Prokhorov looming, but business as usual for Nets

prokhorov_250_100109.jpgEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – A little more than a week has passed since Mikhail Prokhorov signed off to buy 80 percent of the Nets and help Bruce Ratner finance the building of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But the Russian billionaire’s influence hasn’t been seen or felt yet.

The only outward change at the Nets’ practice facility is PNY Center appears everywhere, but it doesn’t stand for “Prokhorov Never Yields.” It’s for the Parsippany-based flash-drive maker that bought the naming rights for the practice facility before Prokhorov agreed to purchase the Nets.

The truth is it probably will be some time before Prokhorov’s fingerprints are on the team and organization. He doesn’t officially own the team.

First, the league needs to do background checks on Prokhorov, which it already has started. It should be extensive since little is known about this man. If you talk to anyone within the Nets or other NBA circles most of the information they have on Prokhorov comes from a Google search and a click on Wikipedia.

Then the Board of Governors has to approve the sale. They’re meeting later this month and it’s possible Prokhorov will be there. If so he probably will check out the facility and meet some of his potential employees.

But the sale is contingent upon the Nets going to Brooklyn, so Ratner has to win another court appeal later this month. It won’t be surprising if Brooklyn project “Develop Don’t Destroy” tries to put up more resistance.

If everything goes well it’s expected Prokhorov will be in charge in early 2010. They won’t wait until Brooklyn is built because that’s at least another 26 months from the time a shovel is put in the ground.

From Google and Wikipedia and other stories written about Prokhorov you know he’s a metals magnate and is close with Russian president Vladimir Putin. When Prokhorov owned CSKA Moscow the Russian power won two European titles. If/when the sale goes through he wants to use this to help develop Russian basketball using NBA practices and techniques, and plans to place the country’s leading coaches and managers here.

That may not bode well for Nets’ president Rod Thorn, GM Kiki Vandeweghe and coach Lawrence Frank. All are in the last year of their contracts.

You also can gather Prokhorov is a playboy, a man who lives a lavish lifestyle and goes after and gets what he wants. Hey, if your riches were the $9.5 billion Forbes reported you would travel, have multiple homes and live it up too.

Last week, Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) sent a letter to NBA commissioner David Stern urging him to “thoroughly investigate” Prokhorov. In the letter, Pascrell wrote, “Mr. Prokhorov’s background raises questions about his fitness to be the owner of a high-profile NBA franchise. Both Mr. Prokhorov’s business and personal history have come under intense scrutiny in his home country and abroad.”

One major thing hanging over his head and that has been brought up since the sale was Prokhorov’s arrest in 2007 for allegedly arranging prostitutes for guests at a Christmas party in France. Prokhorov wasn’t convicted though, and earlier this week was cleared of all charges and the case was dismissed. This could help him when the NBA investigates his past.

Right now and for the time being it has no effect on the Nets. They’re operating business as usual. Frank is preparing them for this season, stressing defense and trying to get everyone to buy in to how if everyone commits this could be an unexpectedly positive season.

“I don’t think it affects us as far as how we go about our daily business as far as what we have to do in between the lines,” veteran guard Keyon Dooling said.

The Nets haven’t been told to sell off assets or go out and get the best players yet. Team officials are planning to maintain the flexibility they’ve created for the summer of 2010. It’s believed that flexibility and potential to sign new players is one of the things that made the Nets attractive to Prokhorov.

He’s a sportsman, a former basketball player who stands 6-foot-9. He likes winning and will spend to win from everything we’ve read.

“From a resource perspective,” Dooling said, “he has the resources to turn this organization from the bottom of the pack to really being able to dish out some dough.”

Ratner originally wouldn’t and the Nets were forced to trade Kenyon Martin in 2004, then would and they were able to trade for Vince Carter. Then Ratner wouldn’t again because of all the monetary losses and he knew he would eventually have to sell. 

So the Nets are in this position where little is expected of them this year. But the belief is Prokhorov will be a Mark Cuban-type owner and will pay to improve his team. That is, if/when Prokhorov clears all the necessary hurdles.

Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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