In Brooklyn Return, Mikhail Prokhorov Faces More Questions Than Ever

Mikhail Prokhorov (AP)
Mikhail Prokhorov (AP)

If there’s such a thing as a subdued Russian billionaire oligarch, Barclays Center hosted one in its press room Wednesday night.

In his first time speaking with American media in over six months, Brooklyn Nets principal owner Mikhail Prokhorov answered questions about the team’s unresolved ownership status, his absentee nature this season, the team’s lackluster play until recent weeks, and even the tenuous political relationship between the United States and Russia.

The mood reflected the team’s many issues and uncertainties; it was hardly the punning and jabbing Prokhorov of years past, the Prokhorov who would derisively end deals for “Carmela” Anthony or tell Jason Kidd “don’t let the door hit you where the good lord has split you.” The levity that has been a mainstay of Prokhorov press conferences was reserved until the very end, when Prokhorov was pressed how much money he had lost on the Nets, joking with a reporter: “You like to count other people’s money.”

Though he spoke positively about both coach Lionel Hollins and general manager Billy King, citing the former’s style and the latter’s “ability to be bold, and (make) some unexpected deals,” Prokhorov did not rule out the possibility of making front office changes in the offseason. “I think as soon as we met after the season I hope we’ll get the maximum of what we can do and then we can speak about this. For the time being everything is stable.”

Prokhorov added that King is still under contract, and he is “very comfortable” with him at the helm.

Prokhorov maintained his commitment to keeping a majority stake with the team and that he “never intended” to give up principal control, despite the team’s struggles. The Nets were 36-41 heading into Wednesday night, with one loss guaranteeing their first season in Brooklyn with a sub-.500 record. “I’m very committed to the team. I’ll continue to do and to find all the best I can get for the team, but the sport is unpredictable. And any kind of sport is unpredictable, particularly basketball. As Robbie Williams says, ‘No regrets, they don’t work.’”

“If you analyze a championship team, 20% of it’s draft picks and 80% of it’s trades. So now we have young talent and I’m sure our front office is good enough and have a great eye to find some talent in order to improve our team if we need it.”

Prokhorov owns 80 percent of the Nets and 45 percent of Barclays Center, and has been looking to sell a minority stake in the team. Approximately ten people have approached Prokhorov about a minority stake, he said, but since he is not involved in the day-to-day negotiations, he did not know if a deal was ever close.

After spending a record $193 million in salary and luxury tax payments last season, the Nets have made numerous cost-cutting moves, most notably electing not to re-sign Paul Pierce. They also put Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez on the trade block this year, hoping to shed money in the hopes of avoiding the luxury tax. But Prokhorov said once again he’ll spend above and beyond if it means a championship, even though the Nets seem light-years away from that possibility.

“We need a championship team, and I’m very committed to continue to do all the best for the team,” Prokhorov said. “This is my perception. And if we need to pay a little bit more than any other teams, it’s not an obstacle.”

On March 12th, the Nets were 25-38, 11th in the Eastern Conference. Prokhorov refused to admit frustration with the team at that point, merely noting he was much happier with the team’s performance in the last three weeks. “You need to be cool from time to time,” Prokhorov said. They’ve won 11 of their last 14 games heading into their game against the Hawks, catapulting themselves back into the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The biggest reason for their recent success has been Brook Lopez, who has won back-to-back Eastern Conference Player of the Week Awards. Lopez has a player option after this season, and can opt out to pursue a longer deal.

“Brook is very important for us and Lionel told you maybe 20 times that we do want him back,” Prokhorov said. “And that’s up to Brook to decide. We need him. I think the Brooklyn Nets, it’s his home.”

But Prokhorov’s home hasn’t been in New York City. Despite saying before the season that he hoped to attend 25 percent of the team’s regular season home games, Wednesday night’s game against the Hawks was only his second game at Barclays Center, and the grand total is expected to be three in 41 games. “I needed to be more handling in managing my business and my assets, so it was very busy,” Prokhorov said, citing the economic turmoil in Russia. “Now, everything is under control. That’s why I hope to see you more in the playoffs.”