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Nets' mistaken pursuit of a title surely costing them now

Big-spending Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov has put the team in a rough spot going forward.

POSTED: Jan 22, 2015 10:30 AM ET

By Shaun Powell

BY Shaun Powell


Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett and Joe Johnson have struggled to lift the Nets into the NBA elite this season.

The biggest fear of any billionaire is finding out that he's becoming a millionaire.

Maybe that's not exactly driving Mikhail Prokhorov's decision to seek offers for his Brooklyn Nets. After all, if he sells, he'll make a nice profit. But purely from a basketball perspective, the Nets have indeed gone bankrupt since he bought the team and staged his remake of "Moscow On The Hudson".

Three years ago, the moving vans were stocked for the trip from New Jersey to an exciting New York address where the possibilities were endless. Fresh arena, fresh audience, fresh start. The Nets had assets, flexibility and plenty of cash from the NBA's richest owner.

Today, they're in worse shape than the Brooklyn Queens Expressway at rush hour. Their core players have gone stale, their Draft future has been spent and their desire to spend big money is drying up.

And it's all because a billionaire got greedy.

Prokhorov's intentions were always good ... he wanted to win. But his thirst for taking expensive shortcuts -- partly fueled by his desire to poke the New York Knicks in the eye -- stripped the Nets of their future and has indirectly forced him to put them on the market.

(Here's what Prokhorov said in an interview with NetsDaily in the fall of 2013: "It's a great fight between two New York teams. And I think it's coming, a new Golden Age era of New York basketball.")

Mikhail Prokhorov

Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov talks about why he moved the Nets from New Jersey to Brooklyn.

He wanted the Nets, 22-game winners their final season in Newark, to be big-time right from the jump in Brooklyn. But injuries to key players and a few bad basketball decisions conspired to ruin everything. Now, the Nets are perhaps years away from cleaning up the mess and recovering from their haste.

Unlike the title of their Brooklyn-born former part-owner's best-selling album -- The Blueprint by Jay-Z -- this grand plan tanked quickly.

As the Nets field phone calls for Brook Lopez three weeks before the trade deadline, pray they get a single call for Deron Williams and tap their fingers while waiting for Kevin Garnett's contract to expire, they must be wondering where it all went wrong.

At 17-24 they could miss the playoffs in the East, which is difficult to do, and lose their lottery pick to the Hawks. That's like getting punched in the gut and kicked in the groin for a team that's already on the pavement.

The Prokhorov Plan, designed to win a title within five years, was put in place the moment he hired Billy King to run the team. King came highly recommended by his old college coach, Mike Kryzyzewski, according to those in the know. Coach K became chummy with Prokhorov through international basketball; Prokhorhov owned CSKA Moscow while Coach K ran Team USA. Prokhorov never really considered anyone besides King.

The owner was willing to spend whatever it took, and in that sense, King was definitely the right man for the job. In his last gig, King cut massive checks in Philly to marginal players like Eric Snow, Aaron McKie and a declining Dikembe Mutombo. That led to the Sixers' swift downfall, King's exit and no GM jobs for him until the Nets called.

Arena Link: Tim Bontemps

Tim Bontemps from the New York Post joins Game Time to discuss the Nets payroll and a possible trade involving Deron Williams.

Sure enough, in February of 2011, King went hunting for a franchise player the owner wanted to help sell the Nets when they moved to Brooklyn. He failed to get Carmelo Anthony, but reeled in the then-All-Star Williams by sending first-round pick Derrick Favors and two future first-rounders (that became Enes Kanter and Gorgui Dieng, respectively) to Utah.

With a chance to escape his deal in another year, Williams had tremendous leverage in contract negotiations. There was no way King would allow the native Texan Williams to walk as a free agent to the Mavericks (who wanted him), if only to justify all the assets surrendered. That meant Williams would get the max contract: five years, $98.7 million, along with plenty of sway in the organization.

Let's amplify that last point here. King panicked when Williams, while suffering through the Nets' final season in New Jersey, began whining for help. King dealt a top-three protected first-rounder to Portland in the spring of 2012 for Gerald Wallace, a decent-but-not-special player.

It was a disastrous deal.

Because Wallace would become a free-agent that summer and could walk, King once again was in no position to negotiate and was whacked by the leverage hammer. Wallace got four years and $40 million. Less than two years later, the Nets dumped him on the Celtics.

Oh, and the pick that went to Portland? It became Damian Lillard, who's younger, healthier and, now, better than Williams.

The Association: End of a Season

The Brooklyn Nets' season comes to an end with a disappointing loss in Game 7 at home.

Had the Nets simply told Williams to chill and kept the pick, they probably would have maybe had center Andre Drummond today. Or they could have traded up for Bradley Beal. For all of his fiscal faults, King is a good drafter, with is emerging Nets center Mason Plumlee, a middle-round pick, being the latest example. In Philly, he helped unearth players like Louis Williams and Kyle Korver, both second-rounders.

The shortcuts kept coming. The Nets traded for Joe Johnson and his hernia-causing contract from the Hawks. Later, when a deal was struck with Boston for Garnett and Paul Pierce (the Nets struck out for Dwight Howard), Prokhorov's reaction was "hell yes."

If this were 2006, the Nets would've been runaway favorites for the NBA title. In reality, while the Nets had rotisserie names big enough for Broadway, these players left their best years behind, which put the Nets squarely on the championship clock.

And that clock is now well past midnight.

Scuffle in Brooklyn

A double technical is called and Kevin Garnett is ejected after things get chippy with Dwight Howard.

The cost of doing business has been steep. The Nets sacrificed dollars, which is OK for a billionaire who could easily afford the luxury tax, swollen $100 million payrolls and (according to Forbes) millions lost in operating costs, but also draft picks and salary cap space. They gambled away their future, and the present has earned them eight playoff wins and no East finals trips.

As for the future, wow. The Hawks will swap first-round picks with the Nets this summer from the Johnson deal. The Celtics own Brooklyn's unprotected pick next summer and in 2018, and can swap picks in 2017. The Nets' 2016, '17, '18 and '20 second-rounders were also sacrificed in trades. They've got nothing to show for those picks as Pierce is gone and a fossilized KG is reduced to head-butting Dwight Howard.

Everything would be more salvageable if the Nets had solid players and emerging stars on the roster. But dogged by injuries, Williams is no longer a top-tier point guard and doesn't even start. Johnson's scoring average is down for the third straight season. Lopez has dealt with foot problems, still can't rebound and is being shopped. Besides Plumlee, there's no pup on the rise.

Brooklyn Nets: Potential Trades

The Starters break down several potential trades for the Brooklyn Nets big three of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson.

Overall, no team may be in more dire straits than Brooklyn. The present is shaky and the future is cloudy. The Nets are almost stripped of assets. It'll take a combination of Red Auerbach and Jerry West to wiggle them out of this bind, which means, lotsa luck to King and whomever buys this team.

The Knicks get plenty of tabloid abuse in New York because they're historically bad right now. But at least they have Carmelo Anthony on the floor, Phil Jackson in the front office, a Draft pick this summer and cap flexibility.

Remember when Prokhorov, in all of his hubris, planted a billboard of himself and Jay-Z at the corner of Eighth and 33rd, about a bounce pass from the Knicks offices? This happened in 2010, right before the Nets came through the Holland Tunnel for good. And what was the title on that billboard?

"The Blueprint For Greatness."

Well. Since then, Jay-Z cashed out, the Nets dropped out and Prokhorov is looking for a way out. The Nets need another blueprint. And greatness must wait.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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