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Prokhorov's Indispensable Man

No, no, not Jay-Z, the Russian guy sitting next to him courtside!

When Nets officials first got to know the men (and women) around Mikhail Prokhorov, they called them "Team Russia" and "40-somethings with all the money in the world" who saw the franchise as something of a "hobby".

They were wrong on a number of counts.  They are actually "30-somethings" rather than "40-somethings", not all of them are Russians and they most definitely don't see the Nets as a "hobby". Net officials did get one thing right: They do appear to have all the money in the world.

Emerging from the group as Prokhorov's indispensable man is Dmitry Razumov, who just turned 36 and is the man many in the Nets' organization credit with best understanding team needs...and getting them dealt with.  While Christophe Charlier, an American-educated Frenchman who's chairman of the board, handles the business side and Irina Pavlova deals with arena issues, it's Razumov who handles hoops. It may seem unlikely, but so far, it's working. We talk exclusively with Razumov.

When Mikhail Prokhorov flew into San Antonio last month to sit down with Deron Williams, Dmitry Razumov was with him. He was on hand when Prokhorov and Williams had a more extensive meeting in London a week later.

Williams gets Razumov's importance."You can definitely tell their objective is to keep me here," Williams told the Daily News when discussing his meetings with ownership. "I've had a lot of good conversations. I met with Dmitry Razumov and Mr. Prokhorov. They're pretty much keeping me in the loop."

It shouldn't be that much of a surprise that Razumov is point man for the point guard, keeping the star player "in the loop". He may play behind the scenes or just off-stage but Dmitry Valerievich is definitely a player.

A year ago, Razumov flew Rod Thorn from the All-Star game in Dallas to to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver so he  meet with Prokhorov and lay out plans for the future.  He accompanied Prokhorov to the NBA Draft Lottery, sat in on interviews of candidates for the GM and head coaching jobs and toasted the Nets success with Jay-Z and Prokhorov at the 40-40 club. He was with his boss at "The Rock" in June, standing just off to the side as Prokhorov and Cory Booker exchanged shots to celebrate the Nets' deal with the Devils. 

And It's Razumov who's made presentations to free agents about the kind of business opportunities available as Prokhorov's global superstar.  In fact, when the Nets flew to meet with LeBron James in Akron last summer, the lead-off pitchmen were Prokhorov and Razumov, offering thoughts on how they would help expand LeBron's profile David Beckham.

Must Approve Big Deals

How important is he now? Whenever the Nets' front office wants to make big money decisions, Billy King calls Razumov or Prokhorov to get the sign off. Avery Johnson says he talks with Razumov regularly about the team. When he's in town, Jay-Z sits next to Razumov at courtside.

Here's how King has described Razumov's role in trade talks. "I’ll get in touch with Dmitry and Mikhail, and they’ll either approve it or say no ... Once I’ve gathered all my information and talked to Bobby Marks, Avery and the scouts and different people, I’ll make a decision and recommend it to the ownership."

So far, it's worked out well. There's no indication the Russians have turned the front office down on anything. "The constant interaction with Dmitry is great," King tells NetsDaily. "This ever-present dialogue allows us to make the necessary and appropriate decisions in a timely manner."

Razumov tells NetsDaily that indeed, "I do speak to Billy and Avery on a regular basis about basketball", explaining that he has focused on "Nets issues" within the franchise.  He jokes that the relationship has had only one major drawback. "The main adjustment has been dealing with the time difference between Moscow and New York!"

The time difference actually wasn't a problem when King called about the biggest deal in his short time as GM. Prokhorov and Razumov were skiing in western Canada, only three time zones away. In fact, there were no issues to talk through on this one.

Williams Deal a "No-Brainer"

"Regarding the Deron Williams deal, all the credit goes to Billy for making it happen.  I was with Mikhail on vacation as the decision was being made, and it was really a no-brainer," says Razumov, a fluent English speaker.   "Everyone was excited when we got the news it was done." They immediately cut the vacation short and revved up the Gulfstream V for the trip from Vancouver to San Antonio.

So who is this 36-year-old Russian? On his Onexim bio page, he lists his favorite sports as soccer, hockey, skiing and tennis, not basketball, and who grew up in Moscow during the dying days of the Soviet Union!?

He doesn't sit on the Nets' board of directors, isn't listed in the Nets' media guide, holds no office or title, but is critical to the operation. He's Prokhorov's most trusted advisor and CEO of his $25 billion investment vehicle, Onexim. David Aldridge has called Razumov "Prokhorov's right hand executive for Nets affairs" the guy everyone has to go through. It's more than that.

Razumov describes what he does modestly: "My role with the Nets is an informal one. As any company, the Nets are run by its Board of Directors and management on a daily basis.  However, Mikhail likes to get input from friends and advisors, and I'm happy to consider myself part of that circle. 

"Mikhail and I have worked together for 10 years, and I have a good understanding of the way he thinks and, based on our experiences in other businesses together, can be of help in dealing with certain issues.  And, let's face it, being involved in an NBA basketball team is fun."

Razumov is quick to add, "I am not involved in the day-to-day business of the team". Others suggest there is a more formal reason for Razumov's informal role, rooted in the Russian legal system. It' insulate Onexim and its interlocking set of subsidiaries from any legal liabilities of the Nets and vice-versa. In fact, Prokhorov himself is not on the Nets' board of directors.

