Mikhail Prokhorov finally decided it was time to pay attention to the other New York basketball team in Brooklyn – the one he owns. On Saturday, the Russian owner fired coach Lionel Hollins, and ‘reassigned’ general manager Billy King. The Nets had been playing subpar basketball all season, and were generally not living up to Prokhorov’s expectations.
The changes seemed long overdue, and some wondered why it took so long for the ax to fall. Prokhorov has been principal owner in five of the six years he has been involved with the team, and initially stated he had a five year plan on putting together a championship team. Obviously, that plan never came to fruition.
Prokhorov, never shy about spending money, shelled out more than $200 million on his team two years ago, and all it got him was an early exit in the playoffs. At a press conference this morning, he reminded everyone that if he didn’t ‘win a championship in five years, he would get married’. At this point, neither event has happened. He further went on to say, “The Barclays Center had a terrible year financially in the fiscal year ending June 2015. Net revenues plummeted to less than half the total once projected, and the arena lost some $9M in what was roughly its third year in operation. ”
The Nets’ Problems Begin With Mikhail Prokhorov
Most NBA experts around the league, and those in New York, expected that it would take years for Barclays Center to break even, much less make money. It didn’t help that Prokhorov sealed his and the teams fate, spending like a drunken Russian sailor, and leaving the team without their own draft picks until at least the 2019 season. All the blame can’t be cast at the feet of King and Hollins, but they both new they were playing ‘Russian Roulette’ the minute they started to work for this owner.
King will have a hand in the hiring of a new GM, but one has to wonder if his heart will be in it, or if that’s the wisest move on Prokhorov’s part. One of the first questions that Prokhorov was asked at today’s press conference was whether he was still interested in Kentucky head coach John Calipari. Prokhorov said he wouldn’t discuss that today, but word was that Coach Cal would ‘listen’ if the starting number was $120M. Perhaps the owner can take out a second mortgage on the arena, or sell some of his Russian real estate.
Here’s the question for all Nets fans – how can this 10-27 team, with a weak roster, try to rebuild its franchise, with no draft picks and a substantial amount of dollars invested in current players. The only saving grace for the Nets is the 76ers are worse, but they’ll have another draft choice this summer. Their crosstown rival, who were themselves a joke in the league last season, are playing like a real team, in every game, and making Phil Jackson look like a hero to their fan base.
Prokhorov added, “We’re playing in the best market in the world, a market with a lot of attention and pressure. We need a coach who can resist and survive this pressure. We need big leadership – this is the most important lesson for me.”
Perhaps Prokhorov should use his billions, pick up the phone, and inquire about former NBA Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau, who is from New Britain, Connecticut, and is probably chomping at the bit to get back into the game after coaching the Bulls for six seasons. At this point, there is no one more qualified out there, and it would at least be an instant positive infusion into a team that has a hard time selling tickets, or getting even a true following.
The current roster is a mishmash of former cast-offs and overpriced free agents who do not have the talent to bring the team to the next level. Besides Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, and Jarrett Jack, who’s now done for the year, the team doesn’t have anyone to build around, and can only wait to see if the owner will open up his wallet in 2016 free agency. The Deron Williams experiment was a debacle, even though he’s found a new home, and life in Dallas, and Joe Johnson hasn’t been the stud he was supposed to be when the Nets got him in the summer of 2012, for five players and a first round draft choice in 2013.
There are many more issues than just finding a new GM and head coach. The team needs a reboot, and perhaps a more seasoned owner. Yes, Prokhorov has more money than Russia has vodka, but his scant knowledge of the NBA, and the needs of his franchise, are a disservice to not only the players under his thumb, but to those fans who actually spend money to put this product on the court each game. They’re actually better on the road than at Barclays Center.
At this point, the season is lost, but unlike the Sixers and other bad teams, they can’t look towards the next draft. Throwing money at free agents may, and probably is not the answer either. If Prokhorov is looking for a fix, short and long term, he would take the rest of the season to hire the best and most qualified GM and head coach, and try to take steps towards rebuilding a winning team in Brooklyn. It’s hard enough for the team to compete in New York with the Knicks, but anything short of a decent team won’t cut it. Prokhorov may want to to rethink the marriage issue, and find a strong, smart woman who will take over and bring winning basketball back to the city.