EAST 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.)
Nets president Rod Thorn said he had been formulating his opinion for about a week. Ultimately, the reason he decided to give Lawrence Frank a chance to finish out his contract as coach is because he believes in him.
“In my mind, he’s a good coach,” Thorn said this morning. “If you get rid of a good coach you’ve got to get a good coach. In my mind he’s a good coach. He’s done a good job here.
“This past year we weren’t expected to do very well. We ended up doing better than most people expected us to do. Our younger players got better for the most part. My feeling is we’re on the right road.”
And with that ended more than a week of speculation and conjecture of what Thorn would do, who would replace Frank and whether the players still are listening to him. Now it’s on to making sure the Nets improve on the basketball floor so Frank can keep his job.
Bringing back Frank for next season may not be a popular decision with the fans, but it makes sense on so many levels.
First of all, Nets’ ownership lost more than $25 million according to Sports Business Journal last year. The team has had a few rounds of layoffs and is sharing a summer league team with the Sixers to split the expenses.
All of that said, eating Frank’s $4.5 million salary wouldn’t be smart.
Secondly, the Nets didn’t underachieve like some teams. They may have overachieved – although it’s hard to say 34 wins is a good thing – when you consider what they were predicted to do this past season.
Additionally, Devin Harris improved. Brook Lopez was better than expected. The same can be said for Keyon Dooling, Jarvis Hayes and Ryan Anderson.
Frank certainly had more positives than negatives this past season. The biggest minus was the Nets’ record, but he basically had a pass for that when in preseason Thorn and GM Kiki Vandeweghe said the development of the players were what mattered.
Some in the organization were unhappy that the plan shifted when the Nets were in the playoff race and they played veterans because they were trying to win games. But the players – except for Yi Jianlian – got better or played better than anticipated. Besides, playing to win is the most important thing. You want to teach the players how to win and what it takes. That should always be the plan. It will be next year when Frank knows he has to win to keep his job.
Even if he does, there’s no guarantee the Nets will extend him or give him a new deal after the season. So much depends on what happens this summer, who comes in via the draft, free agency and trades, and how the young players continue to develop.
There are other factors, too, like whether the Nets are on track for Brooklyn, whether Bruce Ratner still owns the team and if there is a marquee coach available next summer that could make a big difference.
As for 2009-10, Thorn isn’t concerned about having a coach in the final year of his contract on the bench. He thinks the players will listen to Frank and continue to play hard for him. They did for most of this past season, but at times they could have and should have given a little more. Had they given more effort defensively and executed better down the stretch of games they might have been in the playoffs now, might have been playing the roles of the Bulls or Sixers, who are giving the Celtics and Magic fits, respectively.
You can blame some of those things on the coach, of course. But the players also share in that. They have to work a little harder defensively, have to be smarter with the ball late in games or take better shots.
These are the things the Nets will have to do better next season because they’re healthy and because they will hear the same voice and likely will play a similar style. Maybe the Nets will go to Lopez more – at least they should. But all of that will depend upon what personnel changes the Nets make.
That’s what Thorn has to turn his attention to now that he has decided his coach will be back and that his voice still is being heard.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Rod Thorn came in the room with his voice hoarse and cracking. The immediate joke was it came from shouting down some people at the big management/ownership meeting last night when Lawrence Frank was discussed.
Perhaps it was fitting that Thorn barely had a voice when he openly wondered whether his coach still had one.
The overriding theme in Thorn’s end-of-season wrap with the media was are the players still listening to Frank. Sure, there are other reasons Thorn didn’t come out and say Frank would be his coach next season, but the voice seemed to be the biggest reason why he couldn’t say he would.
“I wouldn’t say it’s my primary concern, but it is one of them,” Thorn said. “You just look at the whole thing. Have we gone as far as we can go with the way we are going, or if we have a new voice can it give us an infusion to go higher basically is what I’m looking at.”
As the nearly 30-minute sit-down with Thorn ended there were more questions than answers. Among them:
What’s it going to take for you to decide?
