The Great Get. That’s how we describe The Glue Guys exclusive interview with Billy King, his first since being dumped by the Nets in January 2016.
After listening to it, we decided to add some commentary on what King told Mike Meltz and Brian Egan. The annotated version, if you will.
Here’s some of the high points with the commentary in italics. Enjoy.
Chris Paul Possibilities:
"The first person I went after was Chris Paul and I don't think anybody ever knew that, that was the first one I went after. I had a lot of conversations with them. At the time, Jeff Bower the GM and then he got replaced. I was talking to the team president and he said 'I'm going to a new GM in a day so let's wait and talk to him and that became Dell Demps and at that time I don't think Dell was wanting to be his first thing is trading Chris Paul so that didn't go anywhere.... (questioned what the trade package for Paul would've looked like).... We had a quite a few scenarios and at that time too, summer time, you can absorb, we had cap space at that time and there were different things that we were talking about doing to try to help them whether it was to absorb some contracts to give them space, we had picks, but yea at that time it would have been absorbing some cap space, there was different scenarios because it was in the offseason."
What’s interesting about this segment is the time frame. King says he was talking to the Hornets in the days prior to Dell Demps’ hiring. That puts the conversations in mid-July 2010, just as King was setting up shop. Jeff Bowers, Demps’ predecessor, had been dumped on July 14, the same day King’s hiring was announced by the Nets. It shows that King wanted to hit the ground running. As he told the Glue Guys, he sold Mikhail Prokhorov and Dmitry Razumov on the idea of quickly getting a “franchise player,” an “anchor.” New York isn’t about rebuilding.
The key contract King would have taken on was that of Peja Stojakovic, then 33, and the downside of his career. He had an expiring contract worth $14.9 million, which New Orleans later dumped on Toronto. The Nets had all their first round picks going forward as well as two others.
It should also be noted that Paul had just told Chris Broussard that if New Orleans wasn’t in win mode, he wanted out. That caused a number of teams to make offers. The Nets were not on his list of preferred teams.
"The next day was the trade deadline and we went to bed as a staff, we left the office pretty late and went to bed pretty much knowing that hey tomorrow we're probably going to get Dwight and you know Otis (Smith) said lets talk tomorrow to firm it up what the deal is going to be and I remember waking up and getting a text I think from Ric Bucher saying: 'Did Dwight Howard opt in?' And that was my first indication and I said I don't think so. I reached out to his agent and he goes, 'I don't think he did,' You know I got to the office and I called Otis and he goes, 'I haven't heard yet still,' we were still working towards a deal and then he called back about an hour later and said 'yea he did.' But he said 'Let's stay in touch.' (Question: What did you think when you heard about the opt in?) It was shock, it was just total disbelief because thats something that nobody had ever envisioned he would do that. Because he had all the leverage but it was one that really threw us all for a loop."
As King notes, the Nets were completely blind-sided by events. One executive learned of Howard’s opt-in decision when he turned on his computer that morning and saw the news on his homepage, NetsDaily! (plug)
How close was it? King had told Dr. Riley Williams, the team physician, to get in early the next day to expedite Howard’s physical exam.
Should it have come down to this? One rival GM said King “had Dwight’s agent (Dan Fegan) in his back pocket,” implying it should have gotten done without such drama.
Gerald Wallace Trade:
(Question: Do you think the Gerald Wallace trade is a direct consequence of Deron) "Yea I remember talking to Deron that day after the Dwight incident and he was down and I knew for the franchise we had to keep him, you know we had to make it so he realized that we could be a team that could win as you can see now, players are on teams that I think if they don't have a chance to win they want to leave, they want to go to some place else. Look at Paul George, he felt that in Indiana he couldn't win anymore so he wanted out so I didn't want to go and run the risk that Deron was going to stay if we just said we're going to play this out, we'll do something in the summer time to please you so the plan then become we had to make sure we could keep him because he was the franchise guy at the time."
As one Nets executive said, “it was a panic move.”
