Once out, it can be really hard to get back in. Billy King had lived with that NBA reality since Dec. 4, 2007, when he was replaced by Ed Stefanski as the 76ers' president/general manager.
"I experienced it, the highs and lows," King said last night, after being named general manager of the New Jersey Nets earlier in the day. "Some days, I had my head up, other days I would ask myself, 'What went wrong?' But I have a good wife [Melanie] and a good family, and they encouraged me."
The backstory to King's joining the Nets began earlier this summer, when the Nets hired Avery Johnson as their coach. King sent a message to outgoing president/GM Rod Thorn saying, "Great hire." Thorn called King on July 6, gauging his interest; shortly thereafter, King met with Johnson. Tuesday, King met with new owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
King, 44, planned to be in his new office today, the day before Thorn officially leaves. According to the Star Ledger, of Newark, King's contract is for 3 years at about $2 million a year.
"Ownership wants to win, and they understand it's not going to happen overnight," said King, who inherits a 12-70 team. "They understand the cap and the rules."
He was scheduled to meet today with reporters covering the team.
"He deserves to be back [in the league]," said Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown, who was the Sixers' coach when King came to Philadelphia in June 1997. "He's really good at it. I know what he meant to me; he's knowledgeable, loyal and talented. He recognized that it's not easy to get back in, and he was patient. I'm not surprised he's back in, but I was surprised that Rod stepped down. I have so much respect for [Thorn]; I never expected the job in New Jersey to be open."
King came to the Sixers from the Indiana Pacers with the title of vice president of basketball administration.
"[Then-president] Pat Croce and [chairman] Ed Snider gave him a 1-year trial," Brown recalled. "He proved to them that he was capable."
King became GM in May 1998, and then president/GM in May 2003.
"He had them going in the right direction [when he was replaced]," Brown said.
King's time with the Sixers wasn't always smooth. He was criticized for bloated contracts given to Kenny Thomas and Samuel Dalembert, for signings that included Derrick Coleman and Glenn Robinson, and for gambling on acquiring Chris Webber in a trade. But during his tenure, the Sixers had five consecutive playoff appearances (1999-2003), including the remarkable run to the Finals in 2000-01.
He also engineered the December 2006 deal that sent Allen Iverson to the Denver Nuggets for Andre Miller and Joe Smith.
"He has all of the qualities we've been looking for in a candidate: professionalism, good relations with the league, players and agents, and strong communications skills," Prokhorov was quoted as saying. "He will be an excellent fit with head coach Avery Johnson. Most importantly, Billy is ambitious. He wants to win. This is what I felt when I met with him and why he will be a strong addition to the Nets organization."
Reports circulated that Prokhorov's final choice came down to King and former Cleveland Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry.
Of King, Brown said, "He's as capable as anybody." *