NEW YORK — Perplexed people around the NBA had been asking the same question for a long time now.
As of Sunday, after 5 1/2 seasons filled with one franchise-crippling transaction after another, he isn’t.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov finally came to his senses, officially announcing in a statement that King would no longer serve as GM — much to the delight of the team’s downtrodden fanbase.
During King’s tenure with the Nets, the team traded 11 first-round picks (including Derrick Favors and swaps, but hey, at least they’d be able to buy second-rounders … ), made four head-coaching changes (Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins) and spent $123.43 million in luxury taxes (including a league-record $90.57 million in 2013-14) in an effort to win now.
But influentially empowered by Russian ownership’s thirst for championship rings and big splashes, King’s blockbuster trades that yielded Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Joe Johnson,Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce mostly proved futile, and the Nets wound up winning just one playoff series over that span.
They don’t have total control over their own first-round pick until 2019 — five-year title plan be damned.
Over the years, King has been able to survive as long as he has — much to the dismay of some executives around the league — due to his ability to spin ugly situations positively and placate his bosses. He has said he’d like to give politics a try one day, and he certainly sounds like a politician — perhaps, potentially, a really, really good one, too.
But his time in the GM chair had finally run its course.
The Nets have a 10-27 record. Their future looks bleak.
And it felt like they never had a plan under him. They still don’t.
There was no way out this time.
Clearly, in making this move midseason, the Nets didn’t want King to try any job-saving maneuvers — especially since they don’t have an immediate replacement. But somehow, seemingly the result of his close relationship with Prokhorov’s No. 2, Dmitry Razumov, King, whose contract expires after the season, has been reassigned within the organization. And sources confirmed that he will aide in the team’s search for his replacement. Seriously.
King’s failures as an executive, of course, date back to his time in Philadelphia. In an attempt to surround superstar Allen Iverson with the right pieces, he overpaid for players such as Samuel Dalembert and Aaron McKie, took on Chris Webber‘s massive deal and quickly went through coaches such as Randy Ayres, Chris Ford and Jim O’Brien. He was fired midseason there, too.
And history wound up repeating itself in Brooklyn, where King put too much faith in Williams, executed what may go down as one of the worst trades in league history for Garnett and Pierce and won a power struggle with Kidd before striking fast to hire Hollins for four years and $20 million (fourth-year team option) — a move the Russians clearly regret and became the GM’s final undoing.
“Before he was hired in Brooklyn, Billy had a reputation of firing coaches, overpaying free agents and making false promises with blockbuster trades that left the organization in shambles,” one NBA executive told ESPN.com. “And with a billionaire owner and a limitless war chest, Billy 2.0 with the Nets was that game plan on steroids.”
At what felt like the height of his power, King was meeting regularly in his office with his “assistant to the assistant GM” Williams, as infamously chronicled by Grantland. King and Williams, who was acquired from Utah for Favors and two first-round picks after the Nets struck out on Carmelo Anthony, were discussing how they could turn the Nets into an instant contender before the 2012 move from New Jersey to Brooklyn.
Remember this gem of an exchange:
“This is my lunch spot,” Williams announces.
“I’ve got to get him an office, get him a phone, get him an assistant,” King says.
“I’ve been waiting for my sign,” Williams says with a laugh.
“That is my work station,” Williams motions to the couch (in King’s office). “That’s the most comfortable couch. You should try laying down. I work from a laying-down position because the blood flows to the brain and you can think better. They did a study. You think better laying down. It’s true. Try it.”
“That’s why a lot of times you need to take Xanax to help you sleep,” King says. “Lay down and the mind keeps going. Or drink some scotch. Then it helps you.”
King’s desire to keep Williams in a Nets uniform led to the following:
â€¢ The panic trade for Gerald Wallace, which cost the top-three protected first-rounder that became Damian Lillard. King, who apparently wasn’t enthralled with too many prospects in that 2012 draft, then gave Wallace a four-year, $40 million contract. He had to add a first-round pick to the Boston trade just to get rid of “Crash’s” remaining salary. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey once referred to Portland’s move as the best one in a decade.
â€¢ Re-signing Williams to a five-year, $98 million max deal in 2012 to become the face of the franchise. This obviously backfired, as Williams was beset by injuries and inconsistency, and soon realized he could not handle New York. The Nets paid him $27.5 million to go away, and he’s much happier now in Dallas.
â€¢ Adding Johnson and the remaining four years and $89 million left on his Atlanta deal in exchange for a first and the right to swap two other firsts in order to form “Brooklyn’s Backcourt” in 2012. Johnson gave it his all and had some big moments in clutch situations, but the Nets believed he’d stay productive throughout the duration of his deal, and, due to Father Time, he hasn’t.
â€¢ Signing Kris Humphries to a huge two-year, $24 million contract in 2012 with the idea that he could be included in a blockbuster for Dwight Howard, which never happened following a long-failed pursuit.
â€¢ Surrendering Brooklyn’s unprotected firsts in 2014, 2016 and 2018 (along with the right to swap firsts in 2017) in a 2013 trade for Garnett and Pierce, who certainly had their moments after getting in tune both physically and mentally, in what is now viewed inside the organization as a massive mistake.
It appeared that the Nets seemingly had leverage in all of those scenarios: Who was going to pay Wallace that much money? Why basically put Williams on a pedestal and make him bigger than the organization? Why give up that much for Johnson? Weren’t the Celtics days away from having to possibly buy out Pierce, one of the greatest players in franchise history? Wasn’t Garnett contemplating retirement? Didn’t Brooklyn have to fully guarantee the second year of KG’s contract just to get him to agree to waive his no-trade clause? And then why blow it up a year later?
Only it was never about seeing the big picture, it was just about getting things done regardless of the potential long-term ramifications and moving on.
And the Nets paid for it. Williams, who used to be in the draft room while big decisions were being made, was bought out and blamed — mostly fairly but perhaps a bit too much — for everything that had gone wrong.
Kidd, who wasn’t King’s hire, got off to a bad start, and the GM wanted to get rid of him. But the first-year coach eventually turned the entire season around in order to save himself (King denies that he ever wanted to fire Kidd). Kidd wound up leaving for Milwaukee — and Brooklyn elected not to re-sign its heart and soul, Pierce, in free agency. Once it got personal between Kidd and King, the GM decided to blow it up and not bring back Pierce (also a client of Kidd’s agent, Jeff Schwartz) after only one year, despite going all-in on that trade with Boston. Then King brought in Hollins, who compiled a 48-71 record before being let go.
Firing coaches always seemed to be his way of avoiding blame. Accountability and King didn’t mix all that often.
At the very least, King did lock up Brook Lopez, a player he tried to acquire for years — remember those Anthony, Howard and Reggie Jackson rumors? — and Thaddeus Young, who he got in a nice trade for Garnett, on long-term deals. He also acquiredBojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough in the draft, and turned Mason Plumlee intoRondae Hollis-Jefferson. He did always trust his scouts.
But his missteps — and there were many of them — proved too much to overcome. The Nets must now find someone who can dig themselves out of this mess.
At a season-ticket holder event in March 2015, King was asked what his greatest success was with the Nets.
“Coming to Brooklyn,” he replied, according to multiple people in attendance.
That seems to sum up the King era nicely.