Nets learn that money doesn't buy success
THE US$192 million (S$240 million) experiment came to an end on Wednesday.
After building the most expensive team in National Basketball Association history last summer and proclaiming their intention of winning a championship, the Brooklyn Nets encountered the Miami Heat - the two-time defending champions, the team they were built to topple - and saw their ambition extinguished in five games, going down 4-1.
The final game ended in heartbreaking fashion. The Nets allowed a nine-point lead to slip away in the fourth quarter, and although Joe Johnson had a chance to tie the score in the closing seconds, he was never able to try a shot.
The final buzzer sounded as the ball tumbled out of his hands, sealing the Heat's 96-94 victory in Game 5 of the teams' Eastern Conference semi-final series.
As the Nets sulked off the court, LeBron James leapt onto the scorer's table and thumped his chest to celebrate Miami's fourth straight trip to the Conference Finals.
"We worked hard in the off-season, all season long, and now it's over," said Nets point guard Deron Williams, who contributed 17 points and four assists. "It's definitely tough to swallow right now."
The Nets will descend into a period of uncertainty. The biggest questions will revolve around Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who were acquired last summer in a trade with the Boston Celtics and highlighted the Nets' off-season overhaul.
Garnett has a year left on his contract, but speculation over whether he will retire has simmered all season, and Pierce is a free agent.
The Nets gave Miami credit for their tight defence, but they grumbled quietly that a foul could have been called on any of the final three plays involving Pierce and Johnson.
The Heat credited their win to experience in pressure situations.
"We are just a team who have played together for a while," said Dwyane Wade, who scored 20 points in the first half and finished with 28. "We know where each individual is going to be on the court, and that helps so much."
It was a cogent point, given the hurried manner in which the Nets' roster was pieced together before the season. Along with Garnett and Pierce, the team signed Andrei Kirilenko, Shaun Livingston and others who were given key roles.
For all of that talent, it took months for the players to forge an identity under first-year coach Jason Kidd. The process was roiled when the team lost centre Brook Lopez, the centrepiece of their offence, to a season-ending foot injury.
Still, Williams said he thought the group could "take it to another level".
Kidd seemed to agree, noting: "We just put this team together. Now it's time to keep building and keep the process of going forward and getting better."
In the west, the San Antonio Spurs shrugged off the loss of Tony Parker to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 104-82 and win their Conference semi-final series 4-1.