyone else, but without his own draft picks until 2019 traditional rebuilding flew out of the window as well. A lesser GM would’ve made a bunch of high-risk moves trying to win now. And yes, Derrick Rose was available and there are attainable potential stars on the free agent market like Dwight Howard who might have made the Nets a .500 team and improved the optics of trading away their first round picks.

But those picks are a sunk cost, it makes no sense to try to screw over the Celtics and build hype around a team that has no chance to win a championship. So Marks went the other way and tanked, even without his own draft picks in the lottery.

There are benefits to tanking beyond high draft picks, and that’s how Marks is rebuilding his team. Actively trying not to win games usually creates an extraordinarily clean cap sheet. With Thaddeus Young off of the books and Brook Lopez likely to follow the Nets will be devoid of any long-term salary commitments. Forget about using that money in free agency, the real benefit is acting as a facilitator in big trades. Need someone to take on some salary for your blockbuster? Sure, the Nets will do it, but only if a draft pick is attached.

Those picks have real value. The 23rd overall pick Boston just made came from a salary dump by Cleveland two years ago. The Lakers stole the pick that became Larry Nance Jr. from the Rockets as part of the Jeremy Lin traded when Houston thought they were getting Chris Bosh. Picks add up, and a team as desperate as the Nets need as many bites at the apple as possible.

There are also the lineup implications of having a bad team. Normally, a player like Caris LeVert would be drafted in the 20’s and join a playoff team that didn’t really need him. He wouldn’t get minutes, he wouldn’t develop and he would eventually be unfairly labeled a bust. But on a bad team like the Nets he’ll get every opportunity to succeed.

The same goes for every young player on the Nets roster, from first round picks like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to whatever undrafted free agents they bring into camp. They’ll be able to give minutes and opportunities to players other teams simply can’t, a chance to uncover hidden gems available exclusively to them.

Are they going to be superstars? No, but rotation players on cheap contracts are only going to get more valuable as the cap explodes. Golden State found Anthony Morrow and Anthony Tolliver in the same season from the D-league. If the Nets could unearth two similar players they’d suddenly have two very valuable contracts that costed them nothing to obtain.

That’s going to be the path for Brooklyn. Slow gains like Tollivers and Nances. It will involve a lot of losing over the next few years, but it will prepare the Nets for 2019, when they have their own pick back and can take advantage of their bad team for the first time. By then, they’ll have a stockpile of young role players who can support the foundational pieces the Nets look for in the lottery. They’ll be ready to bring in a star youngster because they’ll have spent three years preparing a roster around it.

It’s going to be ugly, and will require a lot of patience. But it’s the only viable way to build a team under such horrible conditions.

Why Dion Waiters Will Sign With the Brooklyn Nets

Waiters Nets 1

This one feels too easy.

No Nets guard had a positive net rating last year. None came close. Their best was Joe Johnson, who finished the year in Miami, at -4.3 points per 100 possessions. Among guards who actually finished the year on the team? none were better than -5.0. The Nets didn’t just have the worst guard play in basketball last season. They arguably just compiled the single worst set of guards in NBA history.

But this free agent class is fairly light on guards, and no self-respecting starter-caliber player like Mike Conley or DeMar DeRozan would willingly play for this flaming tiger orgy of an organization. To find someone the Nets are going to have to overpay. They’re going to have to find someone nobody else would want. And they’re going to have to live with whatever defects that player has.

And boy, does Dion Waiters have defects. It’d be easier to count the things he’s not good at than the reverse. All he really does is take shots. And he misses most of them. But hey, he can dribble a basketball and isn’t afraid to at least try to score. That would’ve made him the third best 2016 Net. And hey, at least he had a decent playoffs. Even if it’s much easier to find space for shots on Kevin Durant’s team than it is on Sergey Karasev’s.

So here’s how this one is going to go down. Not how I think it’s going to happen, not how I predict it will, but how it absolutely, positively will transpire. Waiters is going to spend the early part of free agency declaring to all who will listen that he’s one of the best players on the market and deserves to be treated as such. The Nets will spend the early part of free agency flailing away from the kid’s table trying to get the big fishes’ attention. Neither will succeed. And that’s how these two parties find each other.

