The Brooklyn Nets’ future is as dark as their road uniforms and the outer border of the parquet floor at Barclays Center.
Sunday morning, owner Mikhail Prokhorov decided to do something about it… but the damage has already been done, and will be difficult to repair anytime soon.
It’s not as though head coach Lionel Hollins and general manager Billy King were doing their jobs well, but make no mistake: Brooklyn’s dire predicament begins and ends at the top of the food chain.
“The Prokhorov” is the party who primarily pushed his prized professional hoops project into the pits.
It’s not just that Prokhorov has spent like a drunken sailor… or a Russian billionaire. It’s not just that he pursued a high-risk, star-centric strategy instead of trying to build genuine component parts of a more integrated roster. It’s not just that he’s presided over an operation in which coaches get fired in-season. (Remember, Avery Johnson got sacked around this point in an NBA season. Lionel Hollins was not the first to receive this treatment in Brooklyn.)
No, the issue is bigger with The Prokhorov: All the above notions — chasing stars, yanking coaches, spending big — have not gone anywhere.
That might seem obvious, but let’s play out the argument a little bit for the sake of clarity.
Organizations sometimes go all-in to pursue stars: That approach worked handsomely for the 2008-2012 Boston Celtics. Two of the men who came to Beantown in 2007 — Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen — were part of a concerted approach on the part of the Celtics to pursue championships. The approach succeeded.
Organizations also go all-in and sack coaches in the middle of the season: The Miami Heat did this when Pat Riley replaced Stan Van Gundy with… Pat Riley. The Heat won the 2006 title, validating the move. That Heat roster, with Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning accompanying Shaq and D-Wade, also represented a star-centric attack at the Larry O’Brien Trophy. It worked.
You can succeed in different ways in sports, and in basketball, you can win with the general approaches the Brooklyn Nets have used.
The problem with The Prokhorov: The details were wrong… and always have been.
It wasn’t necessarily misguided to pursue stars and spend a lot of Russian dough. It’s just that the stars were old and creaky, not in the primes of their careers as Garnett and Paul Pierce were in 2007. Gerald Wallace — not a star, but a player who had enjoyed a solid NBA career — was declining more than improving when the Nets picked him up. Wallace was a player with more yesterdays than tomorrows when Brooklyn acquired him. Deron Williams is another example. Dogged by injuries but still lacking confidence, he was not the same player he was in Salt Lake City with the Utah Jazz.
The Deron example is aberrational — it wasn’t reasonable to view that as a pickup of an older, past-his-prime player — but the other examples certainly rate as instances in which Brooklyn cast its Nets for players who didn’t have all that much left to give. That’s the true folly of Brooklyn’s plan — not so much the general arc and philosophy, but the way in which the plan was executed by Billy King.
With yet another coach getting shoved out the door in the middle of a season — all when the management of the team set up Lionel Hollins to fail — it’s hard to see how working for Prokhorov as general manager is a remotely attractive job (beyond the money). It’s also hard to see which NBA coach of appreciable standing would ever want to step into this mess. The problems in Brooklyn won’t be fixed immediately. A younger coach might not have any problem with coaching 1.5 seasons, getting a pink slip, and learning a lot about plying his trade in the league. Any veteran coach should want to stay away from the Nets — or given their ownership, the “Nyets” — to the fullest possible extent.