By John Torenli
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Several hours after reassuring Nets fans that the organization was on the right path in its quest toward an elusive NBA championship, Mikhail Prokhorov got a first-hand look at just how far Brooklyn’s soon-to-be franchise actually is from accomplishing that lofty goal Tuesday night.
Attending his second game in three days at Newark’s Prudential Center — he also took in a 122-117 victory over Cleveland on Easter Sunday — the Nets billionaire owner, and the rest of the announced crowd of 15,376 at the team’s temporary home, suffered through an ugly 107-88 loss to Philadelphia.
The defeat, New Jersey’s 96th in 141 games under Prokhorov since he took over principal ownership from Downtown real estate magnate Bruce Ratner, officially eliminated the Nets from playoff contention for the fifth consecutive season.
“[The 76ers] had another gear that they went to tonight, and we couldn’t get to that gear,” lamented Nets coach Avery Johnson, who received a vote of confidence from his boss earlier Tuesday during a state-of-the-team/arena address at the still-under-construction but “75 percent complete” Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn.
Prokhorov, fresh off a failed-but-admittedly-educational bid for the Russian presidency, had promised earlier in the day that with “patience” and “step-by-step” building, the Nets would fulfill the promise of a five-year run to the championship he all but guaranteed upon taking the reigns nearly two years ago.
“We are really on the right way,” insisted the 46-year-old metal tycoon as construction crews toiled behind him to finish off the 18,000-seat facility for its Sept. 28 “Magic Date” opening with a Jay-Z concert. “We are in the building stage. I keep my prediction of a championship. We will make the Brooklyn Nets a championship team.”
Those words had to ring a bit hollow when Prokhorov watched playoff-contending Philadelphia use a late first-half run to pull away for good from the less-than-inspired Nets, who fell to a ghastly 21-38 this season, just one-half game ahead of last-place Toronto in the Atlantic Division.
The Nets went an embarrassing 12-70 during Ratner’s final year at the helm and followed it up with a 24-win campaign in 2010-11. With only seven games remaining in their 35th and final season in New Jersey, Prokhorov’s future champions will have trouble topping last year’s win total, though they are playing 16 fewer games due to the lockout.
“If you look at this season, we have some very good young pieces,” Prokhorov said optimistically. “We are coming into a very good situation. If it hadn’t been for the crazy injuries this year, we would have been in the playoffs. I’ll do my best and I’m very committed.”
In New York to attend the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting, where the pending move to Brooklyn will receive an official rubber stamp, Prokhorov witnessed just his 11th Nets game in person Tuesday. They are 8-3 when he attends, for a dazzling .727 winning percentage. Maybe he should show up more often?
Though he admits that he watches his team closely when in Moscow, via television and game-by-game statistical analysis, Prokhorov figures to be more of a looming presence in Brooklyn beginning with November’s historic season opener at Barclays Center.
We can only wonder how much he’ll be preaching patience if our borough’s first major pro sports franchise since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957 endures another horrific campaign – and another after that.
Nets general manager Billy King, who also got a nod of approval from Prokhorov on Tuesday, knows what’s on the line in 2012-13.
“We want to win desperately,” he said. “We want to come here, live here and be a part of this borough.”
The key to the Nets’ immediate success in Brooklyn likely hinges on getting All-Star point guard Deron Williams to share King’s sentiments.
After failing to land Orlando center Dwight Howard in a trade-deadline deal, and missing out on superstars like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony over the previous two seasons, the Nets hardly have a leg to stand on when convincing Williams that they will surround him with championship-caliber talent.
Prokhorov said he and Williams “were on the same page” following a meeting with his best player Monday, but wouldn’t go so far as to guarantee he’d be back in a Nets uniform next season.
“He really wants to win and I want to win, maybe even more,” Prokhorov said. “At this stage, we’re on the same page. I think he wants to win and be part of a great franchise. So we have the same view of this.”
That view may be obscured a bit by potential suitors from Dallas, Orlando and Los Angeles this summer when Williams hits free agency. Having lost out on Howard, at least for the time being, the Nets did try to appease their lone star by acquiring Gerald Wallace from Portland, but the soon-to-be 30-year-old forward failed to suit up Tuesday night due to a strained left hamstring.
Even Williams seemed sluggish in the loss, managing only 14 points – seven shy of his season average – while committing five turnovers and handing out five assists.
The 6-foot-3 playmaker also scoffed at reporters when asked about his meeting with the owner, refusing to give details or categorize the tete-a-tete as “a very good discussion,” as Prokhorov had just hours earlier.
With the countdown to Brooklyn at six short months and counting, Prokhorov’s five-year plan to capture the NBA title is looking more and more like wishful thinking.
Then again, that’s the same type of optimism that made the soon-to-be 47-year-old one of the richest men in the world and the first Russian owner of an NBA franchise.