“Just trying to look at our team, trying to look at where we’re trying to go, trying to look at all the aspects of it and trying to figure out what’s best for our team.”
What are you weighing?
“Is the voice still pertinent? Do I think the team will reach whatever its limitations are? Are we still headed in the right direction? Those types of things.”
When will you decide?
“In a timely fashion. There is no set date, but I think a timely fashion is always appropriate.”
You realize people will interpret that Frank is out?
“I realize I’m probably being na´ve, but I don’t think people should interpret it any way. It’s just an organization trying to do its due diligence, trying to think where it is, where it’s going, without any decision being made yet.”
How much does the delay have to do with a particular candidate?
Thorn handled it like the pro that he is. Nets’ fans should know one thing: Thorn always tries to make the right decision based on the circumstances.
You may not like some of his trades or signings but sometimes his hands were tied because of ownership constraints and other situations.
In this case, it’s totally his call. Money plays a factor because you’re dealing with about $4.5 million salary for Frank next season, which is a lot for any business. Especially one losing money, laying off employees, and deciding to have a joint summer-league team with the Sixers to save expenses.
But, if Frank stays it shouldn’t be because of money. It should be because he deserves to be the coach. If you look at this season alone, Frank deserves to be back and Thorn knows that much.
Thorn isn’t just looking at this season, though. He’s looking at the last few, how the Nets played down the stretch of the season when they surprisingly were still in the playoff race and playing it forward, trying to figure out whether Frank will get more of out this group next season.
During the interview, Thorn received a lozenge that made his voice a little better. The strength of the coach’s voice remains a question in Thorn’s mind.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Rod Thorn, Kiki Vandeweghe and Lawrence Frank sat together with each Nets’ player and performed the annual exit interviews where they discussed what they did well, what they need to work on and some type of summer plan.
If I was running the Nets, here’s what I would say to each player and the coach in that setting:
Vince Carter: Get some rest because you’re still a high-level player and we want you to be fresh next season and continue to be an exemplary leader. You helped our young players so much this season. Thank you. You will hear your name in trade rumors, but unless you get a call from us don’t worry about it.
Devin Harris: Great season, but we’re going to expect more next year. Defensively, you have to raise your game because since you’ve been here you have not lived up to your rep of being a good on-ball defender. You have to realize we need you to do more than score for us to win. You have to defend better, set up your teammates more and take care of the ball late in games.
Brook Lopez: You grew up more than any player, and we think you’re only going to get better. Get stronger up top, but lower body, also. Here’s some tape on Tim Duncan, Yao Ming, Dwight Howard and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Watch them and go watch some playoff games. Pick up things from them and we’ll start working on it in a month or so because eventually you’re going to be our go-to player.
Ryan Anderson: You showed great maturity and professionalism to go from out of the rotation to starting to out to starting, and were productive. We like the way you go to the boards. We’re going to try and work on your lateral quickness and defense. Here is some tape and some things for you to try, and we’ll see you in back in the gym in a month or so.
Keyon Dooling: After you clean up your hip get a little rest because you logged more minutes than ever before and depending on what we do next season you could have an increased role. But, we liked the energy, leadership and professionalism you brought to each game and welcome that next season.
Jarvis Hayes: I wouldn’t worry about your $2 million option. You’re safe. We’ve been waiting for a good shooter and capable perimeter defender for years and we have that now. Let your thumb heal, spend some time with your new son, and come back thinking Sixth Man Award candidate.
Chris Douglas-Roberts: We love your competitive nature. We need more players who hate losing like you do and will do whatever it takes to win. Keep working on your ball-handling, shooting and defense because you will have an expanded role next season.
Yi Jianlian: You weren’t the same player after returning from your broken right pinkie. You can’t hesitate when you shoot and you can’t lose confidence. When you’re not hitting shots you still can rebound and defend. You need to improve everywhere and the only way is by playing. So, when you’re not with your national team, get in a gym and play pick-up games, go to Vegas and play, come here and play. You just need to play.
