When Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov took over operating control
of the New Jersey Nets recently, he inherited a team hemorrhaging money.
The Nets lost $61 million last year alone, and Prokhorov absorbed a
debt of more than $180 million.
That’s the equivalent to a few cases of vodka for Prokhorov, the richest
man in Russia and the 39th wealthiest in the world, according to
Forbes’ most recent list.
Prokhorov knows little about the NBA, but a lot about business. LeBron
James likes business, too. Whether the two are a match won’t be
determined until next month. Despite being the league’s worst team last
season, the Nets have the cap space and are ready to pounce on James in
this summer’s elite free-agent class.
”They’re convinced they have a shot at everybody but [Dwyane] Wade,” said one source close to the Nets, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ”They believe they have a really good shot at LeBron because they think Prokhorov’s global vision might appeal to him on some level. The tradeoff is he’ll be stuck in Newark for two seasons.”
The Nets are moving from East Rutherford, N.J., to Newark, N.J., until their new arena is completed in Brooklyn, N.Y. Construction crews recently broke ground on the new facility, which is to open before the start of the 2012-13 season. The team has a flexible deal with the Prudential Center in Newark and can return for the start of the 2012 season if the Brooklyn arena isn’t completed in time, but they will most assuredly finish the season in Brooklyn.
The question is whether James will be with them. If he intends to sign another three-year deal, he’ll probably pass on the Nets and two years in Newark. If he is ready to commit for five, the Nets might be more appealing.
Upon taking over the team, Prokhorov promised Nets fans ”a championship in five years.”
There is plenty of work to do. The Nets set an NBA record last season by beginning the year 0-18, although they have building blocks in point guard Devin Harris and center Brook Lopez. They also have the No. 3 overall pick in this month’s NBA Draft.
They finished a league-worst 12-70, but the front office quit caring about the overall record after the first 12 or 13 losses. The Nets went young — very young. The average age of their starting five, 23.2 years, was easily the league’s youngest. The focus was development, not winning.
Now they have a ton of cap space, a high draft pick and a secret weapon to lure James in rapper and close friend Jay-Z.