Commentary

Nets get their King, just not LeBron

Billy King brings a solid record as a front office man to an organization that needs it

Updated: July 15, 2010, 8:13 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For a guy tasked with keeping New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov a bachelor beyond 2015, Billy King probably should have had a better answer prepared for when he was asked about the particular pressure that dynamic brings to his new job.

It was just a few days ago that Prokhorov stated he would do the worst thing imaginable -- get married -- if he failed to achieve his publicly stated goal of winning an NBA championship within the next five years.

"I heard that. I didn't know that going in, so I've got to get to work because I don't want to be the one," King said. "But I will tell him that marriage is great -- but, you know, at his own time and choosing. I don't want to force it."

The Nets introductory news conference on Thursday naming King the new general manager was the one of the rarest of NBA affairs, an event in which the predecessor, Rod Thorn, was on hand to introduce his successor.

King is stepping into a job situation his colleagues would envy, becoming the architect of a team that's merely striving to be in good shape two years from now -- when the purgatory in Newark, N.J., will be over and the franchise will be ready to relocate to Brooklyn, N.Y.

[+] EnlargeBilly King
AP Photo/Bill KostrounKing knows he has the players and cash ($14.4 million in cap space) to make some moves.

Most of the offseason roster maneuvering was completed by Thorn in the past week as the Nets, after being shut out in the chase for major free agents, filled out their roster with what they hope will be bargain buys, signing and/or trading for Travis Outlaw, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar and Johan Petro.

New Jersey still has $14.4 million in unused cap space and will look to sign a veteran power forward to split time with rookie Derrick Favors, but King made it clear that it'll be more of a priority to preserve that cap space and the accompanying flexibility it brings until another player the caliber of Kevin Garnett or Pau Gasol suddenly pops onto the market.

"There are a couple of guys I have in mind. I'll start making calls today, and you have to be a pest," King said. "Mitch [Kupchak] said he kept calling and calling when he was trying to get Pau, and it took a year, but he got him."

Despite having solid assets in Favors, Devin Harris and Brook Lopez, a new coach (Avery Johnson) and a new GM, there will be low expectations for the Nets entering the 2010-11 season after the roster that produced a mere 12 victories a year ago was not significantly upgraded.

It remains to be seen if Johnson and Harris will co-exist peacefully, both knowing full well that it was Johnson who signed off on the deal in Dallas two-and-a-half years ago in which Harris was traded to the Nets in the Jason Kidd deal.

The acquisition of Morrow and the focus on the continued development of Terrence Williams would seem to make Courtney Lee nearly as expendable as Yi Jianlian was last month, when the Nets dumped him on the Wizards and got back Quenton Ross.

Perhaps the greatest assets King has at his disposal are the expiring contracts of Kris Humphries ($3.2 million) and Ross ($1.15 million) plus a pair of future draft picks acquired from Golden State (a top-seven-protected first-rounder in 2012 and a second-rounder in 2011) in a commendable fleecing pulled off by assistant GM Bobby Marks in a July 22, 2008, trade that sent washout Marcus Williams to the Warriors.

The Nets also have Miami's second-round pick in 2012 (take a guess: No. 59 or 60?) and Chicago's 2012 second-rounder, the latter of which the Nets received in the trade last month that sent Chris Douglas-Roberts to Milwaukee.

It's not exactly an abundance of riches, but enough for King to sit on while exerting patience -- the character trait King said he would like to show more of than he did during his 10-year stint in Philadelphia's front office.

"Agents are calling, but I don't think there's a player left in free agency who can guarantee you 10 more wins," King said while ruling out a run at Newark native and unrestricted free agent Shaquille O'Neal. "It's not going to be an open, free checkbook. We're going to be prudent about it. We're going to move, but we're going to move smart."

They're going to move slowly, too.

King said he will not have a direct line to Prokhorov but will instead have to communicate with the owner through his right-hand man, Dmitry Razumov, to gain approval for personnel moves. That time-zone challenging dynamic could cause things to move even more slowly, but again, time is on the Nets' side.

The big moment for them comes in November 2012, when they plan to play their first game in Brooklyn.

And the big moment for the new general manager is in June 2015, when he'll know whether he has helped fulfill Prokhorov's quest to bring a championship parade to Flatbush Avenue.

If King fails, he'll likely be back where we was right up until Wednesday, when he learned he had beaten out former Duke teammate Danny Ferry for the job. He'll be out on the streets, looking for work, with zero chance of opening his mailbox and discovering an invitation to the Prokhorov wedding that the owner would have preferred had been indefinitely delayed.

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