Josh Boone: We thought Brook taking your starting job would have inspired you to work harder and improve. It didn’t. Same with Sean Williams taking your back-up role for a stretch. We need to figure out what’s going to light a fire under you, if anything, because you have potential. You should be instant energy the moment you get in the game.
Bobby Simmons: We appreciate your professionalism and willingness to play out of position at power forward. We’re going to continue to look to upgrade the small forward spot. Come into camp in better shape because we need you to be better defensively.
Trenton Hassell: We appreciate your professionalism and defense. If only you could consistently knock down shots because you were open so often. Next year, if you’re here, we’ll probably use you more in a specialist capacity, as in when we need to shut down people. But, work on your jump shot so we can give you the ball more often.
Eduardo Najera: Eddie, is it? Nice to see you. It’s been awhile. We could have used your defense, energy and toughness. Come back healthy, and we’ll see if you can help us next season.
Sean Williams: We’re running out of patience and you’re running out of time. You could help us if only you keep your head in the game and on your job. We’re not sure you will. Prove us wrong, if you’re still here.
Maurice Ager: Thanks for being a good practice player. Do you know any Spanish or Italian? How about the U.S. to Euro conversion rate? You may want to become familiar with those things.
Lawrence Frank: I never tell you who to play, but I wouldn’t have gone with Yi or Hassell as long as you did. And it’s not your fault for Yi. Anyway, you did a good job with this group. But you should sit down a little more and not scream all the time for guys to “Go,” and other things. Let them play, especially when you have mostly veterans on the floor. The veterans will appreciate that and probably respond better.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).
Bruce Ratner made his voice heard last night and since he’s the one who signs off on everything, it seems Nets coach Lawrence Frank is safe.
But, Nets president Rod Thorn and other members of management will meet after the season to decide whether to keep Frank or let him go. A ringing endorsement from the principal owner certainly helps, though.
“I think the coach has done a good job this year,” Ratner said last night. “Obviously, our record is not where we’d like it to be, but the coach has done a good job. I like the coach.
“I haven’t talked to Rod, so we’ll discuss generally all our plans for next year, but I’d have to say we’re truly supportive of the coach. He’s a very good coach.”
Frank’s future has been a major topic for the last few weeks and will be for at least one more.
The Nets’ season ends tomorrow. Exit interviews and clean-up day will be Thursday, and then, at some point next week Thorn will have his season-ending meeting with the media. It’s probably then that Thorn will give his decision, unless he makes it sooner. There is plenty to consider.
Arguments for Frank’s return
1. He did his job
The mission statement before the season was to develop the young players — primarily Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and Yi Jianlian. Two out of three ain’t bad. Yi was on the right track before he broke his right pinkie and when he returned he wasn’t nearly the same player before he got hurt. Yet, Frank stuck with him longer than he should because of that mission statement.
2. The players and team improved
Harris, Lopez, Ryan Anderson, Keyon Dooling and Jarvis Hayes played better than expected, helping the Nets disprove some preseason predictions. Most of them had the Nets finishing with 20-something wins and 14th or dead-last 15th in the East. The Nets stayed in the playoff race until April and matched last season’s win total with a lesser team.
3. Money talks
Frank makes $4.4 million next season, which, according to a Sports Business Journal report, is about one-seventh of how much Ratner’s group lost for the fiscal year ending Jan. 31. That’s a lot of money to eat, and then, you have to pay a new coach. Unless you get one on the cheap, you’re paying two men about $9 million to do one job.
Arguments against Frank’s return
1. Lame-duck status
I hate the expression, but it’s true. If the coach is in the final year of his deal players know he’s probably not going to be around as long as them. How motivated will they be to play for him? This isn’t just Frank. It’s any coach in this situation. The first three-, four- or five-game losing streak, and he’s really on the hot seat.
2. Is anyone listening?
The players played hard until the end, but are they doing it for themselves or for their coach? Some of them didn’t like being called quitters. You have to wonder if someone else can get more out of these players, especially considering his status. Frank isn’t beloved by everyone in the locker room — and certainly not in the organization. Sometimes things just run their course.
