For Nets, A Rare Visit from Russia

Nets Principal Owner Mikhail Prokhorov attended Wednesday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks and addressed the media before the game. Topics he addressed included whether the team is for sale, what he thinks the team is worth, the departure of Andrei Kirilenko earlier this season, and how much he is willing to spend to make them a contender. Where appropriate, I have a comment on what he said.

On his assessment of how this season, in which the Nets are 36-42 in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, has gone: “I saw the potential of our team and the capability of playing at a first rate level. I think for the last months we have seen how the team could play of everyone pulls together. We’ve had instances of inconsistency, and I think part of it is having a new coach, new players, and some injuries. My hope for the time being is that we have the capability of playing on a high level and of course our team has the talent. We’ve had interesting moments, like the triple-overtime win against the Bucks. Brook’s (Lopez) finish against the Knicks and also great home wins against the Warriors and the Cavaliers. I think that young players like Thaddeus Young and Markel Brown being speed, power, and some motion to us, and Bojan Bogdanovic is making his way in the NBA.”

On the status of the potential sale of the team: “I was never intending to sell the team. We have looked at only selling the minority stake. And for the time being, there is nothing on the table. That is the situation for the time being.” JS – The last time Prokhorov was in Brooklyn, on opening night, he said that the team was not for sale, but he would listen to offers, classic double-speak. The rumor is that he is trying to sell a 49-percent stake, which would include no say in the operations of the team, but would give Prokhorov, who has probably lost money with the downfall of the Russian ruble and the oil market, some needed capital. There is no appeal to a minority stake for the amount he would be asking for it. Bruce Ratner is selling his majority stake in Barclays Center. If they want to really make this work, they should sell the Nets and Barclays Center together, and they could probably reap $3-$4 billion.

On how much he thinks he can get for the Nets: “I was never intending to sell the team. That is why if any proposal has touched us, they were not serious. But if someone wants to send me any kind of proposal just to have a look at it, then why not. We are speaking only about minority stake.” JS – He basically reiterated what he said before, only here he admits they have received offers and that anybody can send him an offer for the team and he will take a look. So, to sum up, the team is for sale, and Prokhorov wants others to make the first move.

On how many people have approached about purchasing a minority stake in the Nets and if any came close to fruition: “I think, approximately, we’ve had like 10 approaches. I am not involved in the day-to-day routine. As soon as we have any kind of proposal and we are close to fixing, you will be the first to know. You, personally.” JS – Prokhorov said nothing revealing here, as it is common knowledge that Irina Pavlova, the head of his Onexim Sports and Entertainment, runs the operation here. Is it possible that Pavolva would orchestrate the sale of these minority stakes and ultimately the entire team? In giving this answer, he also shows the charm he uses to win over the writers.

On challenges regarding United States sanctions on Russia and political turmoil: “I think the relation between our two countries is not the best for the time being. The biggest problem is the lack of the communication between the United States and Russia. From what I hear, and what I know, we have a lot in common, like big countries with great history, with great influence in the world. And on that stage, we need to be more focused on cultural relation. People, they need to know each other more, and I am rather optimistic that in the near future our politicians will change their mantras.”

On going over the luxury tax and his willingness to spend whatever the Nets need to win next season: “We need a championship team, and I am very committed to continue to do all of the best for the team. This is my perception, and if we need to pay a little bit more than any other team, that is not an obstacle for us.” JS – This is a bit disingenuous as the Nets did not re-sign Paul Pierce because they would have been facing a $20 million hit to their luxury-tax bill. The Nets also lost Shaun Livingston and Andray Blatche this past offseason.

On assessing General Manager Billy King: “I like his ability to be bold. I think he has done some respective deals…have the first list maybe a little dramatic. I am very comfortable working with him and his contract has not expired.”

On keeping Brook Lopez, who has the option to become a free agent after the season: “Brook is very important for us. Like Lionel (Hollins) told you maybe 22 times that we do want him back, but that is up for Brook to decide. We need him. I think Brooklyn is his home.” JS – It’s funny he cites Hollins as wanting him back, considering it was Hollins who constantly derailed Brook in press conferences early in the season and moved him to the bench for the inferior Mason Plumlee. Lopez responded to the benching and won back his starting spot and has won the last two Eastern Conference Player of the Week awards. He is no doubt the Nets’ best player and they must do all they can to keep him here.

On the potential of buying Bruce Ratner’s 20 percent stake in the Nets or the other half of the arena that he does not own and is for sale by Ratner: “I think there are several possibilities. One of them: you can ask my partner, Bruce Ratner. It is up to him to decide what we can sell for example, like 49 percent to somebody else. For the time being, there is nothing on the table, and as soon as we have any change in capital structure, we will announce it in a very open way, as we usually do.”  JS – Prokhorov here again brings up the 49 percent stake, and makes it seem as if Ratner is the one driving the sales. It is interesting how he emphasizes that they will do things in an open way, almost to refute the idea that this is being kept quiet with many things being leaked to the media.

Forbes Magazine valued the Nets at $1.5 billion. Prokhorov said of the assessment: “For the time being, I like the number. But I think it is a waste of time to discuss nonexistent…”

On the franchise’s financial losses since he bought the team and if it’s changed how he has done business: “If it’s true about three billion, what do you mean by lost? But three billion now, it’s not loss. It is just investment…You like to count other people’s money.” JS – Prokhorov dismisses a legitimate question about how the team has lost a lot of money in the time he has owned it. This certainly affected how he ran this past offseason, with letting Pierce walk to limit the hit from the luxury tax. The total of losses also naturally eats into any profit that he makes on a sale.

On why he did not make it to 25 percent of the team’s games this season, as he promised on Opening Night: “Maybe you heard, we have some volatile years in Russia economy and the Russian business. So we have sanctions imposed and these sanctions they have created some fresh opportunities and some challenges for business in Russia. I needed to be there managing my business and my essence, so I was very busy. Now everything is under control. That is why I hope to see more in the playoffs.”

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