The big problem was the light protection. The front office claimed the Nets only needed top-three protection because there were only three “impact players” (their description) in the 2012 Draft: Anthony Davis (check); Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (ahem); and Thomas Robinson (really?).
At the time, another executive dismissed the other prospects at the time. “Deron will be long by the time P.erry Jones III, Harrison Barnes, Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond develop.” Not mentioned in the list: Damian Lillard, who the Blazers took with the Nets pick... and became Rookie of the Year.
The Nets also believed the acquisition of Wallace could help them in the playoff race. The Nets were four and a half games out at the time of the deal with a “soft schedule.” They proceeded to lose four straight and six of the next seven.
(Question: How did the trade develop) "I reached out because I had interest in Paul Pierce because I thought if you could add a Paul Pierce to the team you know adding Paul Pierce to Joe, Deron, Gerald and Brook would give us that edge that guy that is used to taking big shots at the end of the game and so I think I had Bobby Marks reach out to their assistant GM and you know see if we could come up with something that would work for Paul Pierce."
(Question: What would've been the deal for Paul Pierce if you could have made it.)
"The deal for Paul, I think it was Kris Humphries, Marshon Brooks and a 1st.
(Question: And then how did Garnett get folded in?)
"Well I think there some within the group that said 'What about Garnett?' and you know I just said 'Well lets see if we can figure that out' and when we did and we showed it to people and they said 'Yea lets go for that, let’s see if we can make that work' and then we start going back and forth and going back and forth and then you know Danny and I got on the phone, I think it was probably draft day to probably hammer it out."
(Question later in episode: Is it correct that adding Gerald Wallace to the deal meant you had to give up another 1st round pick?)
"Yea I mean that in order to absorb that contract because what Danny was giving up was Paul was an expiring and Jason Terry... to absorb Gerald's contract another pick was added. The biggest regret if I had to go back and do it and maybe take time is to maybe sleep on and take out the swaps because you know without the swaps, still you give up a lot of picks but if you didn't do the swaps it wouldn't have been as bad. And if you re-sign Paul, you probably win a few more games and then when you are going into the free agent market with a little money and KG comes off you know people are looking at their franchise a little different."
(Question: I imagine from ownership there was a lot of pressure to make a big deal, did you feel that pressure to change the franchise?)
"I think so because going into Brooklyn you have this team, you have the hype, like you said but also if knowing now that we wouldn't have been able to sign Paul Pierce you know, would not have done it because the goal was to have a two year window, keep Paul the second year and keep going. Knowing that we wouldn't have been able to re-sign Paul would not have done it."
The “some in the group” who wanted KG included Nets ownership. As one insider described it, “getting greedy.” And yes, there was pressure by ownership to get the deal done.
Unmentioned is how much leverage King had with Ainge on the Pierce deal. The Celtics had to make a draconian decision in a matter of days: either hold on to Pierce at $15 million for 2012-13 or buy him out for $5 million. Ainge didn’t like either option. The Nets had worked with Dan Fegan, Pierce’s agent, to help convince Pierce that if he had to leave Boston, Brooklyn with its young team, great new arena, generous owner, et cetera, was a great destination.
According to an executive involved in the discussions, the original deal for Pierce was Humphries and the 2016 first rounder. Not Marshon. In fact, Brooks was added to the larger deal at the very last minute.
But the biggest issue was how, as the deal expanded, it got worse. Initially, the Nets side wanted to give up no more than two first rounders and not take on Terry, who had had knee surgery that summer. As King notes, he had to give up the third pick, the 2018 pick, simply to dump Wallace, whose career took a nose dive after the Nets traded for him. King had signed Wallace to four years and $40 million in the summer of 2012. So the Celtics got a first round pick in a salary dump that was necessitated by King’s profligacy in signing Wallace to a huge contract.
Could King have slept on it? Sure, the deal wasn’t official until the first week in July. But alas, he didn’t.