A Role Well Beyond the Nets

His role as a Prokhorov advisor is by no means limited to the Nets. Nor is it recent. He has been the executive pushing hardest on the e-mobile, Prokhorov's hybrid car; working deals on Prokhorov's interconnected gold, aluminum and nickel mining operations; doing initial research, "due diligence", on Prokhorov's investments in distressed properties, from Renaissance Capital, one of Russia's leading investment banks, and RBC, a combination Russian version of CNBC and Yahoo, to a certain cellar-dwelling NBA team. It's all part of Prokhorov's strategy to move away from metals.

"Our main goal, now that we have a diversified portfolio and have built in a solid hedge against risk, is to develop our existing assets," he told NetsDaily, describing Onexim's current strategy.  "We are particularly interested in increasing the hi-tech component of the portfolio, so we have several projects with great growth potential in this area:  the hybrid car, a recently opened LED factory, and others."

The same business philosophy at work in the Russian business deals are at work with the Nets.  Renaissance, RBC and the Nets were short on cash, heavy on debt and looking for a buyer who could rescue them when Prokhorov was approached to help out. As a result, the price was cheap, permitting Onexim to buy low and then "develop those existing businesses", give management the tools to do the job....and monitor them.

Trained as a lawyer in one of Russia's top schools, Razumov once practiced business and corporate law at Clifford Chance, the big London law firm. He gained investment banking experience with Renaissance Capital. In 1998, at age 23, he left Renaissance to co-found an independent venture capital firm that helped speed the success of MegaFon, the third largest mobile phone operator in Russia.

He joined Prokhorov in 2001, still in his mid-20's. Razumov first served as Deputy CEO for Strategy and M&A of Prokhorov's Norilsk Nickel, Russia's largest mining company, as it bought interests in mining operations in the US, South Africa and Russia. So trusted by Prokhorov, he's served on the boards of a diverse mix of his boss' operations in Moscow real estate, nickel mining, banking, technology. 

And yes, he owns part of several of Prokhorov's operations (but not apparently the Nets).  He won't discuss which ones, but has previously said, "I am economically interested in the outcome of the group".

Differing Personalities Mesh

The two are different personalities, suggest people who know both of them. "He and Prokhorov make an interesting contrast in the personal expression of egalitarianism and aristocracy," says an American who spent time with both. It's evident in their fashion sense. Prokhorov's is muted. He claims not to be interested in fashion (although his $138,000 Pierre Kunz watch might suggest otherwise). He's shown up at Nets games in jeans and sweats as well as straightforward business suits.  Razumov is more elegantly dressed in natty Italian suits. You can see your face in the shine of his shoes.

Prokhorov is the boisterous one; Razumov quiet, steady, a stoic Russian with European polish. Prokhorov is the swinging bachelor, Razumov the father of three.

He, Christophe Charlier and Irina Pavlova watch over Prokhorov's investment, which is not a bottomless pit of cash for King and Brett Yormark to play with, but an investment. In the division of labor. Prokhorov gave him the job of minding the basketball store. He explains, "I am less involved in the arena project. Chris and Irina mainly deal with these issues with Brett and Bruce Ratner’s team."  He may not know about basketball per se, though as a lawyer and banker, you can be sure he knows a lot about the collective bargaining agreement.

That investment breaks down this way: $200 million for 80% of the team plus 45% of the arena; $60 million to cover operating losses until the team moves to Brooklyn, including servicing the team’s debt (totalling more than $175 million); getting out of the IZOD lease, facilitating trades, as well as the additions to the front office; and $76 million in arena infrastructure bonds, which was an investment decision meant to earn a return for Prokhorov. (According to public documents and Nets insiders, that $76 million in bonds could be converted into equity in the arena, meaning at some point, Prokhorov could control Barclays Center as well as the team.)


It's not all about high finance of course. Razumov has made himself accessible to team personnel from players to executives to Tim Walsh. On January 19, as the team was gathering for a final run-through with Avery Johnson before the Jazz game, Walsh spotted Razumov sitting next to Jay-Z at the end of the bench. He scooted over to where Razumov was sitting and engaged him in a quick and yet serious conversation, then went back to the bench, his message --whatever it was-- delivered.

"I don’t recall what the conversation was about," Razumov tells NetsDaily. "But I do believe both Mikhail and I are accessible, especially for anyone we work with...We are both happy with the work of the Nets management team and, while Mikhail is deeply involved in strategic decisions and watching games, he’s not spending that much time on the day to day business of the Nets."  He didn't say he isn't. 

A Nets insider who has seen a lot of Prokhorov and Razumov at work, calls the Russians saviors.  "We would be like Sacramento if these guys hadn't bought the team," he says, the obvious implication being that like the Kings, the Nets would be on the move.

Bottom line, his role is not just financial and strategic, but diplomatic and political, as one observer put it.  He's the guy who both crunches the numbers and meshes the personnel. Most of all, it's about making sure that everyone gets what they need, if not what they want, to do the job assigned. In most businesss, that's profits; For the Nets that's winning a championship. Deron Williams is likely to get to know Dmitry Razumov quite well in the future. As he said, Razumov and Prokhorov are keeping him "in the loop".

"I’ve closed many deals during my career," Razumov tells NetsDaily. "My proudest moments with the Nets so far have been when we closed the deal and the Deron trade." 

Accent on the "so far".