Commentary

Call Billy the new King of Brooklyn

Nets GM goes all out to keep D-Will, showing he and his team have staying power

Updated: July 4, 2012, 6:29 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

Billy King just introduced himself to New York, just finished off a move worthy of a Sinatra tune. Without any promises, without even a Rex Ryan guarantee, the general manager of the Brooklyn Nets had gambled last year he could convince Deron Williams to spend his prime with a franchise often cast as a practical joke.

This one was sure to blow up in the Nets' faces, too. They would strike out on Williams, land with a sickening thud in Brooklyn, and play before the same sections of empty seats that often greeted their sorry brand of ball in Jersey.

The New York Knicks were counting on it. Way back when, they were angered by that enemy billboard rising above the Garden -- Mikhail Prokhorov's way of posterizing Jim Dolan -- and by reports the Nets had wowed LeBron James with a slick and sexy presentation in free agency while the Knicks had all but spilled coffee on James in their own clumsy pitch.

Neither side landed LeBron, of course, but later on the Knicks couldn't even celebrate their victory in the race for Carmelo Anthony. King responded right away with his deal for Williams, and suddenly Donnie Walsh was kicking himself for never calling Utah to see if the star quarterback was there to be had.

No, the Knicks never wanted this Nets-Williams marriage to last, not after it became clear the point guard would've been a much better fit for Amare Stoudemire than Anthony ever planned to be. But King hung in there and grinded it out the way an old Mike Krzyzewski ballplayer should.

King hung in there through the losing in Newark, through the injury to Brook Lopez, through an agonizing Dwight Howard saga lowlighted by Howard's shocking decision to forego free agency and sign up for another season in Orlando, a move that many thought had cost the Nets' their shot at bringing back Deron Williams.

King hung in there even when it looked like he was going to end up in Brooklyn with an embarrassing product, with Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez and a whole lot of whoop-de-damn-do.

He made the move for Joe Johnson, an overpaid star but a legitimate star nonetheless. Johnson was supposed to be unmovable with four years and $89 million left on his contract, but King was smart enough to play to one of the Nets' few organizational strengths. Even in a salary-capped sport, sometimes it pays to have a billionaire owner who humors himself in the strangest ways.

[+] EnlargeBilly King and Deron Williams
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesWith the future of his franchise at stake, Billy King did what he needed to do to make sure Deron Williams made the move to Brooklyn.

So maybe the best trade the Nets ever made, or the best since Rod Thorn sent Stephon Marbury to Phoenix for Jason Kidd, is the trade of lightweight Bruce Ratner for the heavy-hitting Prokhorov, who dismisses the luxury tax as a lunchtime tip.

Whatever. King knew he couldn't go marching into Brooklyn with Johnson as his biggest star. He knew he had to bring back Williams, and that Prokhorov would've made a move for his job -- sooner rather than later -- if he didn't.

"If it went the other way, Billy and the whole organization would've been killed," said one league source with knowledge of King's talks with Williams. "The easy thing would've been to call around and trade Deron during the season, trade him to the Lakers for [Pau] Gasol and just say, 'With the ship sinking, let's try to save as many people as possible.'

"But instead Billy pushed all his cards to the middle of the table, and it took a lot of [guts] to do that. I don't know if I would've been able to do it if I were him."

Williams met with Nets officials Monday in Manhattan. He also met with his hometown Dallas Mavericks, who didn't bring their owner, Mark Cuban, along for the recruiting ride, a fact that surprised and delighted the Nets. Prokhorov wasn't around for his team's presentation either (he was represented in the room by his aide, Dmitry Razumov), but in the end he didn't need to be.

Williams arrived at the Nets' training facility Tuesday around 9:30 a.m., arrived in his yellow Lamborghini. He worked out and then talked strategy with team officials, a sign that this was going to be a very good day for the Nets.

"Billy had so much on the line," said an NBA source close to King. "He's been like a college recruiter for the last year and a half, just trying to sell Deron on the vision he had. I know Deron got $100 million to stay and would've gotten $75 million if he left, and money definitely has something to do with it. But the relationship Billy established with Deron was huge here.

"He got crushed for giving up the sixth pick in the draft for Wallace, but he did that for Deron, to show him that good things start to happen when you have NBA players around you. If Billy starts the offseason with the No. 6 pick and with the hope of re-signing Brook, Deron might've ended up in Dallas."

Only Deron didn't end up in Dallas. He broke the news on his own, proving that a tweet grows in Brooklyn.

"Billy gave up Devin Harris, a No. 3 pick in Derrick Favors, another No. 3 in Enes Kanter, and a future probable Golden State lottery pick just for the chance to sign Deron," the source said. "And then he turns around and does the Johnson deal and takes on the NBA's biggest contract without a commitment from Deron that he's staying. Not many people would have done that."

Not many people would still like the Nets' chances of getting Howard out of Orlando, but King remains a believer. He's not done with Williams and Wallace, with Johnson and Reggie Evans and a Bosnian forward named Mirza Teletovic.

King still thinks he can get Howard, still thinks he can convince the Magic that Lopez is a better player than their scouting reports say he is. "I don't think Billy had a chance with Orlando over the weekend," the source said. "But he's got a chance now. The dialogue has changed."

So has the basketball landscape in New York, with or without Howard. The Knicks are in a losing fight for Steve Nash, and Jeremy Lin is busy flirting with other suitors.

In a city of eight million point guards, the Brooklyn Nets are the ones who are all set. Deron Williams will stick around for a long time, and so will the bold GM who signed him.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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