In news that shocked much of the basketball world on a Sunday morning, the Brooklyn Nets, according to a press release from the team, have fired head coach Lionel Hollins and “reassigned” general manager Billy King from his post with the organization. Whether that’s just fancy wording or King will actually work with the team in another capacity is unknown right now.
Press release from Nets on Hollins getting fired and GM Billy King stepping down pic.twitter.com/PxNJShbzHp
— AP (@Ananth_Pandian) January 10, 2016
The 2015-16 season has been a near-disaster for Brooklyn, as the Nets — who don’t have outright control of their own first round pick until 2019 — are 10-27 and have lost nine straight home games (four straight overall). They also have suffered multiple long-term injuries to key players and are stuck at the bottom of a much-improved Eastern Conference.
The news comes at an interesting time, as the team’s owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, just arrived in Brooklyn for a previously scheduled visit. Last night, the Nets lost 103-89 to the Pistons in Detroit, and will host the San Antonio Spurs at the Barclays Center tomorrow night in the start of a three-game homestand Prokhorov is expected to stay for the entirety of.
At the moment, there is no news of who will be running the Brooklyn front office for the remainder of the season, but assistant coach Tony Brown will be the interim coach for the foreseeable future. Also, fellow assistant coach Paul Westphal’s wife, Cindy, cryptically tweeted this right after the news broke, which may indicate that her husband is no longer with the team as well. Westphal, a NBA veteran player and coach, was hired by the team before the start of last season, when Hollins was also hired.
Who is running the Nets for now? Unclear within organization. Almost all learned of firings via news release.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) January 10, 2016
Brown will be the Nets’ fifth coach in the team’s 3+ years in Brooklyn, as Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Jason Kidd and Hollins have all preceded him. Johnson’s tenure with the Nets, which started in New Jersey, ended with him getting fired while Carlesimo’s stint concluded with him not being retained. Kidd was traded to the Bucks for two second round picks after a failed attempt at usurping King’s role with the Nets and, of course, Hollins was fired.
In his 1.5 seasons at the helm of the Nets, Hollins went 48-71 in the regular season and led Brooklyn to a playoff appearance last postseason which ended in a six-game first round defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks. He was hired before the 2014-15 season one year after he was let go by the Memphis Grizzlies, with whom he made the playoffs three different times, never advancing further than the Western Conference Finals.
As for King, he was hired by the Nets back in July 2010 right after the team concluded a franchise-worst 12-70 season. Head coach Lawrence Frank was fired during that season and Johnson was hired in his stead, about a month before King arrived in the fold as a replacement for longtime Nets executive Rod Thorn, who had been with the team since 2000.
Interestingly, along with the Johnson hiring, Thorn also signed small forward Travis Outlaw to a much-maligned five-year, $35 million contract just a few days before he was let go by the organization. King inherited both the head coach and Outlaw when he was hired, and of course would have to use the amnesty provision on Outlaw the following offseason after a dreadful 2010-11 campaign.
It was indicative of King’s entire tenure with the Nets, which was marked by multiple big trades that (mostly) failed. First in February 2011, King sent Devin Harris, rookie (No. 3 overall pick) Derrick Favors and two first round picks (turned into Enes Kanter and Gorgui Dieng) to the Jazz for Deron Williams in a shocking move that seemingly got the Nets the star they wanted at point guard.
However, Williams’ time with the Nets, which ended this past offseason when he signed with the Dallas Mavericks after being bought out by Brooklyn, was marred by injuries, under-production and questions about his commitment to the team.
Then, during the tail end of the next season, King traded for Gerald Wallace of the Trail Blazers to add more proven talent to the Nets as they made the long-awaited move to Brooklyn. However, he traded Shawne Williams, Mehmet Okur and a top-3 protected first round pick in the 2012 Draft. Of course, that pick ended up being No. 6 overall and Portland drafted two-time All-Star Damian Lillard with that pick. Wallace, in turn, spent a little over a season with the organization before being traded to the Celtics in the deal I’ll discuss in a few paragraphs.
Right after the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, in which the Nets ended their time in New Jersey with a 22-44 record, King made another big trade, acquiring Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks for Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, DeShawn Stevenson, Johan Petro, Jordan Williams and a first round pick in the 2013 Draft (turned into, ironically, Shane Larkin). This may have been King’s best move as general manager, as he got a reliable scorer for spare parts and a pick that ended up not being that valuable.
Joe, whose max contract has hamstrung the Nets from a salary cap perspective, was pretty good for Brooklyn in his first three seasons with the team before seeing his ability and production fall off a cliff this year. His contract expires this summer, and will most likely move on from Brooklyn in free agency on a much cheaper deal.
Now for the big one. After the Nets’ debut season in Brooklyn, in which they went 49-33 and made the playoffs before falling in a Game 7 to the Bulls in the first round, King stunned the NBA again by making a huge deal with the Boston Celtics to acquire Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry in exchange for Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans and three future unprotected first round picks.
The move, which announced the Nets’ clear intentions for a win-now approach for a championship, only netted the Nets one playoff series win, over the Toronto Raptors in the 2013-14 season thanks to a Pierce block of Kyle Lowry at the end of Game 7. However, the playoff run ended in the next round against the Miami Heat in five games. That summer, the Nets opted not to re-sign Pierce and he went on to sign with the Wizards.
Next season, Garnett was traded to the Timberwolves at the Trade Deadline for Thaddeus Young and since Terry was traded to the Kings halfway through the 2013-14 campaign, Brooklyn had nothing to show for the enormous pick investment of the deal. Now, that may result in Boston getting a top-5 talent in this offseason’s draft while also having control of Brooklyn’s first rounders in the two drafts to come.
The Nets, under Billy King, pushed all their chips into the middle of the table and gambled, through extremely risky trades, that they could build a championship contender without the use of the Draft, at all. Unfortunately, every single one of those risks failed and left Brooklyn without any sort of future. Is it King’s fault that Deron kept getting injured or that he caught Pierce, Garnett, Wallace and Johnson right as they started to decline? Partly, but not completely.
But, it’s a general manager’s job to get every single of their moves right, and King failed horribly in that enormously important goal. Firing him may not make any of those picks come back, but it shows that failure is not acceptable with this organization, a statement that has been a questionable one since King managed to stick around for so long. As for Hollins, he got stuck in a bad situation but did nothing to make it better, be that by making his players accountable or by making adjustments before they needed to be made.