The Risk-Filled Tenure Of Billy King
The Brooklyn Nets unveiled a new logo and identity on April 30th at a Modell’s sporting goods store across the street from the Barclays Center. Brook Lopez was the only player representative in attendance on that day to commemorate a new chapter in franchise history.
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz was also on hand and jokingly told Nets general manager Billy King to make sure he brought the best NBA talent to Brooklyn for Avery Johnson to mold into winners.
Fast-forward to July 13th and the conversation between King and Markowitz was vastly different as both smiled on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall.
King and Markowitz welcomed the return of Deron Williams as the face of the franchise, as well as another All-Star in Joe Johnson who arrived via trade from the Atlanta Hawks.
As King began the press conference with opening remarks, he had a wide grin for the media before making an audacious claim.
This is nothing new for King. For all of the doubts that have been cast on his vision, King's tenure as general manager of the Nets has unequivocally been filled with a series of bold moves.
On Februrary 23, 2011, King traded Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, two first-round picks, and cash to the Utah Jazz for Williams.
It appeared King paid a premium price for Williams, who had just recently experienced a dispute with Jerry Sloan that led to his resignation after 23 seasons as head coach of the Jazz.
Upon making the deal, King had no commitment Williams would re-sign when his contract expired.
Harris was two years removed from an All-Star selection, Favors had arguably the most potential of the 2010 NBA Draft class, and the two first-round picks held great value because the Nets had little remaining talent on the roster besides Williams.
One of the two first-round picks became the third overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Enes Kanter. During his rookie season Kanter played sparingly behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap and the jury is out on his NBA future.
The second of the two first-round picks in the Williams' trade has yet to materialize. That’s because there was a lottery stipulation (Top-7 in 2012 and 2013 protection) in a previous deal between the Nets and the Golden State Warriors involving Marcus Williams.
In retrospect, King won the Williams' trade in a landslide.
Williams re-signed and is one of the top point guards in the NBA.
“We’re obviously thrilled that Deron will lead the Nets into our new home in Brooklyn,” said King. “Deron is, in my opinion, the top point guard in the NBA. With his leadership and guidance on and off the court, the fans of Brooklyn should be proud.”
Williams has already taken to his role as the face of the franchise.
“I am really excited to be able to officially say that Brooklyn is home,” said Williams. “It’s an incredible time to play in Brooklyn and be a part of this organization, the first sports team to call Brooklyn home in over 50 years. I believe in the team and what we are going to be able to accomplish on the court, as well as in the community. My family and I have come to know New York and the more we do, the more we love it. I look forward to going to London to represent the United States in the Olympics and then coming back to Brooklyn to open the Barclays Center.”
Meanwhile in Utah, Harris wrapped up his worst statistical season in nine years and was traded to the Hawks for Marvin Williams. Favors and Kanter both have unquestioned potential to become solid NBA bigs, but remaining behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap on the depth chart has surely stunted their development.
On March 15, 2012, King made another aggressive move by trading Shawne Williams, Mehmet Okur and a conditional first-round selection (No. 6 overall, 2012 NBA Draft) for Gerald Wallace.
Similar to the deal with Williams, King had no guarantee from Wallace that he would opt-in to his contract for 2012-13, or re-sign long-term with the Nets.
Both Shawne Williams (buyout agreement) and Okur (contract expired) are now free agents.
The sixth overall pick became Damian Lillard of Weber State in this past draft.
In retrospect, King acquired an above average starting small forward that can also play minutes at power forward.
Wallace’s versatility, veteran experience and bond with Williams will prove vital in the Nets quest to make a playoff run this upcoming season.
“I loved playing with Gerald (Wallace) in the short time that I got to play with him. In talking with him he was excited about playing with me as well,” said Williams.
Lillard becomes the point guard of the future for the Trail Blazers who are in a rebuilding mode.
The final bold move King made was the trade for Johnson.
“When Danny Ferry got the job I called to congratulate him and then he called me back and said ‘Would you consider something with Joe?’ Then that’s what triggered it. One thing I’ve always said in this league is opportunities come about and you’ve got to be prepared for it and we had the assets and ability to get the deal done,” said King.
King traded Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, DeShawn Stevenson, Jordan Williams, Johan Petro, and the Houston Rockets lottery protected 2013 first-round pick for Johnson.
The move subsequently took up roughly $89 million in cap space over the next four seasons, eliminating the chance to acquire another big contract player such as Dwight Howard by using cap space.
In retrospect, the move was necessary for the Nets to build a backcourt foundation.
According to Williams, it was the x-factor that led him to re-sign with the Nets over his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
“I’ve never played with a player of his caliber,” said Williams in reference to the Johnson acquisition.
Johnson is looking forward to pairing with Williams in the backcourt as well.
“It’s going to be fun. I think we’re definitely going to take pressure off each other. Getting a chance to play with a great point guard, playmaker, a guy who can create not only for himself, but for his teammates too is going to be fun. I haven’t had this much excitement since probably back in my Phoenix days,” said Johnson.
With Wallace re-signed to a four-year, $40 million contract, Williams re-signed to a five-year, $98 million contract, and Johnson already on the books with a four-year, $89 million deal, these series of high risk moves King made to acquire veteran talent worked.
Avery Johnson is excited about working with the veteran trio.
"Right now we look better on paper," said Johnson. "Hopefully we can take it from the paper and translate it onto the court."
All those transactions led to yet another boisterous claim as King began his opening remarks to the media inside of Brooklyn Borough Hall.
“I say this is a great day because we’re able to put together, what I call, the best backcourt in the NBA right now,” said King.
King also stood firm when asked if he believed his backcourt was better than the new tandem of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash with the Lakers.
“They're good. I like them, but I think ours (Williams and Johnson) is better,” said King.
After King discussed his backcourt the focus shifted to expectations for this season.
"We're building and we're going forward. I'm not focusing on another date or doing anything (in reference to Dwight Howard trade talks),” said King. "I think we have a team, on paper, that can be a playoff team."
According to King, the contract extension for Brook Lopez will play a major role in pushing the Nets into the playoffs this season.
"We've got a young center that's pretty good. It was about getting him under contract and getting him focused,” said King. “I think Brook Lopez has a chance to be an All-Star at (center)."
King said he cleared the air with Lopez regarding any Howard rumors.
"I said (to Lopez) 'I apologize for what's been going on.' Now it's behind you,” said King. "You're the starting center for the Brooklyn Nets when we open the building."
Johnson also dispelled the theory that a “Big Three,” including an acquisition of Howard, is needed to win.
"What about the big four? Let's give Gerald Wallace some credit. Let's give Brook Lopez credit,” said Johnson.
Before exiting to celebrate with Brooklyn Nets fans outside Brooklyn Borough Hall, King also said it was a “goal” of the team to re-sign Kris Humphries.
The last time the Nets made the playoffs was six seasons ago in 2007, but if we’ve learned anything about King it’s not to discount any bold moves or statements he makes.
Johnson summed up the Nets move to Brooklyn, King’s gutsy transactions, and the importance of home court at the Barclays Center before exiting with King to greet fans.
“This is out moment, it’s our time,” said Johnson.