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.