Posted May 20 2010 6:25AM
NEW YORK -- "America, I come in peace."
That was one of the many one liners Mikhail Prokhorov dished out at his introductory press conference in Manhattan on Wednesday. The new majority owner of the New Jersey Nets revealed quite a bit of his personality, but very little of his specific plans to turn the franchise around in the question and answer session with the New York media.
Prokhorov began the press conference by calling the Nets "the team with the best record in the NBA" and then asking if he was misinformed. He solicited resumes for the team's coaching vacancy from the media in attendance and said he hopes to have a new coach "by December." And when asked to compare himself to Mark Cuban, he said, "I keep cool more than him."
For the most part, the New Yorkers ate it up. There were more serious questions, of course, and Prokhorov treated those with the proper respect. But for the most part, this was 45 minutes of shtick. And though Prokhorov was clearly confident in his stated goal to bring the Nets a championship within five years, he never let us in on the details of how that was going to happen.
For any question about specific plans, whether they be about basketball or marketing, Prokhorov didn't allow much, even pulling out the 'ol, "If I tell you, I'll have to kill you" line.
"I don't want to put on the table all of my secrets," he said. "There's a time for all of that. Please wait and see."
The press conference had the approximate length and about the same amount of answers as an early episode of Lost. Still, Nets fans can't help but be excited. After six years of regression, coming off a 12-70 season and Tuesday's disappointing lottery results -- in which the Nets could manage only the No. 3 pick -- the franchise has hit rock bottom.
Now, with plenty of cap space, the long-awaited departure from the 29-year-old Izod Center and a new owner who's willing to spend money, the opportunity exists for the Nets to ascend the standings very quickly.
In fact, Prokhorov said he expects to make the playoffs next season.
This much we know: Team president Rod Thorn will have a new contract come July 1 and general manager Kiki Vandeweghe will not. The Nets' next coach will have NBA experience and there are Russian candidates for jobs in the front office, though they won't get any special consideration because of their nationality.
"They need to compete not with each other, but they need to compete with the people here in the NBA," Prokhorov said. "The level here is very high, and there is no guarantee that any Russian manager can win."
From the first time he was mentioned as a possible owner, there has been a mystery about Prokhorov, and it's clear he likes keeping some of that intact. The mystery, along with his charisma and, of course, his money, will secure him meetings with the best players and coaches in the league.
Another asset the Nets have is Prokhorov's new friend and partner, Jay-Z. The rapper and entrepreneur has been a minority owner of the Nets since 2004, but other than representing them at the 2008 lottery and sitting courtside at a handful of games, he has never really used his celebrity for the benefit of the franchise.
In a radio interview last week, Jay-Z said he plans to have a more active role with the Nets moving forward, perhaps because the new arena in his hometown of Brooklyn is finally under construction, bur perhaps also because Prokhorov has solicited his help in recruiting the league's best talent. It's no secret that Jay-Z has a close relationship with LeBron James. But he's also idolized by a vast number of players.
Though this was just the second trip to the United States for Prokhorov since he agreed to buy the Nets, he already has met with Jay-Z twice. He is not familiar with rap music, but says that he and Jay-Z, "have a lot in common."
"We are both soulmates," Prokhorov said. "Really I am looking forward to hanging out with him. I share his passion for Brooklyn and I'm lucky he is a shareholder of the team. And I hope as shareholders that we can do a lot for the team together."
There's a saying that every rapper wants to be a ballplayer and every ballplayer wants to be a rapper. So when you team one of the most successful MCs in music history with a guy who has more money than even the best players could ever dream of, you have a partnership that should scare every other team in the NBA.
Prokhorov, very weary of NBA restrictions, wouldn't use James' name, but it's clear that the MVP will be the Nets' primary target come July 1. Still, the new owner said that the team won't put all its eggs in one basket when it comes to free agency.
"I like to play on different fields at the same time, to avoid risk," he said. "We're playing with four or five options for both the players and for the coaches."
Prokhorov has had success as the owner of CSKA Moscow, but he realizes that, with a salary cap, the NBA is a different game.
"If you make a mistake in the NBA, you will suffer for 5-6 years," he said. "I want to be on the smart-money side."
Prokhorov will put his trust in his team president to make the basketball decisions. And though Thorn has been with the Nets for 10 years now, it's a new day in New Jersey.
"A little bit of luck, a little bit of money," Prokhorov said, "and we go straight to the top."
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