While flying the Atlantic on his Gulfstream Monday, Mikhail Prokhorov found time to answer some questions from NetsDaily.
In response to five questions emailed him, Prokhorov talked about his relationship with Rod Thorn, going from Plan "A" to "B"; what he thinks the Nets' next president should offer to the team. Finally, the Nets owner believes he has a sure-fire way to improve the fan experience in Newark...it involves Russian spies!
One headline: the Nets owner said there is "no rush to hire a president" and the responsibility is all his.
Prokhorov said speculation that Thorn has a problem with his ownership is unfounded, that Thorn's decision to leave is based on "a combination of other factors" and indeed they are dining together Tuesday in New York. As for free agency, he says the Nets' Plan "A" was limited to three players--LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Once they were gone, the team moved to Plan "B", giving young players "the best chance for progress" while preparing for "any opportunities on the market".
He understands fans' concerns, but adds, "I want to reassure you that all of the goals we have set for our team will be achieved."
As for the ideal candidate for team president, Prokhorov said he should "be respected in the League, very ambitious and able to work well with Avery Johnson" who he described as "a killer coaching coach".
Finally, when asked about improving fan experience in Newark, Prokhorov planted tongue firmly in cheek and responded, "We’re looking at hiring the Red Army choir to perform at half-time along with Russia’s top dancing bear collective. Not to mention the Russian spies recently sent back to Moscow. We will be organizing their comeback tour to Newark. I’m sure it will be a great hit."
The full interview follows:
First of all, I want to say hi to the fans reading Nets Daily. I know it’s been a topsy-turvy couple of weeks so I’d like to just step back for a second and share my thoughts with you on the team by answering the questions put to me by Net Income.
NetsDaily: Rod Thorn has told reporters that he is not retiring and in fact told one writer that he might be willing to take on GM duties at another NBA team. It now seems that there is far more to Thorn’s departure than he has told people. What more can you tell us about his departure…it now appears that it had more to do with your ownership than previously believed.
Mikhail Prokhorov: Rod and I have very good personal relations and I think extremely highly of him. I very much wanted to keep him on Nets GM and President. But he’s worked for the Nets for 10 years, and, in our private conversations he told me "it’s time." He has been with us the whole way so far and has done a tremendous job setting up the team for a great future. Rod was instrumental in bringing Coach Avery Johnson on board. He is also helping us choose a successor for the GM role, and his advice is invaluable. You can ask Rod about this as well, but my impression is that his decision to leave the Nets is not about the new ownership, but involves a combination of other factors. I of course wish him all the best, whether he ultimately decides to retire or to take up another position. He will always have a seat of honor at all Nets games. By the way, as this text hits the internet, we are enjoying dinner together in New York City and I will be raising a glass to toast his contribution to the team.
NetsDaily: The Nets have switched gears dramatically in the off-season, from going after big names—"the very best of the best" in your words—to rebuilding with very young players. This has caused a lot of concern among fans. You talk about the goals being "intact". How can that be when in fact the team’s whole direction has now changed?
Mikhail Prokhorov: I have spoken before about having many plans at the ready to achieve our goal, which remains the playoffs in one year and a championship within five years. This is the way I approach all of my businesses. It allows me to stay flexible and to be prepared for changing circumstances.
Under what we call our Plan A, there were only ever three top free agents we were interested in paying top dollar for. When it became clear (and, as you know, I predicted this early on), that all three were likely to go to Miami, we did not want to bring other big name players on board around whom, in our opinion, we could not build a winning club. Don’t forget, we’re not building a top five team, we’re building a championship team and that requires a completely different strategy. Then it becomes clear that other top names who can’t bring us a championship on their own are not worth splurging on.
So we have shifted our focus to building a team with great potential under Plan B. We have the youngest team in the NBA and we can give our players the best chance for progress, especially with the talents of Avery Johnson, who is a killer coaching coach. And here I see no contradiction with Plan A: We are in a perfect position to take advantage of any opportunities on the market. We have plenty of cap space and tradeable assets, if needed. Finally, as a businessman, it gives me pleasure to know we don’t have a single player who is overpaid. On the contrary, each of them is potentially undervalued.
I’ll also take this chance to say that some of you fans may be upset or even a little angry following last week. I understand where you’re coming from and appreciate your passion. But I want to reassure you that all of the goals we have set for our team will be achieved, and, when the season begins, you will love this team and be part of an amazing comeback.
NetsDaily: Taking into account that the team’s direction has changed, describe your ideal candidate for president of basketball operations and why has it taken so long to find him?
Mikhail Prokhorov: For a championship team, we need a president with a combination of professional skills. He should be respected in the League, very ambitious and able to work well with Avery Johnson. We need not only teamwork among the players, but great teamwork on the management side. I am a newcomer as an owner, I need to touch and smell everything myself and this takes some time. We’re in no rush to hire a president, but we want to hire the right one. If we don’t get the intended result, I am the only one who is to blame, and I am used to taking full responsibility for what is going on.
NetsDaily: What has been your biggest surprise since taking over the Nets ownership?
Mikhail Prokhorov: I have been surprised by how people have welcomed me, both into the league and into the greater world of American sports. When I’m in the States, all kinds of people come up to me to shake my hand, congratulate me and wish me luck. Some of them have asked for my autograph on basketballs and t-shirts or to take a picture together, which is something completely new and unexpected for me. Even though professional sports is about tough competition, the atmosphere I’ve felt is very friendly. Oh, and one other thing, the potential for winning is bigger than I expected.
NetsDaily: In what ways, other than the roster and basketball operations staff, will fans notice your impact on the franchise? Will there be clear changes to the arena experience (other than the arena itself)?
Mikhail Prokhorov: We’re looking at hiring the Red Army choir to perform at half-time along with Russia’s top dancing bear collective. Not to mention the Russian spies recently sent back to Moscow. We will be organizing their comeback tour to Newark. I’m sure it will be a great hit.
Thanks to all of you for your ongoing interest in the Nets! I look forward to seeing you at the start of the season.