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Mikhail Prokhorov's absurd expectations doomed the Nets

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Billy King was just carrying out his boss' ridiculous orders. It's Prokhorov's fault the Nets are in such an awful situation.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Billy King did what he had to do.

The now-reassigned former GM of the Brooklyn Nets was hired by brand new NBA franchise owner Mikhail Prokhorov in 2010, just as the team (then still in Jersey) struck out on the blockbuster 2010 free agent class. (Well, they didn't strike out entirely: the Nets landed Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro and Jordan Farmar for a combined $57 million.)

Prokhorov's vow when he bought the team was outlandish, even by the standards of NBA franchise owners. He said he'd bring the Nets faithful a title within five years. (Actual quote: "How fast can we build a championship team? If everything goes as planned, I expect us to be in the playoffs next season and [win a] championship in one year minimum, and maximum in five years.") King's mandate was clear: Win big and win now.

No wonder every move the GM made over the next five years was focused on the short-term, on immediate gratification. That's what the boss' goals demanded. Five years have elapsed since Prokhorov's promise. Five years and no championships. Five years and nothing remotely close to a championship. Not even a division championship. How did the Nets fail so hard?

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The short version is this chart. The long version follows.

Prokhorov Era

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In 2010, the Nets were coming off of one of the worst seasons in league history -- an embarrassing 70-loss campaign in front of sparse crowds in East Rutherford -- and all the team really had to build around was Brook Lopez and picks.

Most teams would bet on developing Lopez and drafting well with an eye on growing an organic powerhouse later supplemented by hired guns allured by Brooklyn glamour. Lopez would be under contract through 2012 and under control beyond thanks to the vagaries of restricted free agency. The Nets had the No. 3 pick in 2010 and picked Derrick Favors, a stud prospect who'd pair nicely as a defensive anchor next to Lopez, a scorer. They'd likely pick high again in 2011, perhaps high enough to land local kid, Kyrie Irving. A lucrative move to Brooklyn would also assist in free agent pitches, and Prokhorov's wealth could help King extend further into the luxury tax than most teams, if needed.

Most teams would be patient while amassing assets. Prokhorov's Nets were not most teams. They were, in fact, unlike any other team. King immediately inserted the Nets into the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes and it was a godsend for the Nuggets, who desperately needed leverage in their quest to extract more assets out of the Knicks. Days after the Knicks hit the Melo jackpot, though, King landed a bombshell, grabbing Deron Williams from the Jazz.

The price was steep: Favors, plus two picks, including their 2011 selection that was likely to be quite high due to the Nets' slow start. It ended up No. 4 overall, which Utah used on Enes Kanter. (It could have been Klay Thompson or Kawhi Leonard.) The Nets kept Lopez and gained Williams. That's not a championship duo, not without lots of help, and due to injuries for both it ended up not even being a playoff duo. But King had made his first strike, and a big one at that. This would become a pattern: grab a headliner by leveraging future assets, see only minor improvement.

Next up was Gerald Wallace in the winter of 2012. With Williams struggling in the lockout-shortened season and approaching unrestricted free agency, and given rampant rumors he'd go home to Texas with Dallas recruiting hard, King swung a deal to add another big name. The cost was incredible: the Nets' 2012 pick protected only in the top three. The explanation given as to why this was not a big deal was even more incredible: the Nets only liked three players in the draft. Ergo, the Nets had no interest in the draft unless they could land one of those three. The Nets' pick ended up at No. 6, and the choice was Damian Lillard. Whoops.

Wallace opted out, which forced King to overpay him something fierce given his physical decline was obvious. But Williams stuck around, and so King kept swinging. He struck out on Dwight Howard, but he did land Joe Johnson in the 2012 trade market. The cost looked incredible at the time: the Nets' 2013 first plus two future unprotected pick swap options. The 2013 pick only ended up being Shane Larkin (no offense to Shane Larkin), and only one swap happened, sending the Nets from the mid-first in 2015 (Kelly Oubre) to the high-20s (Chris McCullough). The bigger deal ended up being Johnson's swollen salary, which contributed to the Nets racking up the largest luxury tax bills in NBA history.

This is the core the Nets took into their new home of Brooklyn in 2012: Williams, Lopez, Johnson and Wallace, plus a host of role players and C-level prospects. That got the Nets their best season in seven years, a 49-win campaign and a playoff berth. That's real progress! But Prokhorov didn't promise real progress. He promised a championship in five years. The Nets were eliminated in the first round by a Bulls team without Derrick Rose. Three years down, two to go.

So King made one more major swing, the quintessential go-for-broke, now-or-never dice roll: three unprotected picks and a pick swap option for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Pierce and Garnett, though both in their mid-30s, would (along with new coach Jason Kidd) provide the Nets a backbone, some grit. Brooklyn had been considered less than resilient; Lopez and Williams especially had been labeled as soft. No team with Pierce or Garnett could be soft ... or so King thought. The Nets got off to an awful start thanks in part to Kidd's learning curve and the growing frailty of Garnett. The Nets finished with a worse record than the year before, and managed to win a playoff series before being demolished by the Heat. Four years down.

Pierce opted out and bailed for the Wizards. (He later trashed the reputations of several Nets, notably Williams.) Kidd bailed out after an aborted power play for front office control. Garnett receded as he approached age 38. Lionel Hollins didn't get anything new out of the Williams-Johnson backcourt. King flipped Garnett for Thaddeus Young at the deadline and the Nets won 38 games before getting booted by the team that owned their draft pick, Atlanta.

There's your five years of trying in vain to turn the worst team in the NBA into a champion.

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Prokhorov demanded instant results. King did everything he could to deliver that. So it goes. The price of failure was steep, and the bill will continually come due through 2018. King botched the Wallace deal completely -- we knew immediately that was a recipe for heartache -- and the trade with the Celtics will have its own wing in the Hall Of S--t You Should Never Do as An NBA GM. The Williams trade was and is fully defensible. Most teams without a top point would have taken that bet, and the Johnson deal didn't end up costing Brooklyn much. But those other two deals doomed the Nets for the foreseeable future.

As such, King isn't absolved of blame for the woeful state the Nets. Giving up Lillard and up to four lottery picks for Wallace, Garnett and Pierce in their states is inexcusable. They were bad even in the perspective of going all-in for immediate improvement. But Prokhorov shoulders even more blame by setting such absurd expectations. His hyper-aggressive timeline forced King to ignore sustainability.

A championship? The Nets might not win 25 games again until 2020. Let's hope Prokhorov has at least learned the lessons that the last five years have offered.

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