|Mikhail Prokhorov wants an NBA title in three years. (Getty Images)|
Since Mikhail Prokhorov purchased the Nets, his team has gone 46-102 and failed to make the playoffs twice. The franchise's move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, its opening of the new Barclays Center and a busy free agency period this summer has the Russian billionaire sticking to his outlandishly optimistic predictions for his squad.
The New York Post reports that Prokhorov told reporters on Friday, at the Barclays Center's ribbon-cutting ceremony, that he still believes the Nets will win a title by 2015.
“For me, there's only one place: number one,” Prokhorov said Friday inside his team's brand-new home, Barclays Center, in Brooklyn. “And I do my best to reach the championship.
“We're moving on ... slowly, slowly, step by step. It's easy to make a strong team, but it's very difficult to make a championship team. So we're on the right way. And still, I'm expecting our championship within three years.”
He then went on to guarantee a trip to the playoffs in 2013.
The cocky Prokhorov isn't one to run away from headlines. In recent months, he's challenged Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to a kickboxing match, floated cryptic hints about his free agency pursuit of All-Star guard Deron Williams, softly mocked New York Knicks owner James Dolan and said that he could out-rap Nets minority owner Jay-Z.
He's made so many over-the-top statements that people seem to tune him out a little bit these days. When he made the title guarantee two years ago, he was lampooned. Is he still nuts?
Just to reset, here's the hill the Nets have to climb. They finished fifth in the Atlantic Division, which gets tougher overall next season after the Boston Celtics executed a nice youth movement, the Philadelphia 76ers landed Andrew Bynum, the Knicks stocked up on veterans and the Nets vastly increased their talent level. They finished 12th overall in the Eastern Conference, 13 games out of the No. 8 seed.
The good news: Brooklyn's roster gets a noticeable talent infusion with a full season of Gerald Wallace (acquired in a trade deadline move) and Brook Lopez (missed most of last season with an injury) plus the addition of All-Star guard Joe Johnson (acquired in a summer trade with the Atlanta Hawks). The other good news: Williams, Wallace, Lopez and Johnson are all under contract through at least 2014-15, giving Prokhorov a core of four quality pieces to build around as he continues to try to assemble a contender.
The bad news: With eight-figure deals given to all four players, the Nets are likely to be pretty much the same team over the next three years. Moving Kris Humphries at the deadline or by a future sign-and-trade could land some big time talent but the Collective Bargaining Agreement will intervene sooner or later, making other splashy moves extremely expensive or impossible to execute.
Is this group good enough to truly compete as is? As noted earlier this summer, the Nets have positioned themselves as a possible top-4 seed in the East. That's a huge jump from last season and it's possible it could wind up taking two years to make that type of climb. But going from bad to good isn't the most difficult part. As teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs (of late) have learned, going from good, or even great, to a title team is a whole different challenge.
The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, of course, are the cream of the crop in the East. Consider that the Heat have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony under contract through 2014-15, assuming those players pick up player options. Other key players -- Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers -- are on the roster through 2013-14, should options on both sides get exercised. The defending champions, in other words, should have their nucleus intact for most if not all of Prokhorov's championship window. Ditto for the Celtics, who have Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry under contract through at least 2014-15 and will have every opportunity to retain Paul Pierce when he becomes a free agent in 2013 or 2014, given his desire to stay with Boston for his entire career. The Chicago Bulls, meanwhile, have Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, their two most important pieces, on the books through 2017 and 2016, respectively.
To boil it down: if you don't like the Nets' chances over the Heat or Celtics this season, there's no great reason to like their chances of fulfilling Prokhorov's prediction, or even coming that close. Given recent history and the current competitive landscape, a single appearance in the Eastern Conference finals over the next three years would be hailed as a major win. By everyone except Prokhorov, that is.