An open letter to Billy King

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Hey Billy,

Long time no speak. I’m sure you can guess why I’m writing to you today, you know with the whole Celtics winning the lottery thing going on. But don’t fear, curses and anger are not to follow. Neither will forgiveness, though, rather somewhere between the two ends of that spectrum.

That fateful trade you made four years ago irreparably changed the future of the Nets organization, but also that of the Celtics. You brought us immediate legitimacy and a horde of future Hall-of-Famers well past their prime, as well as a single playoff series victory. You handed Boston a future, a ton of cap space and a cupboard of lottery picks.

That one season with Garnett, Pierce, Deron, Joe, Blatche, Livingston, Mirza (Brook was mostly hurt, of course) and Co. was a pretty fun one, but it ended at the hands of LeBron and the Heat in a five-game embarrassment. Remember when we beat them all four times in the regular season?

We made the playoffs the next season, and were bounced by the Hawks, before everything turned to, well, shit. You made it through the first half of the following year before that whole “reassignment” situation. I’m sure that was a mutual decision.

Anyway, you’re long gone now and are merely a spectator as your horribly short-sighted decisions complicate the job of Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson, who seem to be a GM-coach pairing that actually has a semblance of chemistry and direction. The concept may be foreign to you, but it assuredly exists.

So what do you have to say for yourself? You haven’t commented too much on your Nets tenure — this podcast interview stands relatively alone — but when it has come up, you seem to magically shirk any responsibility for what transpired.

You managed to say that if given more time by an ownership group you let down in the most embarrassing way possible, that a turnaround was possible. You also criticized the Nets for how they picked your replacement, lamenting that a current NBA trend is to hire executives and coaches from the so-called “Spurs tree.” Do you think that might have to do with the success that organization has had? Maybe? I’d give it a thought if I were you.

It’s undeniable that Mikhail Prokhorov’s desire to attract superstars to the Nets, newly in Brooklyn, played a role in your decision to make that trade. For that, I’ll even understand your thought process. You made the trade to keep your job. I get that, even if it backfired spectacularly.

What I don’t get is the lack of remorse. Do you have any idea of how bad a situation you’ve put the franchise and its fans in? Is making quite possibly the most lopsided deal in NBA history what you envisioned gracing your Wikipedia page when you finally bowed out of the league?

Just an apology, or even a hint of lament would have been nice. You’re a smart guy, it’s okay to admit you made a mistake. No protections on any of the picks? Was that really a deal-breaker with a Boston team trying desperately to unload its aging and expensive core?

We all have even given you a pass for that Gerald Wallace deal the year before, when you traded yet another lottery pick for an aging star. Portland picked Damian Lillard with our pick that season. You had Thomas Robinson ahead of him on your draft board. For any other executive, that might be a career-ending move. But for you, it’s simply a little spilled milk in an entire garbage dump.

In another interview, you came right on the precipice of taking blame for the disastrous move, calling it “a calculated gamble” that “didn’t work.” What did you guys calculate the value of Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry with, an abacus? I mean, the value of the three picks (plus this year’s infamous pick swap) couldn’t have possibly been seen as lower than that of three guys closer to 40 than 30.

Time and again, we keep coming back to the blame being put on ownership, the guys who sign the checks. But if you were simply a stooge for an out-of-touch and star-crazed billionaire, why even keep the job? At that point, your reputation around the league was still pretty good and you managed to put together a team that was a C.J. Watson layup from making the second round.

At least in my book, regardless of what an ownership group might tell a general manager, it’s up to the guys who know basketball to make the decisions. That’s why they call it basketball operations. You had the final say on the matter, and you clearly didn’t push back, despite what you may lead on in interviews. The buck stopped with you, and you let it slide right on by.

So, Billy, if I may, here’s a bit of advice: Just own up to it. Admit you screwed up and that the trade flopped in the entire organization’s face. You got your money and left, making it so that everyone else had to clean up for your mistake. The Nets were merely a nobody when you took over. After you were gone, they turned into a nuclear waste site. The only person that seemed to have the proper protective suit on was you.

Am I mad at you for what you did? Of course, and every Nets fan — rightly — is as well. We can only watch as the Celtics draft Markelle Fultz this June with what should be our pick. We’ll also watch next year when the same exact thing happens again. They call it insanity, and you escaped the asylum.

However, I do understand the motivations behind the trade and, at the time, I honestly liked it (obviously before I saw the draft implications). With the roster in place, that team definitely could have challenged the Heat had Lopez stayed healthy. For that, I won’t blame you. But as a general manager, man, you’ve got to have to a backbone. And to be so shifty after the fact, that’s just rubbing salt directly into the wound.

Billy, you might not ever work in basketball again, for very good reasons, but if you do, I implore you to take a little more responsibility for your actions. It’s tough, I know, but trust me, it might make the mob a little less angry when it’s chasing you out of town. It’s a more helpful way of letting you know to watch out for the door hitting you where the good lord split you.

Not sure how busy you are nowadays, so I hope you had the time to read this. If your trade history is any indicator, you might have only skimmed through, looking for a place to put your initials at the bottom. The date can go anywhere.


Josh Burton


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