Billy King gets his extension from the Nets, even without a championship
Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the Brooklyn Nets, has been quite clear about his designs on a championship. Those who fall short, like head coach Avery Johnson, don't get to stick around.
But Billy King, the general manager, has apparently met the minimum threshold required by Prokhorov. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, the Nets are finalizing a contract extension with King, whose deal was up this summer.
King has built a team that has been undeniably competitive. The Nets won 49 games this season, good enough to earn the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. He managed to both acquire Deron Williams, then convince him to re-sign this past summer. His max deal for Brook Lopez has worked out well in its first season. And he's put a number of role on the roster, like backup guard C.J. Watson and center Andray Blatche, for minimal cost.
For people who would criticize King for taking on the contract of Joe Johnson this summer, only to see Johnson regress significantly, it is worth remembering that Williams might not have re-upped in Brooklyn if the Nets didn't acquire Johnson.
The larger criticism of King is that it's unclear he's created a team capable of more than competition, while the contracts signed to bring this team together really limit King's ability to improve further.
The combination of Williams, Johnson and Lopez helped to give the Nets salary commitments of $87 million this season, above the salary cap. But the real problem is that increases to $89 million next season, and holds relatively steady at $77 million in 2014-15 and even $72 million in 2015-16. For reference, the salary cap in 2012-13 is just over $58 million, so even a generous increase of that number each season will likely keep the Nets over the cap for the next three years.
That means no big free agents; the Nets will be limited, like they were this season, to a midlevel salary exception, along with additions for the veteran's minimum salary, and, of course, whatever players they can draft. (They'll pick 22nd this season.)
Either King needs to find a way to add one more impact talent this way, or Williams/Johnson/Lopez need to combine to make the Nets a championship contender. Further improvement from Lopez is possible; that Williams rediscovered the form that made him an elite point guard for the Utah Jazz in recent months also augurs well for the future.
Johnson is a more difficult case. His 14.1 P.E.R. is by far the worst he's posted since 2003-04, so a rebound doesn't seem impossible. But Johnson will be 32 in June, with a ton of mileage. This may be the new Joe Johnson reality, with decline from here.
That makes progressing further difficult for King and the Nets; even maintaining the status quo won't be easy. It's probably for the best for King that he signs an extension now; this is probably the best these current Nets will be.
Not that this is King's fault, either. It wasn't a realistic alternative to get to Brooklyn and wait to strike when the right acquisition came up. His task was clear: make the Nets the best they can be in 2012-13.
He's done that, and apparently he'll be rewarded for it.