In an October 2012 interview with the New York Post, Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov took the opportunity to reaffirm his “championship-within-five-years” prediction he made when he took over the team in 2010. But this time, he added a new wrinkle.
“I have said that if the Nets don’t win the NBA championship within five years, I will punish myself by getting married,” Prokhorov told The Post then. “We are in year three. So no one is more interested in winning a championship than yours truly.”
With one year to go on his self-imposed deadline, Prokhorov seems much closer to hearing “Here Comes the Bride” rather than “We Are the Champions”.
Four years into his ownership, the Nets have gotten no farther than the Eastern Conference semifinals, which they didn’t reach until this $102 million 2014 season. The team is on its third head coach during Prokhorov’s tenure, and has compiled a 139-173 regular season record (which is still miles ahead of the 80-166 record in the final three seasons of Bruce Ratner’s term as majority owner).
But despite an increasing and inflexible payroll, a roster that features the declining talents of older veterans, and a severe lack of draft picks over the next few years, Prokhorov’s first four years can only be considered a success.
How? Let’s take a look back at where the franchise was before Prokhorov took over.
Following the team’s back-to-back Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003, the team was ousted within the first two rounds of the playoffs in each of the next four seasons. The next three years saw no improvement, culminating in the disastrous 12-70 record during the 2009-2010 season.
Failed draft picks, such as UConn duo Josh Boone and Marcus Williams in 2006 and Boston College product Sean Williams in ’07 for instance, and the trading away of the Nets’ version of a Big Three (Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson in 2008 and Vince Carter in 2009) consistently produced unexciting and boring teams.
Off the court, many fans were uninterested and unwilling to support a team that was constantly trying to find a way out of New Jersey and into the bright lights of New York City. No one talked about the Nets. And the Nets gave no reason for basketball fans or the media to talk about them.
Until Prokhorov came along. Or almost more importantly, his cash. The money he paid Ratner for the Nets helped push the move to Brooklyn along at a time when Ratner’s construction company was strapped for cash, causing plans to move forward slowly.
But Prokhorov infused more than money into the franchise. He brought with him a George Steinbrenner-meets-Vladimir Putin type attitude, making bold statements that piqued the interest of fans and drew the ire of New York Knicks’ owner James Dolan. For a franchise that was not really used to getting much attention, Prokhorov garnered more than enough.
His cash not only sped up the move to Brooklyn and a state-of-the-art arena, but also allowed the Nets to take on salary and, more importantly, talent. His money made the trades for Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett possible. Acquiring those types of names, despite their respective ages and shrinking productions, has generated interest that resulted in the type of ticket and merchandise revenue that the franchise has never experienced.
Has Brooklyn won a championship under Prokhorov? No. Will they next season? Most likely no. Are they in a better position than they were in four years ago? Without a doubt. And the franchise is better off because of it.
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