The 2013 Season
“I think when Brook got hurt, that really hurt. We were in Philadelphia and the time when Brook got hurt and that's when I really see this could be trouble here because I felt Brook could be the integral piece. He could score and with all those other pieces it would open up more for him, but when he got hurt I was worried. But then it allowed us to play smaller. Paul moved to the 4 at the time. We were going to have to make a decision sometime in that year, if Brook stayed healthy, because as constructed, with Brook starting with KG and Paul, we were really a slow team. After Brook got hurt, we became more of a match-up problem with Paul at the 4. So even if Brook had been there, we would have had to make a decision on somebody was going to have to come off the bench.
“I remember after Brook got hurt, I gave Jason my thoughts and I'm a believer that you let the coach make the decision and Jason made the decision. Jason changed the offense to get that personnel the way it was constructed. But I gave my suggestions, my thoughts and left it up to Jason and I think he made a great decision changing the offense to fit the personnel. We started shooting a lot more three's and became a team that took a lot more advantage of three point line.”
King and ownership were always trying to trade Lopez. So were the coaches, from Avery Johnson to Lionel Hollins. They wanted to run and Lopez didn’t fit. Kenny Atkinson figured out a way to get around that: make Lopez a three-point shooter.
As for the Nets being “slow”, shouldn’t that have been a concern when the Nets made the trade? The Nets had oldest starting lineup in the NBA. What do you expect? And then there was the problem with conditioning. Pierce, Garnett and the third big offseason acquisition, Andrei Kirilenko, all arrived in less than ideal shape. AK-47 boasted that he hadn’t picked up a basketball all summer while vacationing on the French Riviera. It showed.
Another point: By the time Lopez went down, the Nets were already 9-17, there was a discipline problem with Andray Blatche and Jason Kidd and Lawrence Frank had had their blow-up and Frank was relegated to his “daily reports.” Frank was making $1 million a year. The Nets later bought Frank out, reportedly giving him $5 million on his original $6 million contract. A management disaster all around.
Not Re-Signing Pierce:
"Well we went after Paul and made an offer at the beginning. He thought he could get more and then when they came back with a number the decision was made not to match the number and Paul chose to go to Washington at that time. I believe from the beginning that when we made the trade, there was a two year window with that group. Cause KG's contract was going to come off and I would have liked to have re-signed Paul because I thought that if you brought Paul back, even losing Shawn Livingston, we would have been a pretty good team we could have gone deep but when we didn't, couldn't make an offer to Paul, or at least match what he was getting from Washington cause if we would have he had came back, once that decision was made then you know we were, then I think it changed the thought process, then I think even some of the players even thought 'Wait a minute, what's going on here we were committed and now we're not.'
(Question: And when you're saying the decision that the offer wasn't matched that's coming from ownership at that point I imagine, not from you, is that correct?)
"I think there is a lot of factors at play and I had discussions with them and there were a lot of other factors that were in play when that decision was made so I'll just leave it at that."
One Nets executive at the time told NetsDaily that everyone in ownership, the front office and coaching staff was on board with not re-signing Pierce. King says he wasn’t. Indeed, as King said, there were “a lot of factors.”
Pierce was nearly 37 years old and the thinking in ownership was, why sign him to a deal when there was little to no chance that they could win a title with that roster? LeBron James had just proven how he was dominant in the East, no matter where he played. As King admits, Deron Williams was in decline. KG was 38 and looked it. Lopez was coming off another foot surgery. And as we know now, locker room chemistry was disastrous.
Moreover, the Nets knew they were losing Shaun Livingston, who the Nets couldn’t pay what he was worth because of cap issues. Golden State did and the rest is history. (King had signed Livingston to a one-year vets minimum deal in the summer of 2013. So no Bird Rights.)
And, yes, Prokhorov had just paid $90.57 million in luxury taxes.
The front office looked at the situation differently. The Nets had indeed lost to Miami in five games in the second round, but they had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter in four of those games. The front office thought that with Lopez, things might have been different in 2013-14. Besides, the thinking went, may as well go for it. There was no chance of a quick rebuild. Then they lost Pierce and as King said, lots of long faces in East Rutherford.
