By Steve Lichtenstein
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Billy King’s timing couldn’t have been better.
The Nets’ general manager happened to schedule his season-in-review press conference on the same day that Isiah Thomas, newly appointed as president of the WNBA’s New York Liberty, made the media rounds, including on WFAN, to maladroitly defend his on- and off-the-court record while running the Knicks into the ground from 2003-08.
One of these basketball executives sounded delusional and maybe even a little schizophrenic.
And the other was Isiah Thomas.
According to the media reports, in about a 10-minute span King went from how he could have traded “multiple large contracts” (meaning Brooklyn’s Max Three of Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams) this past deadline and that he wouldn’t rule out dumping them over the summer — to preaching continuity.
King said, “We can’t keep turning the roster over every year thinking we’re going to find it outside.”
Gee, I wonder who was responsible for doing that?
When the Nets arrived in Brooklyn three years ago, they were awash in resources. Draft picks, salary cap space (and an owner willing to go well above and beyond the cap), and a new building to show off.
King spent like a Beverly Hills housewife, running up the Nets payroll (when you include luxury tax payments) to levels never seen in league history. He surrendered first-round draft picks in trades as if he had an endless supply, never even bothering to protect any of them in the “off chance” the Nets landed in the lottery.
All for one playoff series victory in three seasons.
And the 38-44 Nets had to hold their breath until Memphis knocked off Indiana on the final night of the regular season just to even make this postseason, where they fell in six games to top-seeded Atlanta.
It could have been worse — a failure to make the 2015 playoffs would have gift-wrapped a lottery pick to Atlanta in the June draft, thanks to King’s failure to protect the first-rounder he agreed to swap with the Hawks in the summer 2012 acquisition of Johnson.
As it stands, the Nets do not own their own first-round pick until 2019. Yes, 2019. The NBA’s “Ted Stepien Rule” will hereby be renamed “The Billy King Rule.”
Without assets and restricted from certain methods of offseason improvement under the league’s luxury tax rules, where did King say he believes the franchise can get better?
With all those young players, of course.
Was King referring to guys like Mason Plumlee and Bojan Bogdanovich? By the end of next season, they will be 26 and 27 years old, respectively. They’re not exactly raw any more.
Maybe King believes his second-rounders from the 2014 draft — Markel Brown and Cory Jefferson — will make figurative leaps to match their impressive verticals.
Plus, the Nets do have the 29th overall pick (from Atlanta) in the first round of this year’s draft as well as a second-rounder (No. 41). King loves to remind people that you can find gold among that pile of rubble every year.
Yes, it happens. Rarely.
There are reasons why those players landed where they did in the draft. In Brown’s case, it’s because he’s a guard who can’t shoot. Opposing teams eventually figured out they could slough off Brown to double the Nets’ more feared weapons, making Brooklyn’s offense even more stagnant.
Maybe Brown will work all summer to build a consistent jump shot. More likely he’ll fall short of what the Nets need at that position by the time next season’s opener tips off. And this is coming from someone who once thought MarShon Brooks had the potential to play like Kobe Bryant.
King’s main focus this summer will be to make sure Lopez and forward Thaddeus Young stay put. Lopez, who has a $16.7 million player option for next season, could command a new long-term deal should he opt for free agency following the contract run of all contract runs over the final third of the season.
Lopez was reportedly packaged and almost fully sealed by King in a proposed exchange with Oklahoma City in February, but the Thunder instead landed Enes Kanter from Utah. That little twist may have saved the Nets’ season, as Lopez averaged 19.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks following the All Star break.
That production coincided with the arrival of Young, who King acquired from Minnesota for the player once known as Kevin Garnett. Young also has an option to play next season in Brooklyn for around $10 million or explore free agency. The guess here is that he waits another year for the expanded cap to go into effect before locking up a multi-year deal.
With Lopez — as well as with Johnson and Williams — who knows? For all of King’s talk about continuity, he moves players around like a fantasy owner. The Nets are the second franchise King has wrecked in as many attempts — he helped cause the 76ers’ downward spiral after a series of onerous contracts and bad trades.
Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov should have canned King long ago, that is if he actually had been paying attention. Now, per Zach Lowe of Grantland.com, King could be in line for a contract extension.
I just threw up.
How will those negotiations go?
“So Billy, why we lose more games than we win?”
“Well, while this wasn’t a successful season in terms of our record, we did get younger.”
“Ok, you have three more years. Where did those models go?”
For once, the Nets have caught up to the Knicks — only not in a good way.
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