The Most Thankless Job In Sports? Next Brooklyn Nets GM

Jun 26, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; A general view of the arena exterior before the 2014 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 26, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; A general view of the arena exterior before the 2014 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

Imagine coming in as an NBA team’s new general manager with a bad team in the present and almost no future assets for the next four years. Welcome to the Brooklyn Nets.

Help wanted: General manager for NBA team. Must be willing to lose now and lose later. Will take over team that is bad now and will likely not have a first-round pick in the lottery for at a minimum of four more years. Great location in America’s largest city with the world’s most impatient fans and most incessantly negative media. Send inquiries to Barclays Center, Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn Nets are searching for a new general manager after Billy King was reassigned within the organization on Sunday, the same day coach Lionel Hollins was fired.

This is the same Billy King that managed to out-Ted Stepien the NBA’s Stepien Rule that forbids teams from trading away first-round picks in consecutive years.

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In a desperate attempt to build a winner for Russian oil oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov’s NBA franchise, King made a series of moves designed to make the Nets—who moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn in the summer of 2012—contenders as soon as possible after the move.

It started at the trade deadline in February 2011, when King dealt former All-Star point guard Devin Harris, that year’s No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors and first-round picks in 2011 and 2013 to get Deron Williams from the Utah Jazz.

Williams was one of the elite point guards in the NBA for the Jazz from 2008-10, but was intent on forcing his way out of Salt Lake City to the point he is widely believed responsible for the resignation of longtime Jazz coach Jerry Sloan just two weeks before the trade.

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But King’s elite point guard turned into a pretty good one somewhere in transit between Salt Lake and Newark. And after the move to Brooklyn, Williams transitioned into a basically adequate point guard.

Neither Derrick Favors (15) nor Deron Williams (8) now wears a Nets uniform. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Neither Derrick Favors (15) nor Deron Williams (8) now wears a Nets uniform. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

All that cost was first-round picks in 2011 (Favors), 2013 and 2015.

After the move to Brooklyn was done, King was back on the phones again looking for another star.

This time it was Atlanta Hawks’ All-Star guard Joe Johnson.

Johnson was acquired in exchange for a collection of broken toys including Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, DeShawn Stevenson and Jordan Williams, plus first-round picks in 2013 and 2017.

Oh, and by the way, the Hawks also had the right to swap picks with Brooklyn in 2014 and 2015.

So in order to pair isolation-heavy Johnson with fading Williams in a purportedly All-Star caliber backcourt, King had stripped the Nets of their first-round pick from 2011, two first-rounders in 2013, a first-rounder in 2017 and the potential to have to swap picks if they finished behind Atlanta in 2014 and/or 2015.

Joe Johnson in an iso? Noooooo. That never happens. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Johnson in an iso? Noooooo. That never happens. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

The Johnson-Williams pairing, along with Brook Lopez and the rebounding of Reggie Evans was enough to get the Nets into the playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference in 2013, even with the Christmas firing of coach Avery Johnson in favor of interim P.J. Carlesimo.

Brooklyn lost Game 7 of the first round at home to the battered and bruised Chicago Bulls and King went back to work again.

First he replaced Carlesimo with Jason Kidd, whose sneakers were still sweaty from playing his last game with the New York Knicks.

And then came the deal to end all deals, the one that was going to bring a championship to the Nets for the first time since they joined the NBA from the folding ABA in 1976.

For the super-low price of Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, Gerald Wallace, first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 and the option to swap picks in the first round of the 2017 draft, the Nets acquired Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White from the Boston Celtics.

Jul 18, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; From left Paul Pierce , owner Mikhail Prokhorov , Kevin Garnett , and Jason Terry during a press conference to introduce the newest members of the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
This …. didn’t end well. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s easy to look back now and see how foolish that trade was. But even at the time, it seemed like a high-risk, no-reward proposition.

Put another way, Boston GM Danny Ainge could have gone to prison for that kind of theft had it occurred in a different context.

Garnett was 37 and almost a decade removed from his MVP season of 2003-04. Pierce would be 36 before the season tipped off and more than five years had passed since his Finals MVP run in 2008. Terry turned 36 before the start of the campaign after seeing his per-36 numbers plummet precipitously in each of the previous two seasons.

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White, meanwhile, was a late-first round pick by the Detroit Pistons in 2008 who never suited up for the Nets and is now playing in Italy.

Five players and three first-round picks to get three guys with a combined age of 109 and a player that appeared in all of two NBA games after the deal.

Yet, oddly enough, it went badly for Brooklyn.

Brook Lopez broke his foot—again—in December and missed the rest of the season. Kidd, shockingly, struggled to lead a team full of guys almost his own age.

But he did bring us this new page in the book of coaching strategy:

Brooklyn rode a hot finish to a 44-win season, advancing to the second round thanks to a Pierce series-clincher in Toronto before being steamrolled by the Miami Heat in five games.

There were reports in the spring of 2014 that Kidd attempted a palace coup in Brooklyn, looking to usurp King as the primary decision-maker with the franchise.

That ended up with Kidd being “traded” to the Milwaukee Bucks for a pair of future second-round picks and the Nets bringing in Hollins—their fourth coach in three seasons.

Pierce left to sign with the Washington Wizards. Terry had been traded at the deadline in February 2014 to the Sacramento Kings. Garnett would be moved in a deadline deal in February 2015 for a heart-warming return to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

And the Nets?

There was King, standing amid the smoking rubble of the franchise, attempting to put out a five-alarm fire with a squirt gun.

Williams was bought out last summer and signed with the Dallas Mavericks. Johnson is finally in the last season of his gargantuan six-year, nearly $124 million contract.

And there is almost no hope of help coming in the form of a premium draft pick, because the franchise is all but devoid of trade assets that could net one.

Jarrett Jack might have been able to get some sort of draft compensation, but he’s now out for the year with a torn ACL—making the possibility of moving him to a contender looking for point guard depth a non-starter.

Lopez, with his injury history, would not net premium picks in a deal and neither would power forward Thaddeus Young—who is, if nothing else, exemplifies professionalism as he soldiers on in a hopeless situation.

So essentially whoever the Nets bring in as the next general manager will be stepping into a situation with a bad present and no legitimate chance of a future for roughly four years.

My advice for whoever ends up taking on what is much more daunting than your regular fixer-upper?

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If the contract doesn’t start at eight years, run away … fast.