ESPN's unwieldy panel of 200 experts is once again ranking NBA teams, this time on their front offices. It seems an odd time to do it, before the playoffs and the 2014 draft which everyone thinks can be a game-changer.
Overall, the panel ranked the front office 15th, breaking things down by owner, GM and head coach. Coach rankings came out Friday, with Jason Kidd ranked 18th. On Thursday, the panel ranked Billy King at No. 28 among GM's.On Wednesday, it had Mikhail Prokhorov at No. 8. (We'll bet the Prokhorov analysis doesn't talk about how he put up the money for Barclays Center, or quadrupled the team value, but that's another story.)
King was also dissed this week in a "GM for a day" feature penned by ESPN Bradford Doolittle, one of the panelists. Bottom line for Doolittle: "No team is paying more for less than the Nets." The future, he suggests, is grim. "All trends point downward from here, and the decline could turn into collapse if Lopez doesn't come back healthy next season."
That said, the Nets are a tough team to analyze going forward. They have great talent but on big contracts, a star center whose fate will turn on a few screws in a reconstructed foot, and little flexibility ... beyond Prokhorov's wallet, which should not be dismissed or dissed as many pundits have. Prokhorov's willingness to spend is tut-tutted by virtually every pundit, as if their constituency is the NBA's owners rather than the fans. There isn't a fan in the NBA who thinks their owner is spending too much. More importantly, players feel the same way.
As for King, well, it's hard to separate him from Prokhorov, particularly since every move is approved by either Prokhorov and/or his deputy, Dmitry Razumov. Moreover, Moscow sets team goals and in the case of hiring Jason Kidd, it was more than that. King has admitted that when ownership first suggested Kidd, he was "reluctant" to hire him. Kidd was Razumov's suggestion and it was a good one.
King made one huge mistake in retrospect: trading the Nets 2012 pick, with light protections, for Gerald Wallace (and a trade exception that became Reggie Evans). The idea was to show Deron Williams, who earlier in the day had seen Dwight Howard agree to stay in Orlando, that the Nets were serious about building a contender with solid veterans like Crash. The pick became Damien Lillard. King compounded the mistake by signing Wallace to a $40 million deal. It was a panic move.
You can argue that D-Will is no longer a superstar worthy of a $100 million deal, but if the Nets had lost him, it would have been seen as a monumental failure. As for the original trade, in hindsight, some have argued the Nets gave up too much to the Jazz. Utah, however, is horrible three years later. That should be enough time to judge a trade.
As for the other big moves,King is mostly criticized for spending money and dumping picks.
Everyone's first reaction to the Joe Johnson trade was "oh that contract." Well, right now that deal looks pretty good. JJ is again an all-star and the best clutch player in the NBA, period. The draft pick the Nets gave up ultimately turned into Shane Larkin, who spent most of his time this year in the D-League. Of the five players sent to Atlanta, one was still in the NBA a year after the deal went down and he had been traded, then let go. (We are also amazed that two years later, Danny Ferry is still getting praise for that deal.)
The big move, of course, was the Celtics trade. It was a huge gamble and its consequences won't be fully appreciated for another season ... or longer. But put it this way: would you trade the No. 19 pick in the 2014 draft and Kris Humphries for Paul Pierce, both of which are expiring deals? How about a similarly placed pick in 2016 and Gerald Wallace's contract for Kevin Garnett? Or the rest of the detritus of that deal --MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph, the 2018 first rounder and the right to swap first-rounders for Jason Terry who months later turned into Marcus Thornton? Hard to argue that the Nets didn't do well in the first two components of the trade. Not to mention what King did a few minutes after the deal went down that night: take Mason Plumlee at No. 22.
There's plenty of criticisms that can be made of the Prokhorov - Razumov - King arrangement. King is not a detail guy and Prokhorov and Razumov may not know as much about the nitty gritty of the NBA as they should. Jeff Schwartz may have had too much power. Issues like the future of the Nets' role in the D-League may have been given short shrift and the Nets will be left without a development vehicle next season ... at a time when they have no picks.
Doolittle, in fact, may be right about the Nets being in decline, the ESPN panel could be right too but April 4, two weeks before the playoffs begin, is hardly the time to make such bold projections. We'll wait.