On the day that Mark Cuban is battling the notion that his Mavericks are barely solvent, Mikhail Prokhorov arrives on the scene to compete for the title of owner NBA fans most dream of becoming.
Prokhorov is not just one of the richest owners in sports. He's a flashy billionaire who parties with large numbers of attractive young women. He's a 6-8 workout addict who can both dunk and flip a jet-ski. As 60 Minutes tells it, the Russian has more planes, boats, swimming pools and parties than you can handle.
But do not overlook the fact that he brings a ton of business savvy to the table, and not just in the deal with the government that landed him Norilsk Nickel. From a March TrueHoop post:
He has displayed extraordinary business competence ever since he started a stonewashed jeans business in the early days of Russian capitalism (and before that, the former Soviet soldier was so effective a leader, organizing students at his night job unloading railway cars, that he says he made more than many doctors). Further business victories have come from currency exchange and banking. Watch his extended interview with Bloomberg TV. It's a little businessy, for sure, and it's more than a half-hour. But after watching, you'll believe me when I tell you he's blatantly a very strategic thinker who works hard, has a talent for management and delegation, and gets consistently good results.
And, even better, he looks like an owner who will delegate meaningful authority. He talks authoritatively about the long-term strategy of his businesses, which drives his investments. But again and again he also makes clear that the day-to-day operations are the duties of the competent people he hires. (At one point, for instance, he says he has no sense of his own household expenses ... but he has people he entrusts to run it well.) If you're a GM with a vision, that's music to your ears.
His strategic leadership alone would likely improve the Nets' performance in the near term. But remember, this is the NBA team that has proved winning is not always the perfect medicine. This is the team that made it all the way to the NBA Finals, twice, and still somehow never became cool and never became the place to be. That's why it matters that, in addition to business competence, Prokhorov brings the potential to be a bit flashy in a way that could go a long way to overhauling the team's dreary image.
The next decade, for Nets fans, is going to be so different from the last one.
Prokhorov is taking over the team just in time. Players make their marks in the season, but owners get to make their marks in the hiring and firing season that starts now. The draft lottery, where the Nets will find out whether or not they can get John Wall, is next Tuesday. The team will select a key player at the draft on June 24, and a week after that the starting gun will be fired for the greatest free agent season in NBA history. To optimize these opportunities, any owner would need a cracker jack team of basketball experts to figure out which free agents to target, how to appeal to them, which players to surround them with, and how to get the most out of the draft.
Meanwhile, around the NBA coaching and management candidates are being interviewed, and soon the best of them will be taken off the market. Prokhorov's most important work of the next few years will come in finding the right people to trust to spend his money this summer, and that work starts now.