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Mikhail Prokhorov isn't interested in making friends the old-fashioned way. Pleasantries, while necessary at times, simply don't appear to be his thing.
And considering that the acquisition of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, along with a few other exorbitant contracts on his books, will cost him in excess of $80 million in luxury tax for this season alone, who can blame the Brooklyn Nets owner for his demanding tendencies.
"The man wants to win," Nets GM Billy King told me, just days after pulling off the blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics over the summer. "As you can see, he isn't playing around. And neither are the rest of us."
|Would you disappoint this man?|
As of right now, Prokhorov is seeing what Billy King wants him to see: a rookie coach, Jason Kidd, who was a savant as a NBA point guard and a champion. He's seeing a budding star in Deron Williams, who's ecstatic that someone like KG is around to take the onus of being the team's vocal leader off his shoulders. Add Pierce to the equation, and the combination of those three with Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson in the lineup makes the Nets as formidable as anyone in the game -- on paper.
Except LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are still in Miami. Derrick Rose has returned to a Chicago Bulls squad that managed 45 wins last season without him, along with a first-round victory over these Nets. There's also the presence of the Indiana Pacers, who have Roy Hibbert at center, a potential superstar in Paul George and the return of their best player from two seasons ago in Danny Granger. And we haven't even mentioned the Knicks yet, or whether or not there will be enough basketballs in Brooklyn for everyone to jell and make this season a success.
"We're all at a point in our careers where egos are behind us," Johnson said recently. "We've all checked our egos at the door. It ain't about the stats, how many points we're scoring or who takes the last shot. It's about doing what it takes to try and win a championship. It's all that's on our minds. KG has made sure of it, man. He's got us all on the same page."
No one with sense would debate what this could potentially mean to the Nets.
Despite their starting five, with a bench that includes Terry, Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans and Andrei Kirilenko, the question mark has been attitude more than talent. Exposed as a soft team in the playoffs, the Nets are counting on KG to fix that -- and considering his perpetual intensity and his career numbers in both the regular and postseason, it's understandable.
But Garnett has only one championship on his resume entering his 19th season and none since his inaugural 2007-08 season in Boston. There are losses to Kobe Bryant in the Finals, two losses to the Heat in the Big Three era, and even a first-round loss last season to the Knicks.
So perspective is always necessary.
Garnett has told anyone who's asked, "I'm here to get another ring. That's the only reason we came to Brooklyn." Pierce has validated his boldness by acknowledging that KG was seriously contemplating retirement, that he never planned on playing anywhere or for anyone else.
But times change, even when people don't. So as the clock ticks on Garnett's career, urgency comes with it. Not just for Garnett, but everyone around him.
It comes for King, who's always hungry to prove himself as an executive. It comes for Kidd, who isn't interested in leaning on his rookie-coach status as a convenient excuse for not getting the job done.
Urgency comes for Pierce, who's talked enough smack about everyone from the Knicks to LeBron James to put the basketball world on notice that he's coming. And it automatically comes for Joe Johnson (owed $69.5 million over next three years) and Deron Williams (owed $81.5M over next four years), who simply have to step up and recognize how unfair it would be to rely on the physical attributes of two dudes from Boston who are 37 (KG) and 36 (Pierce).
"You don't make this kind of commitment unless you're planning and competing for a championship," King explained.
The explanation was very nice of King to provide, but totally unnecessary.
It's all about the dollars. And no one's spending it but Prokhorov. The Russian magnate may have been coaxed by David Stern into quieting down the smack talk, but that doesn't change what he believes:
His Nets are legitimate title contenders. They have a chance to knock off the Heat.
Anything less, in all probability, will be deemed entirely unacceptable.
And Brooklyn wouldn't have it any other way.