With their season going nowhere, the Brooklyn Nets resorted to drastic measures. Lionel Hollins, Brooklyn’s head coach, and Billy King, its general manager, were removed from their posts in one fell swoop on Sunday, with Hollins fired outright and King “reassigned” within the organization to serve out his final year under contract. Tony Brown will serve as the Nets’ head coach in the interim. The general manager position, on the other hand, will go unoccupied as the team searches out a replacement. The trade deadline is five weeks away.
“By making this decision now, it enables our organization to use the rest of the season to diligently evaluate candidates with proven track records,” Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov said in an official statement from the team. “It’s clear from our current state of affairs that we need new leadership.”
That it did, though the timing of this particular move is curious. Hollins, while an imperfect coach, was given a crummy roster and churned out a crummy record in his season and a half under employ. His biggest problem seemed to be the dissonance between the team’s internal expectations for its performance and its actual ability. Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young are fine players, as was Joe Johnson before his precipitous downturn. Yet even the best versions of those players at this stage in their careers weren’t carrying a barren roster to adequacy.
The very thought that they might, seems a holdover from the same high-pressure, win-now ethos that has exuded from the Nets since Prokhorov purchased the team. It manifested first as the need to fulfill a lofty competitive standard by the time the team first moved to Brooklyn. A ridiculous amount of money and assets were then sunk into making that dream a reality.
First came a blockbuster deal to acquire Deron Williams, who then had the glow of a superstar. To convince Williams to re-sign in Brooklyn, the Nets traded a first-round pick (which conveyed at No. 9 as Damian Lillard) in a down year for Portland’s Gerald Wallace, who quickly receded into NBA irrelevance. They gave up actual assets – the right to swap draft picks in 2014 and 2015 – while taking Johnson’s bloated contract from the Hawks; in 2015, that swap caused the Nets’ first-round draft selection to slide from No. 15 to No. 29. Then, most infamously, Brooklyn tried to vault itself to championship quality by surrendering its foreseeable future for aging veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry. The Nets never made it out of the second round of the playoffs.
Along the way, King was swindled in most every deal he took part in. Even in trades where the players targeted seemed sensible, King was far too cavalier in using the Nets’ draft picks as currency. Brooklyn won’t be able to select in its own draft slot until 2019 due to lingering debts to the Celtics. It doesn’t fully own any of its second-round picks until 2021 as a result of a variety of transactions. The mechanisms in place to protect and help the NBA’s worst teams were overwhelmed by Brooklyn’s brashness.
The team’s big-picture push to compete at all costs has led to a disastrous present – one without much basketball talent, one without the means to build through the draft, and one without much appeal to free agent players, coaches, or executives. King deserves blame in that, though any assigned to him is owed just the same to Prokhorov and team chairman Dmitry Razumov, who has had a significant say in the team’s basketball operations. Theirs was an offense made in philosophy, and the Nets will pay for it for years to come. Prokhorov said it best himself: It’s clear from Brooklyn’s current state of affairs that the Nets need new leadership. Sunday’s changes, while needed, only begin to address the franchise’s biggest problems.