And, yes, Prokhorov had just paid $90.57 million in luxury taxes.
But it’s whistling past the graveyard to suggest that the decision not to resign a 37-year-old was the beginning of the end. With or without Pierce, the Nets would have had no real hope of a title, no cap space, no key young players, no draft picks, and the prospect of paying the repeater tax. The rebuild should have begun then.
Clashing with Kidd:
(Question: What was the friction point with you and Jason Kidd?)
"To this day I don't know you know I'm a believer in supporting the coaches and that's what I tried to do there so I have no idea where the friction was, we met a couple of times, talked about it and you know I was given assurances it was no problem I could not tell you. Jason and I've talked, I have no hard feelings, I still believe Jason is a hell of a coach and that's what I told ownership after the season, I said 'He grew this year and he'll continue to grow because he's got a great basketball mind,' and I think he's proven that in Milwaukee, I think he's one of the very good coaches in this league that has a great feel for the game."
King didn’t want Kidd as coach. He liked Brian Shaw. Ownership liked Kidd.
As the season became a greater and greater disappointment, Kidd thought King was trying to undermine him, according to those close to the Nets legend. Kidd thought King was trying to lay blame for the disappointing season at his feet. King denied it. It got ugly fast. King is a much better poker player than Kidd. He played ownership and Kidd, who had no experience in that game, lost out.
Is there a good guy and bad guy in this script? Nope. To this day, ownership still believes it was justified in letting Kidd go despite his obvious skillset. “Don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you,” as Prokhorov said.
It was a fitting end to an awful season. The day before Kidd’s departure was announced, he was at the Brooklyn warehouse where HSS Training Center would take shape, talking to reporters about the facility and the next season. He knew he was leaving, the Nets knew he was leaving but he was there on stage. After Kidd’s departure, when the Nets posted the images of the HSS ground-breaking online, they were cropped to eliminate Kidd.
Then, King made his fatal error: pushing for the hiring of Lionel Hollins. Neither Mikhail Prokhorov nor Dmitry Razumov met with Hollins before he was hired. It was a rush to judgment. Prokhorov in particular resented Hollins’ public criticism of the Nets players. Hollins’ personality clashed with virtually everyone and by the middle of his second season, ownership wanted him gone. King went with him.
Proudest thing during his time with the Nets:
"Getting to that game against Miami and having a chance to win. I thought that game at home we had a chance to win that and you know the facilities I think is great, I think playing that series against Miami, I think LeBron had 49, if we had won that game we could have won that series and the way Lebron played he knew that."
Pierce had said before the game that he relished the opportunity to guard LeBron. How’d that work out.
Biggest regret during his time with the Nets:
"Probably the biggest regret was the swaps, because you take out of the swaps, I mean there are other trades but the swaps there was the one, probably the biggest regret."
The swaps plural? There was only one in the Boston trade. Perhaps he’s conflating the Boston trade with the Atlanta trade for Joe Johnson, which also included a swap (which turned into Kelly Oubre for Chris McCullough.) Did he mean the lack of protections?
Why the swap in the Boston deal? According to one then inside source, the swap was in return for the Celtics decision to pay Keith Bogans $5.2 million, which was needed to make the numbers work.
On Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson
“They’ve done a heck of a job so far in assembling pieces. They do a lot of player development whether with the D-League team that I pushed and prodded to get. Sean and Kenny have come in and taken advantage of it. And that’s where you got to do it. Also, you do it within pre-practice for the guys who aren’t playing that much and even with the guys that are playing.”
As for the D-League team, the Nets were without one for two years after the owner of the Springfield Armor, their affiliate for three years, decided to sell in 2014 and the Nets declined their right of first refusal. They had no back-up plan. Ultimately, in one of King’s last acts, they established the Long Island Nets. As we’ve reported, King did not attend a single Armor game in Springfield. Too far.
King has no relationship, professional or personal, with Marks, Atkinson, or the Nets.