Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov not afraid to gamble future on winning now
In the very same space that housed Thursday's NBA draft, Mikhail Prokhorov stood some nine months earlier with a billion-dollar gleam in his eye.
As he celebrated a ceremonial ribbon cutting at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, signaling the beginning of a new vision for his franchise, the Nets' owner wasn't about to back down on his proclamation from a few years prior, the one in which he guaranteed the Nets would be bringing home the Larry O'Brien Trophy by 2015.
"We are on the right track," Prokhorov said in September, the day the Nets' new home was unveiled, "and still I'm expecting our championship within three years now."
Prokhorov ratcheted up the confidence meter again in the minutes before the Nets' season opener in November, explaining what he thought would represent a successful initial season in Brooklyn.
"A conference final," Prokhorov said.
This, after all, is the man who also cracked in an October tabloid interview: "I have said that if the Nets don't win the NBA championship within five years, I will punish myself by getting married. We are in year three. So no one is more interested in winning a championship than yours truly."
Point taken. If nothing else, that partially explains the deal the Nets pulled off Thursday, agreeing to acquire Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry for Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans and three first-round draft picks. The move showed that Prokhorov isn't playing around, doesn't mind peeling off the greenbacks and spending dough like he had all the cash in a game of Monopoly.
There also have been conflicting reports of the Nets having interest in Jason Collins, who is the league's first openly gay player. He and new coach Jason Kidd played together for seven seasons with the Nets. Collins also played with Garnett and Pierce in Boston this past season. The Nets would not comment.
By getting Garnett and Pierce, it can be argued the Nets mortgaged their future for a quick shot at a title. Given the ages and contracts attached to the future Hall of Famers, the Nets might lose that gamble. Garnett, 37, is no longer capable of playing hefty minutes. In 68 games this past season, he averaged 29.7 minutes, the fewest minutes since he was a rookie. Pierce, 35, is in the final year of a deal that's scheduled to pay him $15.3 million. Perhaps neither will be around for the 2014-15 season should Pierce leave via free agency and Garnett retire.
But something should be said for going for the gusto. With a formidable starting five of Deron Williams ($18.466 million), Joe Johnson ($21.466 million), Brook Lopez ($14.693 million), Garnett ($12.443 million) and Pierce ($15.333 million) combining for $82.4 million in salary, the Nets are in win-now mode. Prokhorov is unafraid, ready and willing to fork over millions in luxury taxes if that's what it's going to take to make good on his guarantees and keep his bachelorhood alive.
He's rapidly changing how the Nets are perceived, making them relevant and turning them into a conversation piece with each twist and turn that would make the creators of the Brooklyn Cyclone proud.