3. The fans
Everyone in the organization is fully aware of some of the fans’ dislike for Frank, many of them season-ticket holders. (There aren’t nearly as many as other teams have). It’s been reported that the business side wants a more marketable coach. Yes, they would love a dynamic personality, but how many of them are out there? They would rather have more wins and better performances at home. It’s easier to sell that, but in this economic climate and in that building, how many people are buying?
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).
HOUSTON — Hey, everybody. Welcome to our pre-trade-deadline chat. Glad you could join me for this unique event.
It’s unique because this was an internal chat about the Feb. 19 trade deadline, questions I came up with and answered in the 5 a.m. ride to the airport today, the long security line in Newark and the long flight here . So let’s get started.
Hey, you do a great job. But what I don’t understand is why the Nets would consider trading Vince Carter?
YES Insider: Thanks, AI. The reason the Nets are considering it is because they have to. They have to listen and see what they can get for him, especially since he’s 32 and has been healthy all season. If they wait, and he has a bad year next year, his trade value goes down. So they have to listen and see if something makes sense.
What would it take for them to trade Carter?
– So tired.
YES Insider: Ideally, so tired, the Nets would make a Jason Kidd-like deal: get a good, young player that can be an All-Star, some young players, draft picks and salary-cap flexibility. But deals like that don’t always happen. They’re actually very tough to do.
I’ve been reading about some 4-for-1 deals with the Spurs and another one with the Mavericks for Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse. Could they happen?
– So hungry
YES Insider: Look, So hungry, anything is possible, but neither of those is likely. With the first, the Nets would have to part with three players before they could do that deal. They’re either eating contracts or trading players for draft picks or doing both in order to get Roger Mason, George Hill, Bruce Bowen and Fabricio Oberto or Michael Finley – not easy and not smart. Maybe they include a third team. As for Howard for Carter, Keyon Dooling and Eduardo Najera, remember something: the Nets own the Mavericks’ No. 1 pick in 2010. They don’t help them and lessen the value of the pick.
Do you think Rod Thorn wants to trade Carter?
– Can’t wait for the deadline to be over
YES Insider: I don’t think he does, deadline watcher. Just like I didn’t think Thorn wanted to trade Kidd before he asked out and made the Nets miserable. But he has to listen. In the end, I think Thorn is a smart man who cares about his legacy. He was the guy who drafted Michael Jordan, made the Nets relevant and a power by trading for Kidd, Richard Jefferson, Carter and eventually moving Kidd for Devin Harris. Thorn isn’t going to want to make a trade that makes him look bad. Thorn survived the Kenyon Martin deal for three draft picks, made necessary by ownership, by turning those picks into Carter. If Thorn does something, it’s doubtful cap space will be the reason, again, unless it’s ownership’s edict. He’s not giving Carter away.
What will the fan reactioncbe if they move Carter?
– Should have stayed an accountant
YES Insider: The fans won’t be happy, accountant, especially if he’s moved for a young player or two and salary filler/expiring contracts. This team already flaunts their alleged move to Brooklyn every chance they get and have lost fans because of that. There will be no one left. If the Nets did something with Carter, that means they traded Kidd, Jefferson and Carter in the same year. The fans would go with them.
We keep talking about Carter. What about the other Nets? Who stays and who goes?
– Still tired
YES Insider: Other than Brook Lopez and Devin Harris, all the Nets are fair game, sleepy. They also would like to hang on to Yi Jianlian. But I think the Nets want to do something. It just comes to whether they can find a deal that makes sense. They don’t want any bad contracts in return, add any payroll or take back someone else’s problem.
Back to Carter, how do you think his teammates would react if he’s moved?
– Hungry no more
YES Insider: I don’t think they would be happy, full guy. He has meant so much to them from a leadership and belief standpoint. He has been the biggest pusher of the Nets quieting the critics and being a playoff team. They have followed him, and if he’s gone, it would send a bad message to the young guys as well as the veterans who believed and wanted to see some playoff shares.
