Look, no one is going to say that King deserved to win executive of the year. And, frankly, Hollins never had a chance this season after the Nets entered it with a roster that didn’t have a chance to chase a playoff spot in a much more competitive Eastern Conference. But the Nets aren’t in the position they find themselves in today because of anything that happened over the past two months.
No, the Nets are now paying for their past sins — and there’s a long, long list of those for which to atone. And while King, in particular, has been blamed for most of them, the responsibility for the sorry state of the Nets franchise equally lies at the feet of owner Mikhail Prokhorov and his ownership team, specifically Nets Chairman of the Board Dmitry Razumov.
Much has been made of all of the draft picks the Nets have traded away since moving to Brooklyn — specifically a protected first rounder and the right to swap two more to acquire Joe Johnson and his bloated contract in 2012, and the three first rounders and the right to swap a fourth to get Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics in 2013, moves that mean the Nets won’t have control over their first round pick until 2019. But those trades were made as much by ownership as they were by the general manager himself.
The Nets operated with an overload of hubris during those high times in their early days in Brooklyn. Flush with Prokhorov’s billions of dollars behind them, Brooklyn acted like it would never have to pay a price for its actions — all of which were only focused on immediate gratification, and paid no attention to the possible ramifications down the road.
Fast forward less than three years, and the Nets are not only paying that price now, but they’re doing so at compound interest rates.
The Nets are now on their fifth coach since moving to Brooklyn in 2012, having gone through Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Jason Kidd and Hollins before they elevated assistant Tony Brown to replace him Sunday. That instability has played no small part in the way the franchise has lurched from one plan to another in what has remarkably been less than four years — but feels like 40 — since the team moved across the Hudson River and into the city.
So where will they turn from here? Expect John Calipari — who has a huge fan in team CEO Brett Yormark — to be prominently mentioned, and for the team to likely go for former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, as well as what will likely be a long list of prominent names that will be offered massive sums of cash to come in and try to fix the mess the Nets find themselves in.
But no matter who the Nets hire, if they don’t change the things about the organization that have put it in this situation, Brooklyn will simply be doomed to repeat its past mistakes.
King’s biggest strength — and biggest weakness — as a general manager is his ability to manage up. When Nets ownership came to him and told him to make moves, he made them — and didn’t sweat the details. That’s because his bosses didn’t either, and its those details that now haunt the Nets every single day. Could Brooklyn have exercised more patience in getting Johnson, who then Hawks general manager Danny Ferry was desperate to move, and got him for a far lesser haul of draft picks? It’s hard to believe the Nets couldn’t have waited a day or two and, at least, made the move without the pick swaps involved.
Same goes for the trade with the Celtics. Garnett had a no-trade clause and Boston General Manager Danny Ainge had only a few more days to decide whether to waive Pierce or guarantee his $15 million salary for the 2013-14 season. But instead of using their leverage, the Nets saw shiny and expensive toys, and leaped at the chance to acquire them — long-term consequences be damned.
After those moves, the only way the Nets were going to manage to avoid embarrassment was to keep on spending at historic levels. But after Kidd — a coaching hire made by ownership, not King — chose to leave for the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014, ownership decided it was tired of spending huge sums of money. And after choosing to buy out point guard Deron Williams this summer — a move that saved them in the neighborhood of $60 million — a pain-filled season was inevitable.
That’s what makes the decision the organization made Sunday so baffling. Hollins had been losing support for weeks as the Nets continued piling up losses, but the team was remaining pretty competitive on the whole, paying a second coach for a team that wasn’t going anywhere, and there wasn’t an obvious replacement for him on the bench (Brown, who is well respected, is taking over for the remainder of the season, but he’s never been a head coach in the NBA).
Meanwhile, there is no one in the organization that is capable of stepping into the general manager’s job at the moment. The Nets actually said in their press release announcing both moves — the way that, stunningly, the vast majority of the organization learned of them — that the “GM position will remain open until a replacement is named,” a stunning move given that the NBA is just a little over a month away from the trade deadline.
In the event a decision on the basketball operations side has to be made, multiple sources in and around the organization had no idea who the person would be to actually make them. That’s one way to ensure you don’t make a bad move.
But what it also does is further reinforce the reputation the Nets have as an organization around the NBA: one that is rudderless, and without any sense of a long-term direction. Rumors persist that Prokhorov, who recently purchased the remainder of both the organization and Barclays Center, the arena it plays in, would be willing to sell both of them for the right price — though, to be fair, his side continues to push back on that sentiment.
Assuming Prokhorov wants to hang onto the franchise moving forward, he and his ownership team are going to have to take a long, hard look in the mirror, and reassess how they do things. That could include the role Razumov — who, behind the scenes, has played a huge role over the past few years — has moving forward.
Prokhorov will be holding a press conference Monday morning in Brooklyn — occasions in the past that have often been full of jokes and one-liners.
This isn’t the time for either, though. Prokhorov needs to step up to the microphone and explain not only why he chose to make this decision now, but the plan he has to get the Nets out of the mess they find themselves in moving forward.
There isn’t a franchise that is in worse shape moving forward than the Nets in the entire NBA — not even the Philadelphia 76ers, who at least have young talent and draft picks to build around moving forward. To get out of this, Brooklyn is going to need strong, stable leadership, patience and the Nets are going to have to go out and convince both a quality executive and coach to take on one of the most challenging rebuilding jobs in all of professional sports.
In short, the Nets are going to need to do all of the things they’ve failed to up until now.