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Friday, December 28, 2012
The Prokhorov paradox

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- As the Brooklyn Nets set their sights as high as possible for their next head coach, they must realize that their greatest asset could double as their biggest red flag.

Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov breezed into Brooklyn Friday night being his usual self. Fresh off an extreme vacation in the Canadian Rockies that involved 6-foot snow drifts and helicopters, he talked about throwing around millions and winning championships as if the two went hand-in-hand.

Standing inside the new Barclays Center, an arena that exists largely because he bailed out its developers during the recession, Prokhorov referred to the $330 million he spent to upgrade the Nets over the summer and implied there is more where that came from. These are the kind of statements that make coaches, no matter who they are or whether or not they are employed elsewhere, interested in the Nets' job.

Mikhail Prokhorov
Money seems to be no object for Mikhail Prokhorov.

In a new era where some teams have to trade young stars out of fear of the luxury tax and others leave millions in cap space unspent, working for Prokhorov can seem so attractive.

Included is the team's move to Brooklyn, a place that will draw free agents and is a desirable place to live, and a veteran-laden roster that has the potential to win immediately.

These jobs do not become available every day. For the first time ever, the Nets job is a glamour position. Prokhorov is the reason.

The Russian rub, however, is that all these luxuries come with some extreme pressure, perhaps even unique in the NBA. That was known before Prokhorov fired Avery Johnson just weeks after he was named coach of the month. When Prokhorov said he expected to win a championship within five years of buying the team, he meant it. When he said at the start of the season he expected to reach the conference finals this year, he meant that, too.

The fact that this Nets roster may not completely fit together and has very limited playoff experience does not matter to him. That comes with the job and any coach who takes over will be expected to fix it and fix it now.

These are not secrets; Prokhorov is famously frank and he was again Friday.

Q: Have you talked to interim coach P.J. Carlesimo about his task?

Prokhorov: "Just to win a championship, very simple."

Q: Could you see finishing the season with Carlesimo as coach?

Prokhorov: "It depends on the result of the team."

Q: Do you still see this team capable of reaching the conference finals?

Prokhorov: "Of course, it is only the beginning of the (season)."

Q: Were the expectations for this team a little too high?

Prokhorov: "It is not very high, just championship, not more. We are only human beings."

These sorts of answers are what we've come to expect from this endearing billionaire. Because he says it with a smile and an accent that has his certain charm, it can be easy to dismiss as bravado. But Prokhorov is dead serious. The quick trigger on Johnson is just the latest example.

When prospective coaches from Phil Jackson to Jeff Van Gundy to Nate McMillan examine this chance, they know they are going to have talent and they are going to be able to demand -- and receive -- a big paycheck. But they also have to know that after a few bad weeks, even if you're the reigning coach of the month, that phone could ring.

This Nets team is vastly improved but it also needs time. In his haste to save his job and seemingly knowing his position was precarious, Johnson attempted to change facets of his offense on the fly over the last two weeks. With his defense failing, Johnson benched a few higher-profile players as a stopgap. Neither effort was given much real time to work.

Johnson surely made his mistakes, but his firing was classified as ruthless by Johnson's peers. There is little evidence Prokhorov will mellow. After all, the five-year plan Johnson inherited is now nearly half over.

"We have very talented players but they are capable of much more," Prokhorov said. "To me, this is totally unacceptable."

If you're going to take Prokhorov's money this is what comes attached. And that is something the various big names the Nets are reaching out to will have to seriously consider before signing on.