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NBA AM: Re-Inventing The Brooklyn Nets

The Nets have blown up their front office, is the roster next? If so, who is running the rebuild? … The Lakers and Suns are open for business.

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Re-Inventing the Nets

The Brooklyn Nets followed through yesterday on what seemed an inevitability. Head coach Lionel Hollins was fired and long-time general manager Billy King was re-assigned within the organization.

Hollins’ fit in Brooklyn was suspect at best and despite having one more year remaining on his deal, he was let go. Hollins will be replaced by assistant coach Tony Brown, who will serve as interim head coach.

The decision to fire Hollins at this point in a lost season seems somewhat odd, but the team was not responding to Hollins and was going nowhere quickly. The belief around the team is that a change in voice and coaching style might help the team compete a little more and ultimately create room for some of the younger players the Nets took a flyer on in free agency to get more playing time.

As for King, his “reassignment” removes him as the GM, but it’s being reported that King will help ownership find his replacement, which seems odd as well. As things stand, Nets assistant GM Frank Zanin is running the day to day operations, as he has for most of the season, and is the face person on the Nets’ initial trade talks. Zanin will report to Nets president Brett Yorkman and Nets chairman Dmitry Razumov, according to sources close to the situation.

The timing of both decisions really came out of nowhere, with most of the Nets staff learning of the decision either through media reports or text messages from outside the team. While it was always assumed that a change was likely this offseason, making such a sweeping change now seemed oddly timed given that there was nothing left to play for. The Nets are unlikely to make the postseason, the team is not well positioned for a franchise-changing trade and they have traded away their first-round pick to Boston.

The implied motivator behind the move, according to owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s released statement, was the Nets wanted to begin a full and complete search for new leadership as quickly as possible.

There have been some names linked to the Nets already, with Kentucky’s John Calipari being the biggest name. Calipari and Yorkmark have a long history together and it’s believed that Yorkmark has been pushing for Calipari to re-join the team and skipper it to respectability.

Calipari has done the dance with a few NBA teams over the last couple of years, briefly entertaining the L.A. Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Pelicans and, most recently, the Sacramento Kings. According to sources who are familiar with the talks, Calipari deliberately stayed at arm’s length with the NBA teams that reached out to him, but it was clear that the ideal scenario would include Calipari having complete franchise control and a salary that put him at the top of the NBA salary chain with a package worth more than $100 million.

It’s believed to even get Calipari to consider an NBA job, he’ll want a 10-year agreement that could eclipse the $120 million mark.

There have also been reports that Brooklyn could pursue current CSKA Moscow president Andrey Vatutin to lead the team going forward. Since acquiring the team, it has long been believed that Prokorov has wanted Vatutin involved with the Nets, as the two have a long history together dating back to when Prokorov was the primary benefactor for CSKA and was funding their Euroleague runs.

An interesting side note to Vatutin is that storied international coach Ettore Messina, currently an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, coached CSKA and has long been considered one of the top head coaching candidates in NBA circles, especially with the success that Cavaliers coach David Blatt is having in Cleveland.

League sources were skeptical that Vatutin would take on the day to day GM duties, but that naming him President of Basketball and having him hire a proven NBA staff under him seemed more likely, if it happened at all.

A third name that has surfaced recently is former Golden State Warriors executive and NBA player Chris Mullin, who is currently coaching St. John’s in the NCAA. League sources say that Mullin is interested in a return to the NBA and would listen to opportunities, but that it would take a great situation for him to leave St. John’s.

The Nets job could be an interesting situation: they have $45.37 million in salary cap commitments next season, giving them what could be $44 million in cap space this summer. They do have some interesting trade chips before the trade deadline including forward Thaddeus Young and the ending contract of former All-Star Joe Johnson.

With the Nets clearly looking to re-invent themselves, things could get interesting in the next six months, even if it’s unclear who is calling the shots today.

Now Taking Calls

Despite most teams in the NBA sitting out the unofficial start of trade season in December, there is a growing sense that more than a few franchises are ready to entertain deals and that some teams have shifted from taking calls to making them.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak admitted recently that he has been reaching out to teams and exploring what’s possible with his roster. Kupchak hinted that there was a lot of interest in the younger guys on his roster, including players the Lakers are planning to build around. The Lakers have a handful of veteran players that are not part of the future and the Lakers seem to be exploring what some of them would return.

League sources have been pretty adamant that forward Brandon Bass is obtainable as is veteran center Roy Hibbert, although it’s believed Roy is not overly attractive given his $15million salary and the fact he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in July.

The Phoenix Suns are also fairly active in the trade market with Suns GM Ryan McDonough telling The Burns and Gambo radio show in Phoenix that his club was ready to make some changes.

The most likely player to be moved is obviously forward Markieff Morris; however, league sources that have considered a Morris trade label his combination of poor performance, off-court issues and length of contract as a deal that’s hard to rationalize if it sends out any real value.

The Suns have long-term commitments to Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, Tyson Chandler and Morris. All four are under contract at least through the 2018-19 season.

The Suns do have several attractive rookie scale contracts including guard Archie Goodwin, center Alex Len and forward T.J. Warren who could all be included in a deal to make something less attractive more palatable.

The NBA trade deadline is February 18, so there is still a lot of time for things to shake themselves loose, but it seems we now have a few motivated sellers and that’s generally the precursor to deals actually getting done.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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