NEW YORK -- Brooklyn Nets general manager Billy King's latest state of the union address prior to the start of the 2015-16 season only reiterated what has long been known: after owner Mikhail Prokhorov's five-year championship plan failed, the franchise is headed in a different direction, and expectations have changed.
Over the summer, the Nets shed salary, avoided the luxury tax and got younger, moving away from their win-now-and-at-all-costs philosophy. And with the possibility of having upwards of $40-some million in salary cap space heading into free agency in 2016-17, the Nets hope to use that budget to build a team with a more sustainable future.
"We didn't win the championship," said King, who added that the goal this year is to "try to make the playoffs."
"And the goal was to try to do that, and so now you've got to revamp and retool it. And we put ourselves in position to have flexibility next season. And we knew all along when we traded for Joe [Johnson], traded for Paul [Pierce] and KG [Kevin Garnett] there was probably a two- to three-year window. And that window is closed."
Blockbuster deals that brought Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Johnson, Pierce and Garnett to Brooklyn never panned out as hoped. Since moving to Brooklyn in 2012, despite making the playoffs in all three seasons, the Nets won just one playoff series. With their $27.5 million buyout of Williams in July, only Johnson remains from that group of big names. And yet the Nets do not have total control over their first-round pick until 2019. They owe their 2016 and 2018 unprotected firsts to the Celtics. Boston also has the right to swap firsts with Brooklyn in 2017.
Despite the fact that things didn't work out as planned, King refused to second-guess himself.
"If I knew [why it didn't work out], we'd be sitting here saying the parade was nice," King said. "I have some reasons [why it didn't work out], but there's no reason to throw it out there now because there's no reason to look backwards -- you learn from it and you try to build on it. But there's no reason now to say, 'Well, we shouldn't have did this or that.' It was done.
"I think the biggest thing we were able to accomplish now is we were able to say whatever we did, we did. But now we are moving forward and not looking backwards and dwelling on that. I think we were able to get some young talent, athleticism and reduce our payroll from a $90 million taxpayer [in 2013-14] two years later to being zero."
After being acquired by the Nets at the February trade deadline in 2011 and re-signed to a five-year, $99 million max contract, Williams was viewed as a centerpiece of their move to Brooklyn. But injuries and inconsistency plagued him throughout his tenure with the franchise.
Internal talks about a Williams buyout began almost immediately following the season, but not everyone in the organization was initially on board, sources said. But the Nets ultimately decided to cut ties with him due to his poor attitude, declining performance and hefty salary. Many players in the organization were not particularly fond of Williams -- especially Johnson, according to multiple sources with knowledge of their relationship.
When asked if the buyout was an "addition by subtraction" move, King responded, "Next question."
"It was decision that we made to move on," King said. "One, it helped us to get under the tax, and also it created flexibility for next year. And we had been together for what -- 3 1/2 years, four years -- and I felt we had gone probably as far as we could go with the group, the way it was constructed."
King had said a month earlier that the Nets had no plans to buy out Williams. But the GM eventually approached the point guard's agent, Jeff Schwartz, about the possibility about cutting ties, and the process began. Williams ended up signing a two-year, $10 million contract with his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
"Well, I mean, we explored the possibility of a trade and there was no opportunity there, and so we looked at other options," King said. "And that was the best option, not only for this year and tax, but also for next year and creating cap space for next season as well."
A recently retired long-time team physician of the Utah Jazz, Dr. Lyle Mason, said they knew Williams had "loose ankles." Asked about those comments, King responded: "I don't know. I just know there are HIPAA laws [in place], and I believe a doctor wouldn't be speaking about someone's medical condition publicly then, so I'm not gonna do the same because I know there's a law."
The Nets are banking on a core of Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, Johnson, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jarrett Jack to surprise their naysayers. Lopez (four years, $63 million) and Young (four years, $50 million) were both re-signed to long-term deals in the offseason. Many of the players have been scrimmaging in informal workouts at the team's temporary East Rutherford, N.J., practice facility. Quality team chemistry has been brought up frequently, and Lionel Hollins is set to become the first coach in Brooklyn Nets' history to make it to Year 2 on the bench.
"I like the guys' attitudes towards each other," King said. "I think they have a genuine liking and care for each other. If you're willing to do that, then you're willing to sacrifice on both ends of the floor for each other."
Many of the team's other free-agent acquisitions -- Andrea Bargnani, Shane Larkin, Thomas Robinson and Wayne Ellington -- have been with multiple teams. New York Knicks president Phil Jackson, in criticisms of his former players, referred to Bargnani as "The Big Tease" and Larkin as "Tiny Hands."
"I guess so, some guys will use it as motivation, but we don't want to use a chip on our shoulder," said King, who is in the final year of his contract. "I guess you can take me in that, Lionel, we're all in the same boat. But I look at it as the motivation is just to win basketball games. I don't think we need a chip or we're out to prove anything. We don't want our guys out to prove something to someone else. Just play what you're able to do and prove to yourself.
"Don't worry about the outside. We have a lot of guys that have so-called been knocked around by local management in other organizations, but they don't have to prove it to them. They just have to go out and play basketball and not worry about that. All they can control is what they can control. They can't control what somebody is going to write or what somebody is going to say."