When Mikhail Prokhorov, the presumptuous Russian billionaire, purchased the New Jersey Nets in 2010 for $200 million, the future seemed bright. Nets fans have long hoped for new ownership to turn the struggling and mediocre franchise around. Prokhorov promised to bring a championship to the franchise within 5 years and insisted that the Nets would become a global team and growing brand. There is no doubt that the Nets have become a renowned and well-known organization – but they could not be any further from reaching that championship goal that Prokhorov overconfidently set.
Billy King, the Brooklyn Nets general manager, has constructed a roster with the highest payroll in the NBA this season with $91,218,121 worth of player salaries, and the current highest payroll for the 2015/16 season as well. The roster consists of 3 of the top 20 highest paid players in the NBA: Joe Johnson (3), Deron Williams (10), and Brook Lopez (20). The excessive spending has amounted to a 21-31 record heading into all-star weekend with the Nets on the outside looking in on the current Eastern Conference playoff standings with only one playoff series win in the last five years.
Billy King continues to receive a majority of the blame for the current crisis and struggles the team has endured. But does King truly deserve all of the blame?
Billy King has shown a knack for finding a diamond in the rough in the NBA draft with several solid picks over the years including:
- Andre Iguodala with the 9th overall pick in 2004 in between Rafael Araújo and Luke Jackson
- Thaddeus Young with the 12th overall pick in 2007 in between Acie Law and Julian Wright
- Louis Williams with the 45th overall pick in 2005
- Traded just $140,000 for the rights to Kyle Korver on draft day in 2003.
- Mason Plumlee with the 22nd pick in 2013
King has shown that he can find solid NBA talent late in drafts but hasn’t had the ability to do so with the Nets. The Nets have essentially traded their long-term future in an attempt to win now, as directed by the championship-hungry owner. King’s first major trade came in 2011 where he sent two first-round picks to Utah for Deron Williams.
In March 2012, King sent a first-round pick to Portland (which eventually turned into Damian Lillard) for the expiring contract of Gerald Wallace. He then traded two first-round picks in 2013 and 2017, along with a second-rounder, to Atlanta for Joe Johnson in July 2012. Finally, he sent the 2014, 2016, and 2018 first-round picks to Boston in a blockbuster trade that brought Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn in July 2013. Paul Pierce left the Nets for Washington after one season and Kevin Garnett is planning to retire at the end of this season.
Billy King was pressured by management to make these deals in order to make the Nets relevant. Mikhail Prokhorov has repeatedly given King public support and has backed the trades he has made.
“I am all in for this team and I think this is the only way how to win a championship,’’ Prokhorov said in January 2014. Prokhorov said that he and the team would do its best to make King the GM of the Year and reaffirmed his championship expectations.
“Our goal, we only have one goal, the championship,’’ he said. “So I am very committed, and I will do my best in order to reach this.
The experiment did not work out, to say the least. Prokhorov undoubtedly had great expectations and an optimistic vision for the organization. The team left New Jersey and moved to a new arena with a new audience, and a new market in the diverse city of Brooklyn. Most importantly, the team had endless amounts of cash and a win-now mentality from the richest owner in the entire league.
Prokhorov made it clear that money is not an issue and wanted to buy his way to an NBA championship. He insisted that King must make big blockbuster trades to send them in that direction. King did what ownership told him to do – he made big trades for veteran players and risked the future. Deron Williams has been reduced to a bench role and is now just a shell of the former superstar NBA point-guard he once was. Joe Johnson’s scoring average is down for the third straight season and Brook Lopez has suffered several foot injuries and continues to be shopped around by the King in their attempts to now rebuild the right way. Outside of Mason Plumlee, there is no young player on the team showing signs of improvement and a glimpse of hope for the future.
It seems so long ago that Prokhorov purchased the Nets, predicted a championship, and hung a billboard in Manhattan alongside Jay-Z with the words “The Blueprint For Success.”
So much has changed since then. Jay-Z sold his stake. The Nets are not in playoff contention. Even Prokhorov is reportedly looking to sell his share of the team and the word “greatness” being associated with the organization is as far away as it has ever been.