Billy King brings exciting Nets roster to Brooklyn
Inside his second floor office within the Nets' New Jersey training facility in East Rutherford, N.J., miles away from Brooklyn's hustle and bustle, Billy King stares at a white dry erase board.
There are five columns written by position in marker, each filled with the initials of at least three players. In total, they represent the full 18-man squad the Nets will trot out when they begin training camp at the PNY Center next week.
That depth chart probably never looked so good to King, particularly when the Nets general manager knows how empty that board was about three months ago.
"One day I came in," King said in an interview with Newsday, "and all they had on the board was Anthony Morrow, MarShon Brooks, Jordan Williams and Johan Petro because those were the only guys under contract."
Knowing the task that stood ahead of him on July 1, the first day the Nets officially were able to sell their Brooklyn vision to free agents other than their own, King insisted someone write a few more names on the board at the very least. Hey, he figured, it would help his psyche if nothing else, giving him reason to be optimistic of the roster he hoped to assemble for the inaugural season in Brooklyn.
"I said, No, no, no," King recalled. "Put some other guys we spoke to, put them up there so it will make me feel better.' It was fun, it was challenging, but it was something we had prepared for. We'd done all our homework, so we just had to take the test."
Whether King aced his exam and heads straight to the dean's list remains to be seen, but many believe the Nets are on the right track to becoming a player in the Eastern Conference for the next few years. Buoyed by re-signing Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez, and acquiring Joe Johnson from Atlanta, King has assembled a cast that's drawn some serious excitement.
"Unbelievable," Lopez said. "He picked up fantastic guys and gave us a very good team. Not just a collection of good players, but a great team."
The centerpiece, of course, is Williams and King took it from all angles when he first traded for the three-time All-Star in February of 2011. No way Williams was going to stay in this market and play for a franchise that's second fiddle to the Knicks, many thought. That ideology certainly didn't fizzle out as the Nets compiled a 25-42 mark in the games Williams played in his one-plus season with the team.
Still, when the balls in the NBA's lottery machine stopped bouncing in May and everyone knew the Nets were forced to give their first-round pick to the Trailblazers as part of the Wallace trade consummated in March, there was more tension on King. Wallace had made it known he was going to opt out of his deal and if the Nets didn't re-sign him -- paired with Williams possibly bolting to Dallas -- the masses figured King's days likely would be numbered.
"It was the job at hand," King said. "After the fact, some people said, 'Man, they are writing your obituary because you traded for Deron, and Deron was leaving. You traded for Gerald.' So everybody has assumed all those guys were leaving and I was going to be gone next."
Not now, though, not with the way Mikhail Prokhorov fawned about him at Friday's Barclays Center ribbon cutting: "I'm sure, I do believe he will be the GM of the Year," the Nets' Russian billionaire owner said.
Hyperbole? Some chuckled at those words. Just like many laughed when King traded for Williams once his run at Carmelo Anthony was foiled, and Anthony was shipped to the Knicks.
"I didn't think it was a risk," King said, "because I knew we were going to a great market and would have one of the greatest buildings. I knew we had, in my opinion, the best owner in the NBA. So I didn't look at it as a stupid move. I knew we needed an anchor and we had a great young center. I went after Carmelo. I said, 'Billy, you've got to have someone that's willing to take that big shot, that's willing to put things on his shoulders, that at the end of the game, no matter what the coach draws up, they can win the game for you.' "
After all that losing, having constantly to stay in his All-Star point guard's ear and drill a vision of hope with laserbeam-like focus, King could peer at that board in his office, thankful he still has that guy. The seemingly endless defeats didn't force Williams to punch an airline ticket out of town.
"It got to him, it go to all of us," King said. "But my job was to try to manage it, try to talk to them, try to remind them of the vision we were trying to get to. I think if it would have been one more year, I don't think he would have been able to survive it. But we got through the season and he went over and saw the building.
"I think that's when it clicked. 'This is the new identity. This is who we are.' "