By Steve Lichtenstein
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As the royal couple made their way to their seats at Barclays Center during the third quarter of the Nets-Cavs game on Monday night, I couldn’t help myself.READ MORE: Gov. Lamont Lifts Most COVID Capacity Limits In Connecticut, But Maintains Mask Mandate
“Down with King!” I yelled.
My exhortation, however, was in no way expressing any displeasure towards Great Britain’s monarchy, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge—aka William and Kate–who for some reason chose not only to attend the lopsided 110-88 Cavs victory but also sat through a tortuous 10 minutes or so of garbage time.
Nor was I calling on the Nets, who were missing center Brook Lopez (back strain) and forward Joe Johnson (illness), to physically take out LeBron James, the so-called King of NBA courts. James has tortured the Nets throughout his career—especially during last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals series as a member of the Heat. James’ nine points and five assists in the third quarter on Monday was the driving force that turned a one-point game at the half into a blowout.
My one-man protest was also infinitely less significant than the one that occurred outside the arena just prior to game time (and was supported by a half-dozen players sporting “I CAN’T BREATHE” T-shirts during pre-game warmups) to continue to raise awareness following the July 17 death of Eric Garner at the hands of a New York City police officer.
Still. I saw an opportunity and I took it. Amidst all these outside forces, there was a basketball game being played. And, considering the Nets’ blunderings at present and the bleakness of their future, well, there’s only so much bad basketball I could take.
So I stood up and shouted. I said it’s time to end the reign of Billy King.
The Nets general manager is ultimately responsible for the franchise’s predicament. Brooklyn, with a record of 8-11, stands in eighth place in the conference only because of its putridity.
Last week I wrote about how the Knicks, despite setting team marks for awfulness almost daily, are in far better shape than their cross-river rivals.
That’s because King has pretty much stripped what once was a Land of Plenty almost bare.
King had every advantage to build a solid foundation when the Nets bolted New Jersey for Brooklyn three summers ago. Salary cap space, draft picks, an owner willing to spend whatever it took to win, the Jay Z-inspired Brooklyn hype, I mean cachet–you name it. Now that they were out of suburbia, the Nets were supposed to be a team to be reckoned with for the first time since Jason Kidd led them to consecutive NBA Finals appearances more than a decade ago.
So what does King have to show for it?
A core of aging and/or brittle pieces, a supporting cast that lacks both athleticism and interior toughness, an inflexible payroll because it is luxury-tax impaled, and no draft picks of their own until 2019. All for one playoff series victory in the last two seasons and a high probability of another early exit this spring (if they can indeed hold on to that final slot).
King’s tenure has been a composite of old Saturday Night Live bits:
Remember Bad Idea Jeans? “Let’s trade a first round pick for Gerald Wallace!” Bad idea. “And let’s only lottery protect the first three picks, because there’ll be no one good left after that.” Bad idea.
Here are some of the players taken after pick number three in 2012: Dion Waiters, Damian Lillard (snared by Portland with the Nets’ pick), Harrison Barnes, Terrence Ross, Andre Drummond, Jared Sullivan, Perry Jones, and Draymond Green. None of these guys could help the Nets right now, right?
Or who remembers Tom Hanks’ Mr. Short-Term Memory?
First, King accumulates all these aging veteran players–Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko–because he’s constructing a roster for the Nets to win NOW. Short window—got it?
Then for a coach King plucks Kidd directly off the court, saying he’s OK if Kidd needs time to learn on the job. Wait, what just happened to needing to win now?
And then this past offseason, King–who dealt three first-round draft picks to acquire Garnett and Pierce from Boston only a year earlier–didn’t deign to offer Pierce a free agent contract. Pierce instead waltzed to Washington, where he may be the missing piece the Wizards were looking for to make a leap into the East’s elite.READ MORE: 'Isolation Kills, Too': New Jersey Families Beg Governor To Loosen Long-Term Care Facility Visitation Restrictions
King’s reasoning for letting go of Pierce? To get younger.
It’s enough to make Nets fans want to bang their heads against a wall.
And who are these young players anyway?
The Nets have two rotation players–Bojan Bogdanovich and Mason Plumlee- age 25 or younger.
At times, the 6-foot-8 Bogdanovich has shown a high basketball IQ, some scoring ability, and attentive defense in spite of his athletic limitations for his position. Lately, he has more resembled Mr. Freeze from the Dude Perfect “Stereotypes: Pickup Basketball” video, as other teams have noticed that he is susceptible to turnovers on sideline traps.
And don’t get me started on Plumlee. This guy goes from underrated to overrated and back depending on the moon position. He’s not a bust for a 22nd overall draft pick, but let’s stop with the notion that he can develop into Dwight Howard just because he can run and jump.
The only thing he has in common with the Rockets center is atrocious free throw shooting, which Nets’ opponents have been exploiting almost every time Plumlee gets the ball near the rim.
There’s very little Plumlee can do if he receives the ball any further out, no matter how much training he underwent over the summer for the U.S. Men’s National Team at the FIBA World Cup.
I always give Plumlee credit for working his tail off and there’s never a doubt whether he is giving you full effort in games, but this just might be Plumlee’s ceiling.
I’ll acknowledge that King has had some bad fortune along the way. Point guard Deron Williams, obtained from Utah in February 2011 for the equivalent of three other first round picks (if you include Derrick Favors, the Nets top selection in the 2010 draft) and subsequently re-signed to a five-year $99 million contract to become the face of the franchise, suffered from chronic ankle woes the last two seasons and bore the brunt of the team’s failures.
Lopez, a second building block, has been crippled by multiple right foot fractures. After earning his first All Star berth in 2012, Lopez, has played in just 33 of the Nets last 101 games.
Only the ultra-clutch Johnson has come close to earning his keep. And I say close because Johnson is the third-highest paid player in the League, with another year to go after this one. Only King was not dissuaded by the size and length of Johnson’s contract when Atlanta made him available in the summer of 2012.
King will still be paying in the 2015 draft as the Hawks have the right to swap picks with Brooklyn, even if the Nets sink into the lottery. Again, you have to admire how King really thinks everything through.
The Nets will be the second organization that King has buried. Let’s not forget he did the same thing in Philadelphia, where he doled out ridiculous sums to marginal players. Just to name a few recipients of King’s largesse: Aaron McKie, Eric Snow and Samuel Dalembert.
Yes, Knicks fans—that Dalembert. The guy you know as the worst rotation player in the league once signed a six-year, $63 million deal to play for King in Philly.
I keep going back to the Mike Francesa rant in late October on the Jets’ management debacle. Just substitute King for John Idzik: If the Nets keep letting King pick the players, the Nets will continue to stumble.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov does not come across as a patient man. I’m hoping he heard my plea from his castle in Russia and will soon end King’s reign of error.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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