Kurt Helin

Atlanta Hawks v Brooklyn Nets
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What’s next for Brooklyn? Nobody knows, but expect something bold


It was a foolish plan, but it was bold.

When Mikhail Prokhorov took over control of the Nets and they were ready to move to Brooklyn, he wanted to take over the New York market and promised a title within five seasons — then told GM Billy King to do whatever it took to put together a contender. It was brash, like Prokhorov himself. It was also shortsighted. In the NBA you can’t put together a title contender without at least one Top 10, franchise-changing player, and the Nets had zero of them. What’s more, to acquire the pieces that Prokhorov wanted in the short-term meant King would have to sacrifice the long-term. King made bad deals (and followed them up with bad deals, he made plenty of mistakes), all of which led to a troubled organization, but everything started with orders from on high.

The bill for those moves has come due, and Sunday it cost coach Lionel Hollins and King their jobs.

So what’s next in Brooklyn?

Nobody knows. But whoever lands in the GM and coaches chairs (and don’t be shocked if it’s one big name given a lot of power) know this — they will not be able to turn this around quickly.

The Nets will have tons of cap space next summer to throw at free agents, but they are going to have to settle for second-tier guys. Do you think Kevin Durant or Al Horford or Michael Conley or any of the other top free agents drawing multiple max offers will decide to step into this mess and try to be the savior? The New York market is still a draw, but remember last summer when Greg Monroe chose Milwaukee over New York because he liked how the organization was better positioned? That’s going to happen to the Nets this summer. There is no magic bullet for the Nets.

Why don’t the Nets just draft the franchise player they need to turn things around (like the Knicks across town)? Because the Nets don’t have their pick this season — the Celtics control it unprotected, part of the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett deals King was pushed to make when the team moved to Brooklyn. In fact, the Nets don’t control their own first-round pick until 2019, all a result of King trying to do what Prokhorov wanted from the start. They are not rebuilding through the draft.

It’s going to be a slow process in Brooklyn, but expect Prokhorov to try to jump-start it with a big name. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News mentions the one that quickly started to buzz around the league again.

I expect overtures to be made. The question is would Calipari want to step into this? Slow rebuilds are not his thing. Might he just leverage the Nets for even more money in Kentucky, where he has built a powerhouse? It’s something to watch.

Bondy also mentions Danny Ferry, who brings baggage but certainly showed in Atlanta he knows how to build a team.

However, I’m not sure that’s a big enough splash. Not with Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and other splashy names for the New York market available. Thibodeau and Van Gundy — like Calipari — would want player control as well as being coach. Does Prokhorov want to bring in the CSKA Moscow president as GM, then let him pick the coach?

Whoever lands in the GM chair, will they try to trade guys like Joe Johnson (at the deadline) and Brook Lopez to get some picks and restock the roster? That would seem the smart play. A foundation needs to be laid before elite free agents will seriously consider coming to Brooklyn.

The challenge with prediction a direction for the Nets is there is no clear voice charting the path — there are a lot of different voices in Brooklyn suggesting a lot of different directions. Bondy reports that Brett Yormark is having a greater say in the organization (he’s a Calipari guy), as does Russian Dmitry Razumov. Who has Prokhorov’s ear?

In the interim, expect confusion out of Brooklyn, until Prokhorov decides to make his next bold strike.

Report: Knicks’ Cleanthony Early targeting March return; team may add player in interim

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 29: Cleanthony Early #17 of the New York Knicks drives to the basket during a game against the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden on October 29, 2014 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
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When the news came down — Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot in the knee during an armed robbery — there were fears he may never play basketball again (or walk the same). In light of that, the news that there was no structural damage and recovery would have him back this season felt like a miracle.

Early is targeting a March return, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

“He’s feeling better and he’s going to be fine,’’ a friend told The Post. “It was the best possible outcome, and it’s not going to have any effect on his career. There was no structural damage and no infection, so he didn’t need surgery. That was the beautiful thing, not needing surgery. Thank God — his knee could’ve been blown out.’’

That’s still a couple of months, so with an open roster spot the Knicks will be looking to bring in some guys on 10-day contracts for depth, according to the report.