It’ll be later in July, maybe even into August. Waiters will ask for a full four-year contract. The Nets will counter with a one-year “prove it” deal. And since the Nets don’t know how to negotiate, they’ll meet at three years, hovering around eight figures, because at least if they sign someone for that kind of money they can bandy him about as if it were a real splash. So get ready Brooklynites, you’re going to see quite a few confusing ads featuring “prized addition Dion Waiters.” And then he’ll shoot six-for-290 on opening night and that’ll be that. But hey, someone agreed to come to Brooklyn! That’s something!

Likely Contract: Three Years, $27 million

What Would Be the Funniest Combined Team Names?


I like funny team names, so I’m gonna make some by combining real team names. The only rule is I can remove the “s” off of teams if I want. Because I’m the writer.

  •  The Magic Bucks

If this isn’t already a euphemism, it should be.

  • The Thunder Nuggets

If McDonalds ever mass produced an energy bar…

  • The Jazz Pelicans

The next Pixar movie: a pelican named Peter, because alliteration, wants nothing more than to play jazz, but can’t, because he’s a pelican, and society or something.

  • The Rocket Kings

This one isn’t even funny. I just like it. It’s like the name of a gang from a crappy dystopian future movie.

  • The Sun Nets

This has to be a hipster thing. Some sort of net that lets you catch the sun or something. I’ll research and get back to you.

Here’s What It Would Look Like If the ABA Teams Kept Their Original Colors

Nets ABA Logo

The picture above is a reimagining of the Brooklyn Nets’ logo based on their ABA colors as the New York Nets. Here’s what it would look like if all four ABA teams to make the jump to the NBA had kept their original team colors:

Spurs ABA Logo2

Red, white and blue were extremely popular ABA colors, and though the Spurs made the switch to black and silver before their ABA term expired, they originally began as the Dallas Chaparrals, who wore patriotic colors.

Pacers ABA Colors

The Pacers were brighter in the ABA, but otherwise maintained a very similar blue and gold color scheme.

Nuggets ABA Logo

If only the Nuggets would’ve kept their old Denver Rockets color-scheme, someone needs to give the Lakers a run for their purple and gold color money.

Here’s a 5-Team Mascot Trade Because Damn it, the Jazz Should be in New Orleans

Kings Colors Wizards

I’ve posted quite a few fake trades on this site, but few as ambitious as this one. Players will be involved, yes, but for the most part, this trade is going to be about mascots. Ready? Here we go:

Utah Franchise Acquires: Jrue Holiday, Rondae-Hollis Jefferson, Wizards 2018 2nd Round Pick.

New Orleans Franchise Acquires: The rights to the name, colors and logos of the “Jazz.”

Brooklyn Franchise Acquires: The rights to the name, colors and logos of the “Kings.”

Sacramento Franchise Acquires: The rights to the name, colors and logos of the “Wizards,” New Orleans’ 2018 top-five protected first round pick.

Washington Franchise Acquires: Thaddeus Young.

So why does this need to happen? Let’s start with Utah and New Orleans. There’s very little actual jazz being played in Utah. There is, however, quite a bit of jazz being played in New Orleans. That’s why the New Orleans franchise was originally called the Jazz before being moved to Utah. The Utah franchise simply never relinquished the name, as it should have. So we’re correcting that error.

In exchange? The Utah franchise gets the point guard they need, a young prospect, and a pick for their troubles. They’d also get to undergo a complete rebrand. That’s always good for ticket and merchandising sales, and the team could rename itself something a bit more relevant to the state of Utah. Maybe the Avalanche, or the Mountaineers? That’s their call.

So why are the Nets involved here? Well, they play in Brooklyn. For you non-New Yorkers, that’s King’s County. In this deal, they’d grab the rights to the King’s name, wait for their miserable pick-less period to end, and then change their own name for the 2018-19 season to give themselves something of a reboot. Besides, the Nets have always been something of a laughingstock. They’ve always needed to change their name in some manner. This is their best case scenario.

Speaking of laughingstocks, the Kings get a rebrand of their own to distance themselves from the disaster the last decade has been. The Wizards name may not exactly be synonymous with success, but it’s not as bathed in sloth manure as the Kings name has been recently. They’d get a first round pick for their troubles, and plus, the new logo with the original Sacramento colors looks great!

And then there’s the Washington franchise. They obviously want to be the Bullets again, that’s why they re-adopted the old Bullets colors. Would it be politically savvy of them to take on that name now? Probably not, but diehard fans prefer it and they get a free starter out of the deal.

So yea, five teams, five new names. It’s not like any of these teams have much of a history to look back fondly on anyway. They all need a kick in the pants. Let’s realign the team names to make a bit more sense.