Commentary

Prokhorov turns Nets into contenders

Nets owner backs up his bravado, lands KG and Pierce in draft-night blockbuster

Updated: June 28, 2013, 12:25 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

Maybe Mikhail Prokhorov figured it out on his own. Maybe on the trip from Moscow to the NBA, he did not need to hear what a Broadway producer named James Nederlander once told his partner, George Steinbrenner, about putting on a show in New York.

Prokhorov-Steinbrenner
AP PhotoMikhail Prokhorov showed shades of The Boss with Thursday's megadeal.

"It's a star-vehicle town," Nederlander assured Steinbrenner after the young shipbuilder left Cleveland to take the wheel of a sinking ocean liner.

Steinbrenner's Yankees set the big-city standard for pursuing big-ticket talent, for trying to buy championships without offering apologies to those without the stomach (or budget) for the fight. Prokhorov proved Thursday night he will honor that standard in at least two languages, signing off on a deal that landed his Brooklyn Nets a pair of decorated Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who are almost as old as their decorated head coach, Jason Kidd.

It turns out Prokhorov wasn't kidding on arrival in 2010 when he said he expected the Nets to win a title in five years "maximum," just like his coach wasn't kidding on arrival in Jersey in 2001, when Kidd the point guard predicted a .500 season for a circle of serial losers he would carry to back-to-back Finals.

"We will have the desire to win that is unmatched anywhere in the league," Prokhorov said back then, and outside the sandy borders of South Beach, who could argue with him now? The Nets sent three first-round picks to Boston for a starting five of Garnett, Pierce, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez, and a short-term shot at supplanting Miami as the best team in the East.

No, it isn't a great shot, not with LeBron James at the height of his otherworldly powers, and not with Pat Riley promising to keep his band together for another tour or two. But it is a shot. The new Nets are right there with the improving Indiana Pacers (adding Danny Granger) and the improving Chicago Bulls (adding Derrick Rose), and that's a claim that can't be made by the neighboring New York Knicks.

The Nets blew past the Knicks on draft night in Brooklyn (Duke's Mason Plumlee at No. 22 wasn't a bad pick, either), and they did it with a daring move in the wake of Boston's Doc Rivers deal with the Clippers, a deal that prevented Garnett and Pierce from joining their coach in L.A. Prokhorov and his industrious GM, Billy King, saw an opening and pounced. The Nets got older and slower in the process, but they also got a lot better, especially in a playoff context.

Postseason teams have no choice but to execute in the half court, and the new Nets are very much a half-court team. They now have multiple players who will command the referees' respect in the closing minutes of a Game 7, not to mention the very Garnett-esque toughness and intensity they lacked in their first-round loss to the Bulls.

So make no mistake: This is a great night for the Brooklyn Nets, even if it doesn't lead to the title Garnett and Pierce won for the Celtics, who are busy becoming a D-League team in the hope of winning banner No. 18 in a resurgent season to be named (much) later.

Assuming the aging Nets remain upright, one or two of those three first-round picks should be later first-round picks.

Gerald Wallace? Kris Humphries? Keith Bogans? MarShon Brooks? Kris Joseph?

You trade those guys for Garnett and Pierce eight days a week, and allow Jason Terry along for the ride.

"I feel pretty sure I can convince the best of the best that the Nets are the place they want to be," Prokhorov said after he was approved as majority owner of the Nets.

The billionaire couldn't sell LeBron James on his vision. He couldn't land Dwight Howard, and he couldn't persuade Phil Jackson, artful dodger, to finish his legendary career in Brooklyn.

But Prokhorov and his basketball man, King, chased all of the above with a relentlessness required of a team trying to make a dent in the world's noisiest marketplace. And of course that was a part of this, too, the Nets' realization that the novelty of Brooklyn and their new digs, the Barclays Center, wasn't going to carry the day in Year 2. They needed to improve the product, and improve it they did. Garnett wouldn't have waived his no-trade clause for some second-rate operation in the shadows of Madison Square Garden, and his stamp of approval should keep enhancing the Nets' standing around the league after he's retired.

Only Brooklyn doesn't want to think or talk about KG retiring. For the next year or two, the Nets should be a credible threat to Miami, and a fascinating one, too. Prokhorov made sure of that by following the Steinbrenner script on Broadway, and in the Bronx.

"We had a good one, 'Applause,'" the Boss once said of a play he helped finance. "It was better when we got Lauren Bacall, and had her fighting Audrey Hepburn for a Tony." The Nets landed a couple of Lauren Bacalls from Boston on draft night, and no, that doesn't mean one of the Celtics' 17 banners came in the package.

It does mean Brooklyn now has a legitimate shot to hang one of its own.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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