By Steve Lichtenstein
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The reality of the Nets’ current predicament couldn’t be more depressing.
Buried near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings with a 12-33 record heading into Tuesday’s affair with the Miami Heat at Barclays Center, the Nets can’t even tank like normal bad teams. Thanks to recently reassigned general manager Billy King’s summer 2013 blockbuster deal with Boston for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Celtics will giddily slide into a prime lottery slot in the 2016 draft.
If that weren’t enough, owner Mikhail Prokhorov might also be facing a perception problem — should he tab Danny Ferry to replace King.
Ferry, who has eight years of GM experience from past gigs in Cleveland and Atlanta, was named as one of four “serious candidates” for the open Brooklyn job in a report by Yahoo.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Monday. Former Phoenix and Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo, Denver assistant GM Arturis Karnisovas, and Houston executive VP of basketball operations Gersson Rosas were the others mentioned in the report.
A case can be made for Ferry on the merits. After failing to surround a young LeBron James with enough talent to get the Cavs over the final hump in his first go-round as a GM, Ferry earned mostly positive grades for his moves during his Hawks tenure.
Ferry took over as Atlanta’s top basketball executive prior to the 2012-13 season and the Hawks began their rise in the East, earning a top seed last postseason. Ferry not only signed cornerstone players such as Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll to cap-friendly deals, he also dove into the Spurs’ pipeline to grab Mike Budenholzer as a coach.
Why is Ferry available now?
He was forced to first take an indefinite leave of absence in September 2014 and was then fired after last season following controversial remarks he made in a conference call regarding then-free agent forward Luol Deng.
An audio recording was leaked to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in which Ferry read another scout’s report on Deng to the Hawks’ ownership group. “He (Deng) has got some African in him,” Ferry said. “And I don’t say that in a bad way…He has a store front out front that’s beautiful and great but he may be selling some counterfeit stuff behind you.”
Ferry might have been cleared of racist motivations by an internal investigation, but I and others who have heard the recording on the Internet still find it hard to believe he did not read the scout’s words in advance to determine that they were inappropriate for such a call.
With the Nets needing every edge they can conjure to lure free agents in the coming summers (hence the lengths the organization has gone to promote the arena, the soon-to-be-opened practice facility, and even the future D-League team), Prokhorov has to weigh any potential consequences that could arise from giving Ferry another chance.
And that’s before we even get to the perception problem with the remaining fan base from vaulting Ferry, King’s teammate and good friend from their days at Duke University, to the top of Prokhorov’s list.
At his Jan. 11 press conference to announce coach Lionel Hollins’ firing and King’s reassignment, Prokhorov denied a prior Wojnarowski report that King would be advising him in his search for a replacement GM.
“He (King) can send me any of his ideas as a friend,” Prokhorov said. “But for the time being it’s not his job.”
It may not be fair, since Ferry’s record is far superior to the wreckage King left behind in his wake following his Philadelphia and Brooklyn tours, but fans will wonder how much influence King still holds over a mostly no-show owner if Ferry is named King’s successor.
They’re already concerned that another King loyalist, assistant general manager Frank Zanin, has been temporarily placed in charge of basketball operations while the days to the Feb. 18 trade deadline tick away.
For all of King’s blunders related to roster maneuverings, few around the Nets disavow his skills as a politician, likely the prime reason he was allowed to stay in office for more than five years with just one playoff series victory on his tote board.
If Prokhorov wants to get the fan base excited about a turnaround, he has to get the King stink completely out of the building. Move off of Ferry and get on with the due diligence on the other candidates.
Wojnarowski’ s report suggested that Karnisovas and Rosas have intriguing resumes.
Karnisovas would bring international expertise, which is important to an organization that won’t have its own first-round draft choice until 2019. Rosas has spent 13 years in Houston, where he not only apprenticed under progressive GM Daryl Morey but also had a good working relationship with currently unemployed coach Tom Thibodeau, according to Wojnarowski.
Wojnarowski reported that the Nets are expected to begin the interview process at the beginning of February. In that process, they must look first towards changing the perception of incompetence that surrounds the franchise before they can at least have a chance to improve their reality.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1