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Prokhorov Meets Media, Elaborates on the Outline

May 18, 2010

Mikhail Prokhorov

NEW YORK—Mikhail Prokhorov has three qualities Nets fans will surely come to value during his tenure: an engaging sense of humor, an ability to delegate, and patience. The Russian billionaire is banking that a business mindset – and track record – of succeeding 75 percent of the time will transform a Nets team that finished last season with the NBA’s worst record into the league’s first truly global franchise.

“When you are the first foreigner in the league, you have the best chance to receive support from other foreigners,” said Prokhorov, at a Tuesday media brunch held at the Four Seasons Hotel. “We need all our fans from New Jersey to Brooklyn and what is good is Brooklyn is home for everyone from everywhere. There are 35 million people living outside the greater metropolitan area of New York. If we have good fortune, they will pass through Brooklyn. We are going to create and build a global franchise to sell all around the world. I think I have a competitive advantage compared to other owners.”

Committed to cutting “the tragic line” of Nets history, Prokhorov’s reign as owner will begin in similar fashion to that of any business in which he assumes control: with an active search for a management team. Prokhorov will explore the market and invite the best available talent to join, before stepping back and allowing them room to make mistakes – provided they’re succeeding at an acceptable rate.

That process has already begun, with Prokhorov working to extend the contract of Nets President Rod Thorn to continuing running basketball operations. General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe, whom Prokhorov praised as talented and someone who did his job during a tough season, will not return; his contract expires June 30, leaving the GM and coaching positions vacant.

Prokhorov repeatedly stated that NBA experience will be a requirement for any possible hire, specifically ruling out Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, though the owner acknowledged a willingness to elevate a current NBA assistant. Prokhorov holds a long-term concurrent goal of developing basketball in his home country, and while he feels there are three or four Russian executives strong enough to be considered for assistant GM, his review of their candidacies is part of a competition with those already embedded in the NBA, not an obligation to bring someone Russian into the organization.

Playing coy when pressed for a timeline, Prokhorov jokingly allowed that he would hire a coach “by December.” The Draft looms on June 24, and free agency, July 1. Prokhorov – who spent a successful run heading perennial Euroleague contender CSKA Moscow – believes his relative wealth of knowledge regarding European basketball will remain a competitive advantage until the league’s international ownership and executive base increases. And when it comes to wooing the NBA’s talent base, he has his own image as athletic, jet-ski-stunt-performing playboy to offer, along with the promise of building that global brand.

“I think the greater metropolitan of New York is a great place for the players,” Prokhorov said. “You are part of the global world. If you like good climate, you can play in Miami, but you are not a global player – even if you have a yacht on Fisher Island.”

But don’t expect Prokhorov to spend so freely the Nets are hamstrung by any missteps. He’s studied the strictures of the NBA’s salary cap, and understands a bad contract can hinder a team for five or six years. As he sets out to create a dynasty, Prokhorov remains aware that several big-name free agents will be available after next season, and promises he won’t overpay if it means killing whatever strategy he, Thorn and any executives-to-come decide upon during the next few months.

Anything Prokhorov achieves as Nets owner will trickle down to Russia, because he sees much room for grassroots growth among his countrymen, even as the sport trails soccer and hockey in the national consciousness. A basketball player through his time in university, Prokhorov – admittedly competitive to the point that he’s kickboxed 20 years in an attempt to become competent – said he gradually lost interest in participating because the game didn’t challenge him enough, though he always enjoyed watching.

“On one hand, it’s a very interesting and clever game,” Prokhorov explained. “On the other hand it’s very cheap, you can play on the streets, in spite of the Siberian climate. We can play in practically all the gyms in Russia. They are equipped with sports gyms and some courts you can play. For the time being, it’s not very popular. You need the players in order to attract people. In the NBA, there are great players. So the NBA players and my knowledge can attract Russian people to great results.”

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