Less than two years after giving him the job, the Brooklyn Nets announced Sunday that they fired head coach Lionel Hollins. General manager Billy King also resigned from his post but was reassigned within the organization.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov also released a statement on the decision:
After careful consideration, I’ve concluded that it’s time for a fresh start and a new vision for the direction of the team. By making this decision now, it enables our organization to use the rest of the season to diligently evaluate candidates with proven track records. It’s clear from our current state of affairs that we need new leadership.
With the right basketball management and coach in place, we are going to create a winning culture and identity and give Brooklyn a team that it can be proud of and enjoy watching. We have learned a great deal during the past six years and our experiences will guide us for the future. Following the consolidation of team ownership last month, I can assure you that I’m more determined and committed than ever to build a winner.
I want to thank Billy for his hard work in the development of the Nets. At every step of the way, he has been aggressive in his quest to build a winning team and has been a key factor toward the Nets making the playoffs for each of the last three seasons. Beyond this, he has been a tremendous friend, wonderful colleague and loyal partner and we wish him success in the future.
I also want to thank Lionel for his efforts and dedication on behalf of the Nets franchise. To our fans, I thank you for your continued enthusiasm and support and please know that brighter days are ahead. I’m excited to begin the process of choosing the best GM and head coach available.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported part of King's new role will "include advising ownership on its search" for his successor. Wojnarowski called the arrangement "unorthodox, especially considering King was pushed out of the job by owner Mikhail Prokhorov."
King provided a statement on Monday:
I would like to thank Mikhail for the opportunity that he accorded me over the past five plus years as the team's general manager. Working with him and Dmitry has been a very positive experience, and I truly appreciate their friendship and support throughout our years of working together, and value the hard work and commitment of the players, coaches, and work associates who have been a part of the Nets during my tenure. I would also like to thank Brett Yormark and his staff for a great partnership. My family and I thoroughly loved our experience in New Jersey and here in Brooklyn, and hope the fans experience the success they deserve.
Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, citing a source, reported Nets assistant general manager Frank Zanin is being retained, adding he has been involved with "most of [the] day-to-day team business, including trade talks."
Paul Westphal, who was working with Hollins as an assistant, announced he would not be staying with the organization after the decision to part with the head coach:
The Washington Post's Tim Bontemps was critical of the timing of the moves:
Gotta be honest: hard to understand why this had to be done today. Team wasn't going anywhere - now it doesn't even have a general manager.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) January 10, 2016
Hollins exits having posted a 38-44 record in 2014-15 and a 10-27 record in 2015-16. Brooklyn fell to the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks in six games in the first round of the 2015 NBA playoffs.
Few can label his tenure a failure since expectations for the team weren't exactly high heading into this year. The Nets can be counted among the minority of teams who've had an eye toward the present while almost completely ignoring the future.
Looking back, there was the Deron Williams trade, which saw Derrick Favors and two first-round picks go to the Utah Jazz. Even more quizzically, the Nets dealt their 2012 first-round pick—which turned into Damian Lillard—to the Portland Trail Blazers for Gerald Wallace. The deal bringing in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett also came at a steep price.
Bleacher Report's Howard Beck argued that the Nets' shortsighted plan to build a contender is the primary reason Brooklyn is now in trouble:
Plenty of blame to go around in Brooklyn, but Nets' ill-fated path started with owner's fixation on the present, and trying to claim NYC.— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) January 10, 2016
He added that Prokhorov is the biggest culprit:
Prokhorov cites need for "fresh start" and "new vision." Worth noting: The all-out, win-now philosophy was Prokhorov's vision.— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) January 10, 2016
Prokhorov gambled big to turn the Nets into an NBA title contender overnight, and the risk backfired in a massive way. As a result, the road back to contention will be long and arduous for Brooklyn.
The worst part for the Nets is the fact that they almost certainly won't be able to build through the draft. According to RealGM, their 2016 and 2018 first-round picks belong to the Boston Celtics, while the Celtics have the right to swap first-round picks in 2017.
Brooklyn can start shopping veterans such as Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Thaddeus Young, but Lopez is the only one who could fetch any sort of a return. And even then, plenty of teams will be hesitant to give up much for an injury-prone big man who's set to make a little over $43 million over the next two years.
The Nets' new head coach and general manager will both have a difficult time producing immediate results unless Prokhorov can convince one or more free agents to sign with the team, which will be difficult, given the franchise lacks young stars it can build around.
Brooklyn probably would've been better off waiting until the end of the season to fire Hollins and allow King to resign, but neither move is inexplicable.
The Nets are entering a new era, and they need a head coach and general manager who will be patient and savvy enough to turn the franchise around.