Nevertheless, according to a source, Early’s March timetable is why the Knicks are expected to add a depth piece to a 10-day contract soon and are “exploring several options,’’ including monitoring the players waived from teams at the Jan. 10 deadline for guaranteed contracts. Though point guard is a priority, the Knicks have just 13 able bodies, having left open a spot on the 15-man roster after training camp.

There were suggestions that Jimmer Fredette could be that guy, but we’ve heard that several potentially interested teams have been turned off by his lack of defense. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News threw another name out there.

Whomever it is, expect the Knicks to add someone in the coming week or two.

Shakeup in Brooklyn: Coach Lionel Hollins fired, Billy King out as GM


It was assumed around the league that this coming offseason there would be a shakeup in Brooklyn, changes to the coaching staff for sure and likely the front office.

That shakeup came early, with the new year.

The Nets announced Sunday that coach Lionel Hollins has been fired, and GM Billy King has been “re-assigned” from his position.

Nets’ assistant coach Tony Brown takes over as interim head coach. The GM chair will be vacant for now, an interesting choice six weeks out from the trade deadline.

“After careful consideration, I’ve concluded that it’s time for a fresh start and a new vision for the direction of the team,” Nets Owner Mikhail Prokhorov said in a released statement. “By making this decision now, it enables our organization to use the rest of the season to diligently evaluate candidates with proven track records. It’s clear from our current state of affairs that we need new leadership. With the right basketball management and coach in place, we are going to create a winning culture and identity and give Brooklyn a team that it can be proud of and enjoy watching. We have learned a great deal during the past six years and our experiences will guide us for the future.”

The Nets are 10-27 this season, well out of the race for the playoffs in the East. Worse yet, the Nets don’t control their own first round draft pick until 2019, meaning their prospects for improvement in future seasons hinge on luring free agents to play with Brook Lopez, who the organization re-signed this summer, and rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

Blame for this dumpster fire in Brooklyn starts with Prokhorov. He tried to treat the NBA like a European soccer league where a rich guy can just buy a team and wins. When the Nets were set to open the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, he instructed King to do whatever it took — including trading future picks and prospects — to put together an immediate title contender and become the dominant force in New York. Payroll be damned. What the Nets got was a team that paid $100 million in luxury tax — for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams and so on — and still only could make the second round of the playoffs. Prokhorov didn’t understand the market; it’s going to take something far more than that over a much longer stretch of time to win over New York from the Knicks, if it can be done at all. The Knicks have been at the heart of the New York sports scene for generations, you can’t sweep that aside with money.

There have been rumors Prokhorov wants to bring in the president of CSKA Moscow for the GM position.

Both King and Hollins deserve blame for some of their decisions, and there was a need for a fresh start, but the problem with the Nets stemmed directly from ownership and the direction it set. It’s just that owners do not fire themselves — in fact, Prokhorov just bought 100 percent control of the Nets and Barclays Center.

It’s his show, and this is what he’s doing with it. And apparently not very well.

Stephen Curry, DeMarcus Cousins put on show Saturday night (VIDEO)

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After off games, Stephen Curry was back in MVP form Saturday night: 38 points on 21 shots, eight threes, and dishing out 11 assists.

On the opposing side, DeMarcus Cousins looked like the best center in the NBA: 33 points and 10 rebounds against one of the better defenses in the league.

The result was an entertaining game — one the Warriors won, 128-116. They are the better, deeper team. But this kind of play has Sacramento just 1.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the West, and they are a threat to climb in with Utah struggling above them. Of course, that could make this game a first round playoff preview — which based on tonight would be pretty fun to watch.

Remembering NBA forward John Johnson

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John Johnson, the former NBA All-Star who was a part of the Seattle Supersonics 1979 title team, has passed away at the age of 68.

Drafted No. 7 out of Iowa, he was an All-Star his first two seasons in the league with the Cavaliers. He was one of the pioneers of the idea of a “point forward” and he had a skill set that would have translated well into today’s game. He scored 11 points a game for the title-winning Sonics team of 1979. He also played for Portland and Houston in his NBA career.

Our thoughts are with his family and friends.