Brooklyn Nets general manager Billy King has a lot on his plate these days. There’s figuring out what to do with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, his two most onerous contracts. There’s the impending free agency of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, who both have opt-out clauses. There’s building in free agency and the draft in the hopes of competing for the playoffs next year.
King, a Duke alum, sat down with Steve Clark of “The Devil’s Den,” an unofficial Duke athletics website, to talk his path towards becoming a general manager, his strategy with players and personnel, and his upcoming job.
The draft: The Nets own the 29th and 41st picks in the upcoming draft, but it would be a bigger shock if that’s all the ended up with. King has bought second-round picks multiple times in recent years, and has said plainly he’ll try to trade up.
He also puts his faith in his scouting staff to make the right calls, and he considers it his job to get the picks so they can acquire those players:
“I have a very good staff and I put a lot on them. That’s something I learned in Philadelphia, you have to trust your scouts because that’s what they do. I do go out but obviously not as much as they do and I trust them because that’s what they do. As we get closer to the Draft I get more involved and focus in more but it’s really I leave the Draft to them to manage because it’s really my job is to try and acquire the picks so we can have good picks to make.
King also said his staff generally knows what he wants. If the past few years are any indication, that’s college seniors (think Markel Brown, Cory Jefferson, and Mason Plumlee; even Markel Thames was a 23-year-old junior) with pedigree.
He added that he spends more of his time with his current players than his potential future ones:
I probably spend more time talking with them than I do on the road scouting because I think it’s that’s important to spend time in talking with and managing the coaches and the players. Like I always try to spend time with the guys and I always try to get to know each person so a guy knows who I am and I know him so that I can get to the point where I can tell something’s wrong with a coach or player and I can go up and ask, “what’s wrong ?”
On trades: King didn’t say much about his thought process during trades, but that none of them were particularly tough to navigate. He added that relationships with other general managers matter, but at the end of the day, it’s business:
Well you do have relationships with some of them but at the end of the day, you are trying to work out the deal that works best for you. So you do have relationships but ultimately all of us are trying to figure out deals that works best for us. You are cordial and some guys you have better relationships with than others but each one is trying to win the deal so to speak.
On becoming a general manager: King said he didn’t think he would become a general manager, and his first instinct was to go into coaching or television:
When I was there my thought process was to be a coach or to do television. I never even thought about being a general manager at that time. … When I was at Indiana with Donnie Walsh, I was an assistant there and in meetings with him and the coaching staff and just seeing how he operated, it made me say to myself that that is something I want to do.
On his influences:
A lot of it has been what I watched from Donnie Walsh and learning from watching him and thinking, “what would Donnie do in this situation?” Then another large part of it was Coach K in seeing how he chose to build a team and build a family where you care about them as people first.
I think Donnie played a role in my development as a GM but also I think Larry Brown helped a lot in developing my pro basketball philosophy with players but definitely Donnie I learned how do you manage administratively and how do you manage someone else as the general manager. I also think Rod Thorn was important too, he’s been a great friend who is now in the League Office. I was fortunate when I came in that I had some great people that I could pick their brains on. I remember Wes Unseld at the time, Jerry West when he was with the Lakers, Rod Thorn was at the League Office, Donnie Walsh, I just tried to be a sponge around all those guys.
I guess probably personally it’s just a very hard job. When I started my first GM job I wasn’t married but by the end I was and when I took the job here in Brooklyn I had a family, so I had to learn to balance the family life and the job as well.
Full interview below (account required).
The Devil’s Den — One-On-One With Billy King