Billy King still likes to make bold moves

Nets GM Billy King (left) talks with Deron Williams, one of the veterans on which King has pinned his hopes.
Nets GM Billy King (left) talks with Deron Williams, one of the veterans on which King has pinned his hopes. (AP)
Posted: December 21, 2013

It was after midnight on Feb. 24, 2005, when Billy King talked for the first time about the trade that was supposed to resurrect the 76ers.

On the campus of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Evans Hall - the building the Sixers still use as their practice facility - was dark save for the second-floor student lounge above the basketball court. His shirttail untucked and webbed with wrinkles, his eyes rimmed red, King had spent the previous 24 hours negotiating with the Sacramento Kings, finessing the details of a six-player deal to get Chris Webber.

He held a news conference that night and another the next afternoon, and the praise poured in for his acquisition of an elite power forward to pair with Allen Iverson, for a move that promised to vault the Sixers back to the top of the Eastern Conference.

"There are no quick fixes in the NBA, especially with the salary cap," King said then. "Sometimes, you have to be patient."

For all the accolades that King received, his definition of patience - a general manager must bide his time before pulling the trigger on a blockbuster trade - didn't pay off. The Sixers won one playoff game with Webber before buying out the rest of his contract, and over King's 31/2 years as the Brooklyn Nets GM, he has maintained a similar approach with similar results.

He dealt two players and two first-round draft picks to the Utah Jazz for point guard Deron Williams in 2011, and after the Nets won 49 games but lost in the playoffs' first round last season, he persuaded Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge to part with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry. Those three aging stars cost King five players and three first-round picks, but the trade was a thunderbolt - a testament to King's mission to turn the Nets into immediate championship contenders.

So far, though, the aftermath has been familiar. The Nets are 9-16 ahead of Friday night and their first visit to the Wells Fargo Center this season. They're just 21/2 games in front of the last-place Sixers (7-19), and even with a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd, they've struggled in a way that would have once been unthinkable, given the expectations that the trade created.

"It was very bold," said former Knicks and Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, who analyzes the NBA for ABC and ESPN. "In a league where boldness is not a trait for everybody in management, I thought it led to a lot of discussion. You get judged by the results, and it's too early to tell where it's going to go."

Under Sam Hinkie, the Sixers have put a different kind of patience into practice. They are slogging through this season with a ragtag roster in the name of better draft picks and better days to come, and their fans appear willing to slog with them. It's a luxury that King, who through a Nets spokesman declined to be interviewed, may not believe he has.

The Nets have an attention-seeking owner in Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and are in direct competition with the Knicks for eyes and ears in the nation's biggest media market. Teams that have pretty good seasons but bow out of the playoffs early don't sell in New York. Star power does. Star power matters.

"It should matter zero," Van Gundy said. "The only thing that should matter in those jobs at any level in any sport is, can you pick the right players, and can you pick the right coach, and can you do it within a budget that your owner sets? Everything else is a nothing, because if you win, that's the best marketing you could ever have."

In 2001, with Pat Croce as their president, King as their GM, and Larry Brown as their head coach, the Sixers proved as much. They won 42 of their first 56 games. They owned the town, and Croce couldn't believe it when King called him one day and said that he and Brown were desperate to pry center Dikembe Mutombo from the Atlanta Hawks. The Sixers had the league's best record, and still King was telling Croce that the team needed Mutombo's size and shot-blocking skills to make a deep playoff run.

"You know what? That was . . . bold," Croce said in a phone interview. "That was a seriously bold move."

The Sixers did reach the NBA Finals, but the franchise hasn't approached those heights since. Neither has King. The Nets were 56 games under .500 during his first two seasons with the team, so he did what he's always done. He started making those big bold moves: a rookie head coach, three old superstars, an offseason of upheaval. That was Billy King being patient again, and for his sake, the resurrection that never happened for the Sixers had better happen in Brooklyn, and fast.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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