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Billy King blames Vladimir Putin for Nets’ decline ... No, really!

Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

How’d we miss this? Last August, on a Philly-based podcast, “Rights to Ricky Sanchez,” Billy King was asked about the 2013 Boston trade, which the podcast host suggested was the “seminal worst trade of all time.” (No argument here!) But the host, Spike Eskin, also acknowledged that the Nets had a plan when they sent three firsts, all unprotected, and a swap of firsts to Boston back then: open a two-year title window, win a lot of games and hope the picks weren’t too high. Then with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett off the books in 2016, they would make a big free agent splash and sign (wait for it) Kevin Durant!

So why didn’t it work, Billy? In response, the former Nets and 76ers GM blamed the Russian invasion of Ukraine in March of 2014—and by extension the Russian President. No, really. It all revolved around whether Mikhail Prokhorov would commit to sign Paul Pierce for another two years in the summer of 2014 and pay out even more luxury tax. He had paid $90.6 million in 2013-14. Even though the Pierce/Garnett combination had been disappointing (and we’re being kind) in in that first year, King said he wanted to keep the two, then aged 37 and 38, for another title run...

“The one thing is that when we did it, it was going to be a two-year window. KG had two years. We figured we could re-sign Paul. probably one year with a player option, so that would have been the two-year deal. So then, for the two years, we were going to be a competitive team. Maybe make a run for a championship and then. we’d be under the cap and have a chance ot go after ... at that point Durant was going to be a free agent ... and there were other guys we were interested in. So the deal was we would try to be as competitive as we can and then we’d have cap space and go into the free agent market.

Enter Putin...

”And what turned is that Russia invaded Ukraine. And once they invaded Ukraine, the government ... we put sanctions on them ... and Prokhorov said, ‘the economy changed and I don’t have the money’ and so, at that point, he had a different philosophy, didn’t want to spend ... he pulled back a little bit and didn’t want to pay that kind of tax. So that’s where things changed from that point of view ... and I don’t begrudge it because as an owner, you have that right to do that. But once you do, and you’ve given up those picks, there’s no turning back now.”

Indeed, the invasion took place in March 2014 and the decision not to re-sign Pierce was made in July. Sanctions, however, weren’t imposed until December. At the time, the Nets portrayed the decision not to sign Pierce as a basketball decision, and it did save them $20 million in luxury taxes in 2014. They still had to pay out $20 million in taxes on a team that went 38-44 and was booted from the playoffs in the first round by Atlanta.

Prokhorov, through a spokesperson, declined to comment on King’s remarks.

King also suggests that his reaction to losing Pierce and Brooklyn’s title window served his successor, Sean Marks, well. He contends he acquired assets —Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic— that Marks flipped for draft picks that became Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.

“So we traded KG and got Thaddeus Young from Minnesota and we re-signed him and that wound up getting them Caris LeVert. And we were able to flip for Thaddeus and do that. Bojan we drafted and brought in. So we started moving pieces a little bit to start the process that they were able to continue.”

Of course, the Nets lost out on Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, taken with Nets picks.

The August podcast came to light over the weekend when a website, Basketball Network, posted a story on King’s comments. Their assessment: “Fundamentally, it was the owner, Mikhail Prokhorov who thought he could buy a contender right away. That’s not how the NBA works. Therefore, Billy King shouldn’t be labeled just by this trade. But Russia invading Ukraine? That’s a bit much.”