New Jersey Nets: Good Things Come in Threes

Kevin BergerCorrespondent IJuly 28, 2010

BOSTON - JUNE 13:  New head coach of the New Jersey Nets Avery Johnson attends Game Five of the 2010 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics on June 13, 2010 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Hall of Famer and former manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Earl Weaver, claimed the key to winning baseball was pitching, defense, and the three-run homer.

Successful NFL teams mesh offense, defense, and special teams that complement one another. But an owner will admit that having a guy like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Tom Brady around certainly helps your chances. 

In the NBA, a winning formula at the front office level is no different, and there are also three legs to that stool. Sure, it helps to have a loaded roster like the Celtics, Lakers, and now the Miami Heat. But if you want to build a winner, you have to start at the top. And that’s precisely what the Nets organization has done by hiring Avery Johnson and Billy King.

Since we’re touting a true top-down approach to building towards a championship, let’s start with the top of the totem pole with team owner Mikhail Prokhorov. A successful front office triumvirate usually starts with an owner like the tall, young Russian. He’s a savvy business man that knows when to roll the dice and knows when to keep his powder dry. The dice rolling came by buying a franchise that was 12-70 last season.

Mikhail then doubled down on the pass line by predicting a championship in the next few years. Craps players in Atlantic City would lament that bold proclamation as being “a cooler” since the Nets promptly defied NBA lottery odds and crapped out by falling to the third slot in the draft, losing a shot at the two sure players in this year’s lottery pool—John Wall and Evan Turner.

With input from old ranch hand Rod Thorn, Prokhorov took a shot of Stoli and made the first shrewd move in his young career as Premier of the Nets. He eschewed analysis from pundits and grabbed the player with the highest ceiling left on the board–Derrick Favors–instead of safer, “win now” picks like Demarcus Cousins or Greg Monroe.

That’s keeping your powder dry.

For a franchise that needs to build for the future, it makes sense to draft the player with the most “future” value and that’s precisely what Prokhorov and the Nets did. But the departing Rod Thorn’s role in all this can’t be discounted. 

Enter the second leg of a championship front office troika – the GM. Thorn had done as much for the franchise as he possibly could during his ten years and graciously stepped down, opening the door for an up and comer like Billy King.

The standout defensive star at Duke is used to seeing the game through a big picture prism. Not blessed with a tremendous amount of skill in college, King had to work to find his niche as a defensive stopper on some talented Duke teams. He then had to reinvent himself as a player personnel man for the 76ers with a rapid ascent to Team President from 2003 to 2007.

As a GM, King is a hybrid because he knows the ins and outs of the game and played at a high level, but he’s also got some “Moneyball” economics game in his bag like personnel stars Darryl Morey of the Rockets and Sam Presti of the Thunder. Hopefully it’s the best of both worlds for Nets fans. King knows a player can ball by looking at him, but he’s also willing to punch in the data and run the algorithms that help make GM assumptions more definitive.

Call it Old School meets New School .

To tie it all in, you have to have a conduit between the front office and your roster who not only communicates between the two tiers of the organization, but commands respect from both factions.

Avery Johnson is precisely that guy.

He commands respect from both players and front office executives, and perhaps more importantly, also speaks their language. The players absolutely loved Johnson in Dallas and Avery was still able to get along relatively well with enigmatic and overbearing owner, Mark Cuban. Pairing him with a great communicator and fellow high level player like Billy King in the GM’s role is a solid match.

With these three pieces in place, the only thing left is acquiring the personnel to implement the change in the organization. Favors is a terrific asset to help lure future lottery picks if the Nets can showcase his high ceiling in the coming season or two. As for the rest of the roster, the Nets boast one of the youngest teams in the NBA, so their options are certainly favorable to make moves in free agency and the coming draft.

So yes, good things do come in threes, and the Nets will need a lot of those in the short term until these front office maestros have some time to work their magic.


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