It's no secret that Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov enjoys hip-hop and even dabbles in the lyrical arts from time to time. Such would seem to be the natural outgrowth of a business partnership with rap mogul Jay-Z.
But I wonder if Prokhorov is familiar with the work of the Wu-Tang Clan, if only because cash rules everything around him.
Indeed, Prokhorov is set to make it rain on those NBA teams that stay under the luxury-tax line for the 2013-14 season. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Nets' projected payroll of more than $101 million for the upcoming campaign will incur a luxury-tax bill of around $82 million—by far the most onerous in league history—the funds from which are to be distributed among the Association's more cost-conscious clubs.
The fact that a team would be penalized so severely at this point in time is hardly surprising. The rules governing excessive spending are more punitive than ever under the collective bargaining agreement that ended the 2011 lockout, as CBA guru Larry Coon detailed.
Nor should it shock anyone that Prokhorov would be the first to foot such a bloated bill. The Russian mogul has a history of circumventing regulations meant to level the playing field. More importantly, Prokhorov's pockets are plenty deep enough (more than $13 billion deep, to be more specific) to take that big of a hit without thinking twice about it.
But is general manager Billy King's latest spending spree—which has brought Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko to Brooklyn—actually a good thing for the Nets, irrespective of the financial toll exacted?
That depends on how you define "good" in the context of this team.
On paper, the Nets should be markedly better on both ends of the floor. Some of that figures to emanate from newfound stability on the bench, with rookie head coach Jason Kidd and his experienced staff free from the fear of having the proverbial ax dropped on their heads for at least a couple years.
Most of the improvement, though, will come from upgrades to the roster. No longer will the Nets be turning to Kris Humphries (a defensive sieve) and Reggie Evans (a non-factor on offense) to start at power forward. Nor will they turn to an aging, overpaid and only occasionally effective Gerald Wallace to play next to Joe Johnson on the wing.
Instead, they'll be filling those spots with future Hall of Famers in Garnett and Pierce. KG still ranks among the most effective two-way big men when healthy, with a mid-range jumper to help Brooklyn spread the floor and a ferocity and attention to detail on the other end to anchor what had been a middling defense. Pierce has lost a step or two, but was never all that quick to begin with, and should slip right in as an all-around offensive threat who can bang in the post and burn you from the outside with equal proficiency.
The intertwining of health and age with Garnett and Pierce was, is and will be of some concern for the Nets. Garnett, now 37, has logged more than 52,000 minutes in his pro career and missed no fewer than 11 games every season (save for the lockout-shortened one in 2011-12) since leaving the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2007. Pierce will be 36 once the season starts, and though he's about as durable as they come, there's no telling how his advancing age and the change of scenery will affect his fitness and performance.
This is where the brilliance of the Kirilenko signing comes into play. The rangy Russian is capable of filling in for either of the Boston Celtics castoffs on both ends of the floor. He's tall and long enough to compete with power forwards and quick enough on his feet to disrupt opposing wings. On the other end, Kirilenko, while not a great shooter by any means, is sharp enough to be a threat from the mid-range, with a deft passing touch to massage an offense that ranked among the slowest and clunkiest in the NBA last season.
AK47's all-around talents—and previous five-plus-year partnership with Deron Williams on the Utah Jazz—will allow Kidd and company to limit the minutes allotted to KG and Pierce while toggling with different lineups. That way, the Nets can keep their vets fresh for when they really need them (i.e. in the playoffs).
With a little help from Mirza Teletovic and the always entertaining Andray Blatche, of course.
As far as the backcourt is concerned, it's tough to say what, exactly, the Nets should expect out of Jason Terry. JET's coming off his worst campaign since his first as a pro, with just 10.1 points on 43.4-percent shooting to his credit. He'll also be 36 once the 2013-14 season tips off, placing him in the midst of his basketball twilight.
Not that there isn't reason enough to believe he'll be better in Brooklyn. He won't have to worry about shuttling between undefined roles and, assuming D-Will and Joe Johnson avoid catastrophic injury, won't be called upon to start, as he was 24 times during his lone season in Beantown.
And don't underestimate the impact that Terry's reunion with Kidd, with whom he won a title in Dallas two years ago, could have on the younger Jason's fortunes. Kidd is intimately familiar with Terry's strengths and weaknesses, and should be able to act upon that knowledge accordingly.
In total, it's clear that the Nets should be better. They won 49 games during their first season at the Barclays Center and came within one game of advancing to the second round of the playoffs.
Which is encouraging, considering that the Nets had missed the postseason during each of their last five years in New Jersey.
With their roster and the way the East is currently stacked, the Nets can reasonably be expected to win between 50 and 55 games. That would've placed the Nets no worse than third in the Eastern Conference this past season, with only the 54-win (and archrival) New York Knicks standing between them and the second seed.
Should the pattern hold relatively still next spring, the Nets should expect to compete for a spot against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, with the Knicks, the Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls as their chief challengers. Brooklyn's ability to survive that vicious pack of opponents will depend heavily on the extent to which changes to the roster and the coaching staff yield substantial improvement on the defensive end. The Nets ranked a mere 18th in defensive efficiency last season while playing at the league's third-slowest pace.
Even then, would an Atlantic Division title and a spot among the NBA's final four be enough to satiate ownership's appetite for success and justify, to some extent, the massive expense that Prokhorov is about to incur?
In truth, this is a question best answered over a longer period of time. Making the leap from first-round fodder to conference finalist is a massive one, no matter the cost of the roster or the expectations attached thereabout.
Especially when factoring in Miami's presumed ownership of the East. The Nets would be hard-pressed to unseat the Heat in the midst of their push for a three-peat. As such, 2015 would be a more realistic target date for a title in Brooklyn, even more so if Miami's Big Three disbands next summer.
That would also happen to be Prokhorov's fifth year at the helm of the franchise...which fits perfectly with his bold proclamations. When Prokhorov was first introduced as the owner of the Nets in 2010, he claimed that his team would claim the Larry O'Brien Trophy within five years (via ESPNNewYork.com).
Of course, if this expensive experiment doesn't work out as planned and the Nets fall apart within the next year or two, Billy King's hands will be all but tied until 2016. According to the numbers crunched by the Eric Pincus over at Hoopsworld, Brooklyn's salary burden won't drop below $90 million until after the 2014-15 season and won't yield any cap space of which to speak until the summer thereafter. At that rate, the Nets front office won't have much room to maneuver, no matter how amenable Prokhorov is to spending his team out of a hole.
This would all be more of a concern if Brooklyn's principals were all on the wrong side of their respective career arcs. Luckily, Brook Lopez, arguably the Nets' best player, is all of 25, with a fresh All-Star appearance in his hip pocket. So long as he stays healthy and continues to improve—and has Deron Williams feeding him the ball—the Nets will have a solid foundation from which to launch championship chases for the foreseeable future.
And if not, don't put it past Prokhorov to seek out other workarounds in pursuit of on-court success for the Nets. He knows as well as anyone what rules the NBA.
Cash, that is.
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