In his first public remarks since firing Billy King and Lionel Hollins, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov – who famously declared his team would win a championship within five years of him purchasing it – said:
“I have to look at the reality.”
Then a few minutes later:
“I’m sure, for the next season, I hope we’ll be championship contender.”
Thus ended the brief era of realistic expectations Brooklyn.
Unfortunately for the Nets, whether they understand it or not, they have no choice but to face reality. They’re 10-27, devoid of talent and don’t have their own first-round pick until 2019. They’re stuck.
And they have an owner whose big goals and stated impatience makes him as unpredictable as ever.
“Frankly speaking, I deserve championship now much more than six years ago,” Prokhorov said with a slight grin.
It’s often difficult with Prokhorov to tell where the joke ends and the delusion begins.
He spoke more earnestly about Brooklyn needing only a “small reset,” a phrase he used multiple times. But this is a franchise with grand problems. Prokhorov emphasized Brooklyn’s major cap space this summer, but nearly every team will have that – and a much clearer path to contention.
The Nets are mostly biding time until 2018, when they can target being bad enough to secure a high draft pick in 2019. Until then, they’ll lose their own first-rounder twice and face a swap with the Celtics in 2017.
So, the Nets can chase veteran free agents to be as good as possible the next two seasons. It probably won’t work – who wants to play for this team without being massively overpaid? – but there’s no harm in trying.
Their only imperative is not trading their limited future assets – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough and whatever picks they have left – for immediate help. Just take your punishment and hope you can remain decent enough to draw fans the next couple years.
Taking a shortcut by trading three first-rounders and a pick swap for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce didn’t work when Brooklyn already had Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson. It’s sure not going to work now with this barren roster the starting point.
Yet, Prokhorov can’t let go of the previous plan.
“I still believe, with some luck, our results might have been more convincing,” Prokhorov said.
That might be true. The Nets’ got essentially the worst-case realistic outcome from a Williams-Johnson-Pierce-Garnett-Lopez lineup.
But it was realistic, and committing to that aging core cost Brooklyn considerably. There were no safeguards in the form of pick protections to prevent the disastrous slide that’s only beginning.
At least the Nets are getting someone other than King for Prokhorov’s second try, and the owner addressed reports about that process:
- On Kentucky coach John Calipari: “Coach Cal is a great coach, but we won’t be discussing today on any name.”
- ON CSKA Moscow president Andrey Vatutin: “I have no plans for that.”
- On King helping the search for his replacement: “He can send me any of his idea as a friend, but for the time being, it’s not his job.”
Prokhorov also said he sees a “friendly contradiction” between the general manager and coach, meaning he’d prefer not to have one person handle both jobs. That’d limit an offer to Calipari or anyone else.
That actually might be a healthy limit on the team. The rest – the absence of talent, the loss of draft picks – are debilitating.
Yet, Prokhorov still speaks of limitless expectations.
“I hope we will be back, not as a playoff team, as a championship contender,” Prokhorov said. “This is my only goal.”
It’s a fine goal. Prokhorov has just shown no indication he knows how to get there.
I don’t see how that changes until he gets a true reality check.