Mikhail Prokhorov paid a hefty price tag to purchase the New Jersey Nets but the billionaire tycoon can't buy everything including Deron Williams' loyalty or a winning team. If he's going to succeed as an NBA owner, he'll have to change his philosphy.
If you’re a fan of reality television and sports, then you’ve probably seen Vh1’s Basketball Housewives. Despite it’s misleading title many of the women aren’t actually married to NBA players. Most of them are divorcees, girlfriends and ex-girlfriends. During the course of the past two seasons, the New Jersey Nets have been able to relate. They’ve thought of themselves as an elite franchise on the precipice but they’ve been wrong. Until the Brooklyn Nets experience a modicum of success they'll simply be the Knicks pool house guests.
Since minority owner Jay-Z and Russian tycoon Mickhail Prokhorov officially announced that their franchise would be moving to a pristine new arena in Brooklyn in 2012, expectations were raised in New Jersey. The Nets have experienced pockets of success between the heyday of Dr. J in the ABA, the Dražen Petrović era and their consecutive NBA Finals appearances at the turn of the millennium.
However, they’ve all ended in disappointment. Dr. J left New Jersey for Philadelphia where he won an NBA championship, Dražen died young in a tragic car crash and Kidd’s Nets lost in both their trips to the Finals.
The move to Brooklyn is more than just a relocation of the Nets. It’s supposed to represent a change of fate. Before the 2010 NBA Draft Lottery, new billionaire owner Mikhael Prokhorov raised the stakes by boldly stating that his Brooklyn Namath's would win an NBA title within the next five years. Things immediately began going wrong. First, the Nets lost out on the top pick, John Wall, despite posting one of the worst single season records in NBA history.
The Nets continued to furiously chased superstar free agents but have hit below the Mendoza Line in their pursuits. During the Superstar Wholesale of 2010, the Nets were spurned by Lebron, Bosh, Wade and Stoudemire. After months of public negotiations between the Nuggets and Nets, the Knicks later won the Carmelo Anthony raffle. However, after sending away a bevy of draft picks including starting point guard Devin Harris and 2010’s third overall pick, Derrick Favors the Nets finally got a real live NBA superstar to wear their jersey again. Unfortunately, their obsession with fame and the resulting instability has come back to haunt them.
Since Dwight Howard has seemingly crossed the Nets off the top of his desired trade destinations and the Nets have slumped to a 6-13 start without center Brook Lopez, who would’ve been used as part of an exchange for Dwight, the clock is ticking on Deron Williams bolt into free agency. Reportedly, Williams already has a list of destinations with Dallas and Los Angeles leading the sweepstakes. Newt Gingrich would be appalled at the audacity.
Fame has a price. Just ask the Knicks who spent the last few seasons clearing cap space to go superstar chasing. Ultimately, the Knicks acquired two superstars who don’t show much effort on defense and seem to get in each other’s ways. Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets are surging in the West thanks to the plethora of talent they acquired via the Melo trade. Or Prokhorov can ask his own power forward, Kris Humphries who has recently went from league-wide unknown to becoming the NBA's Most Hated Player following his brief lockout internship as Kim Kardashian's husband.
Prokhorov is better than this. This is a man that is actively pursuing the Russian presidency away from the scariest man on the planet. Instead in NBA circles he has become the desperate guy slinking around the club during last call searching for a girl, any girl to take back to his crib. Prokhorov is trying too hard and Deron Williams can smell his desperation. Instead of strengthening his roster with promising young knights and bishops Prokhorov has skipped those major steps by pursuing a king. He miscalculated Brooklyn’s allure. No superstar in his prime wants to play on a losing team surrounded by a cast of lowly pawns even if they have a shiny new arena in Brooklyn.
Unfortunately, Prokhorov’s proclivity for pursuing every superstar with an expiring contract is turning him into the NBA’s Dan Snyder. In the past decade, the Redskin owner has made it a habit of sacrificing youth and development in pursuit of buying a championship with established superstars.
Snyder’s tragic legend stared in 2000 when the Redskins billionaire owner created the epitome of excessive free agency movements by overbidding for a bevy of aging Pro Bowlers including Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders. Unfortunately New Jersey’s luck still hasn’t changed. Their tumultuous 8-8 campaign made the "Dream Team" Eagles season seem smoother than a Keith Stone pickup line in comparison and was just the beginning of Snyder’s downfall in the eyes of Redskins fans.
Prokhorov still has a high approval rating in the opinion of Nets fans. Hopefully, moving to Brooklyn and getting spurned by superstar free agents puts things in perspective for him. Superstars like glitz but it’s impossible to begin constructing a skyscraper from the penthouse on the 118th floor.
The Lakers rebuilt around Kobe, drafted Bynum and made a fair trade for Pau Gasol(in retrospect, it’s fair to say Marc is great post player who’s post up style wouldn’t have meshed as well with Bynum). The Bulls added Carlos Boozer to a nucleus of players they drafted including Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. Oklahoma City drafted nearly all of their contributors consisting of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka. The NBA still hasn’t realized that the Miami Heat were an aberration forged out of friendship and a rare opportunity.
This is where Prokhorov either changes his philosophy or keeps swinging for the fences and bouncing foul balls off his foot. It may work in Russian politics but it will fail in the NBA. If Prokhorov is going to bring a championship to Brooklyn, it is imperative that he silences his inner-Snyder and start building the Nets from the ground up before he begins taking risks on assembling a superstar cast.