HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We’ve had our fun at his expense in the past.
In Philadelphia, when he bet on guys that didn’t end up living up to the hype, he was roasted. His predecessor, Rod Thorn, chased superstars LeBron James and Chris Bosh, only to come up empty. King continued the futility after Thorn helped the Nets hire him as his replacement, chasing Carmelo Anthony and others only to come up empty, and get roasted once again by those of us paid to grade such things.
But while you’re preparing your holiday feast and celebrating the nation’s birthday this afternoon and night, you need to toast Brooklyn Nets general manager Billy King.
He is the picture of perseverance on this day, a testament to the power of positive thinking and the model for ambitious NBA executives for refusing to accept defeat (and yes, it certainly helps to have a billionaire owner like Mikhail Prokhorov willing to take the risks to build a winner).
After so many swing-and-miss attempts, King is nailing his New York debut. The blockbuster trade for All-Star guard Joe Johnson earlier this week was followed by a commitment from All-Star point guard Deron Williams yesterday that he will carry the new Nets flag as they embark upon their Brooklyn era.
King’s calculations when he traded for Williams have paid off handsomely. If he’s somehow able to pull off the trade for Dwight Howard, which is still a longshot, he’ll be the early leader to succeed Larry Bird as the NBA’s Executive of the Year. The fact that Howard has made a trade demand with the desired destinations list of only the Nets is another feather for King’s hat.
The Nets are years removed from relevance in the Eastern Conference playoff context. Yet somehow, King has managed to generate enough momentum that Howard wants to join the Brooklyn party.
That’s not bad for a guy who has served as the punch-line pinata for so many in recent years.
But I was in London when the Nets and the newly acquired Williams played the Raptors at 02 Arena (that’s my computer and headset King is on in that interview above). It was there that I first heard the rumblings, not from King or anyone affiliated with the Nets mind you, about the potential of big things to come in Brooklyn. That’s when I first heard the rumor about Williams and Howard being dead-set on playing together, in Brooklyn or wherever, when they became free agents.
It was easy to dismiss it then. The Nets were fresh off of missing out on Anthony and surprising us all by snagging Williams in that trade with the Jazz. The idea that some grand plan was in the works didn’t exactly sink in over there.
But I’m a believer now. Even if they don’t get Howard, King has made the splash needed to start a little something in Brooklyn. An All-Star backcourt of Williams and Johnson is a great start and sends a message to the rest of the league (players, other execs and perhaps most importantly, new fans in Brooklyn) that the Nets mean business.
With the move the franchise was making, they had to be, as Ian O’Connor of ESPNNewYork.com outlines:
King knew he couldn’t go marching into Brooklyn with Johnson as his biggest star. He knew he had to bring back Williams, and that Prokhorov would’ve made a move for his job — sooner rather than later — if he didn’t.
“If it went the other way, Billy and the whole organization would’ve been killed,” said one league source with knowledge of King’s talks with Williams. “The easy thing would’ve been to call around and trade Deron during the season, trade him to the Lakers for [Pau] Gasol and just say, ‘With the ship sinking, let’s try to save as many people as possible.’
“But instead Billy pushed all his cards to the middle of the table, and it took a lot of [guts] to do that. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to do it if I were him.”
Williams met with Nets officials Monday in Manhattan. He also met with his hometown Dallas Mavericks, who didn’t bring their owner, Mark Cuban, along for the recruiting ride, a fact that surprised and delighted the Nets. Prokhorov wasn’t around for his team’s presentation either (he was represented in the room by his aide, Dmitry Razumov), but in the end he didn’t need to be.
Williams arrived at the Nets’ training facility Tuesday around 9:30 a.m., arrived in his yellow Lamborghini. He worked out and then talked strategy with team officials, a sign that this was going to be a very good day for the Nets.
“Billy had so much on the line,” said an NBA source close to King. “He’s been like a college recruiter for the last year and a half, just trying to sell Deron on the vision he had. I know Deron got $100 million to stay and would’ve gotten $75 million if he left, and money definitely has something to do with it. But the relationship Billy established with Deron was huge here.
“He got crushed for giving up the sixth pick in the draft for Wallace, but he did that for Deron, to show him that good things start to happen when you have NBA players around you. If Billy starts the offseason with the No. 6 pick and with the hope of re-signing Brook, Deron might’ve ended up in Dallas.”
Well, you know how that story ended. Williams didn’t go home to Dallas.
He bought into King’s plan and will help usher in the Brooklyn era of Nets basketball.
Raise your hand if you thought that era would come with a toast to King!