To be a general manager in the NBA, you don’t need to be the smartest guy in the room. With limited cap space, importance of team chemistry, and the unique aspect where one player at any position can change the whole team’s dynamic, general managers are forced to gamble and play roulette. You have to be willing to blind bet your entire reputation, salary, and job on a spin of a wheel. Every move is unknown and unpredictable. Analytics and statistics don’t give you the power of Nostradamus.
You need to be lucky.
Former Nets general manager Billy King gambled and played the game. But his short and quick luck ran out as the pinball stopped bouncing his way. Just like the casino, the gambler never wins in the end. As the Brooklyn Nets gear up for what some believe will be a difficult season, unlike most non-playoff teams, the franchise has no first round draft pick for the upcoming draft. The scapegoat for this season and the pessimism that surrounds the Nets’ future: Billy King.
After 5 ½ years as general manager of the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, Billy King was fired on January 10th, 2016. Critics and fans were ecstatic for the new change as Mike Mazzeo of ESPN wrote, “Perplexed people around the NBA had been asking the same question for a long time now. How is Billy King still the general manager of the Brooklyn Nets?” The media had its field day criticizing Billy King and the Nets organization for not taking action sooner with the overly-aggressive and failing general manager.
However, it is criminally unfair to attack and berate King and the Nets after the progress King helped guide with ferociousness after years of abysmal basketball in New Jersey. King was hired on July 14, 2010 after the Nets came off the worst winning percentage season in NBA history (12-70). In his first season, he was a Carmelo-Anthony-no-trade-clause away from acquiring Denver’s superstar. He “settled” for acquiring Utah Jazz’s perennial all-star and one of the NBA’s best point guards Deron Williams. His second year on the job, King traded for Portland’s defensive stopper Gerald Wallace and acquired one of the league’s best pure scorers Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks for a bunch of bench players. The trades were found to be the motivating factor for Deron Williams opting to resign with the Nets. King’s epic transformation of the Nets’ roster helped propel their move from New Jersey to Brooklyn in 2012 and added necessary excitement and hype around the team. The changes, along with the resigning of star center Brook Lopez, spiked merchandise and season ticket sales ahead of the team’s first year in Brooklyn. Fans, writers, and players believed King’s project was special.
In Brooklyn, the Nets reached the playoffs in 2013 for the first time since 2007. King followed up that year by acquiring and betting on future hall of famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The Nets followed with two more consecutive playoff appearances.
Subsequently, King’s transactions backed fired in ways no one could predict. Deron Williams had continuous injury issues, Johnson’s skills deteriorated faster than expected, and Pierce and Garnett failed to replicate the numbers they had in Boston. On top of that, chemistry issues on and off the court flooded the team. The Nets failed to get pass the second round in King’s tenure. In the end, Billy King’s bold and aggressive moves never had the rings to back them up.
Today, King has been heavily publicized as the main culprit for the team’s recent string of losing seasons and lack of assets. However, to blame King for the Nets’ current state is preposterous and hypocritical considering the fame and compliments critics and fans gave his moves at the time they were made. Almost everyone believed King’s trades and signings were smart and aggressive moves that gave the Nets a roster to compete for a championship. King’s tremendous skill in negotiating trades and contracts gave the Nets players with real and big time talent. After decades of turmoil and laziness in the front office, King’s aggressiveness and savvy got underappreciated and cost him his job when a wave of bad luck swooped over the team. He should be recognized and applauded by all Nets fans for his aggressiveness and willingness to do anything to help the team win. It’s always easy to second guess after the fact. Don’t blame the gambler for the losses after you supported the bets. As Billy Wilder once said, “Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.”