Everyone talks about money in either 2009 but mostly 2010. The Nets may have money, but does it guarantee they get anyone?
– Anthony’s dad
YES Insider: Of course not, proud papa. There is a cautionary tale to be learned from the Bulls and pre-Joe Johnson Hawks that if you have all the money in the world and your team stinks, it doesn’t mean players will come there. The Nets have to show they have something first to intrigue people and they’re not as good without Carter as they are with him. There also are no guarantees that if the Nets have all the money in the world that they’ll be able to spend it.
Thanks. Let’s do this again sometime.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).
MILWAUKEE – Imagine where the Nets would be if they had Richard Jefferson. Let’s play out that hypothetical, especially now that they face Jefferson for the first time here tomorrow.
First of all, it never would have happened because the Nets basically wanted to end ties with the past. They even considered a Vince Carter-to-Cleveland trade over the summer – something the Cavaliers probably would like to revisit to help keep LeBron James – so the Nets were committed to change.
Essentially, it came down to they wanted to get rid of at least one of the remaining two members of the Big Three and for many reasons they chose Jefferson over Carter.
“We wanted to change our team,” Nets president Rod Thorn said. “We felt our team as constituted had gone about as far as it could.”
But let’s say Thorn and GM Kiki Vandeweghe did nothing and Carter and Jefferson both were Nets today: how good would they be? What would their record be? People wonder that all the time because of where the Nets are in the standings and due to the inconsistent play of Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons
I tend to believe they wouldn’t be as good as 18-18 because the complexion of the team would be totally different.
Would they have drafted differently? Probably.
Remember, they dealt Jefferson to Milwaukee on Draft Day. If they didn’t do that, they definitely would have needed a power forward. But the Nets were talking to many teams ahead of them and behind them in the draft and about Jefferson, so something was going to happen.
The Nets could have tried harder to move up to nab a Kevin Love or made a deal with Portland where the Nets would have gotten Brook Lopez’s brother Robin and something from the Blazers. The Nets had so many things working on draft day.
It also could have changed what the Nets did in free agency, starting with Nenad Krstic.
The fact that they got Lopez, Yi and Ryan Anderson on one day and then signed Eduardo Najera – all big men who can shoot – made Krstic expendable.
I still contend they never should have let a young, scoring big man who you can run your offense through when he’s healthy get away without getting anything in return. But that’s something for next week when Krstic is back in Jersey with Oklahoma City.
Back to Jefferson, the whole summer changes if they don’t make that move. Do the Nets stay in talks with Denver about Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby if Jefferson isn’t dealt? Maybe, until Denver decides it doesn’t want to give up on its franchise player.
So let’s say Jefferson is here, and starting with Carter, Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and Najera or Stromile Swift or a different power forward that would have been here. Expectations may have been different and thus the plan may not be to develop the young players. Coach Lawrence Frank probably still would have turned to the dribble-drive offense, but Carter and Jefferson together may have stunted the growth of Harris and Lopez.
Harris has blown up because the ball is in his hands and he’s making decisions and plays for others. Harris also has blown up because he shares the backcourt with Carter, a still lethal scorer and probably the Nets’ best passer on the team.
With Jefferson, he probably would have had to be a focal point of the offense, which would taken touches away from Harris and Lopez. The plan probably wouldn’t be to grow and develop the young players.
Jefferson has shown to be an unselfish guy, but it would have been difficult for him to take a step backward after the best scoring season of his career and let everyone else develop. It basically would have been saying, “We want to get better and we want to do it without you.”
The funny thing is the Nets are saying that to Carter in a way, because he won’t be here for the length of his contract. But he’s more secure than Jefferson as a player and has willingly done what the Nets have asked him, including help make the young guys better.
You see, so much would have been different if Jefferson was still here, and not necessarily better. But it wasn’t going to happen anyway. The Nets were committed to change and moving Jefferson was a change they needed to make to go forward.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)