In an exclusive NetsDaily interview with Sergei Kushchenko, the newest member of the Nets' board says that while he will have a vote on "the major issues facing the team", expect him to focus his talents on "ideas about how to tell the story of the Nets to an international audience and grow our fan base", but not at the expense of winning.
In the interview conducted by e-mail, Kushchenko also said that in spite of Mikhail Prokhorov's new role as head of the Pravoe Delo Party, "I'm sure he will continue to maintain his involvement in the team ... I know he gets a lot of pleasure being the owner of the Nets."
In terms of global branding, Kushchenko said that while the Nets are off to a good start, "there is a lot more to be done, however. I think I have a pretty good sense of what works in Russia and the rest of Europe and I have a lot of ideas." He did say he would not sign an international player, coach or manager just to expand the fan base. "If we want a winning team, the priority has to be talent."
As for Bojan Bogdanovic, Kushchenko called the pick "a great stealth move by Billy King", describing the newest Net as "a player with real talent during his time in Europe."
1. On Draft Night, the Nets bought a pick to take Bojan Bogdanovic of Croatia. You're obviously very familiar with European basketball and we wondered what you thought about the pick. Does having European ownership help the Nets in getting players free from their commitments overseas and into a Nets uniform?
I think it was a great stealth move by Billy King. Bogdanovic has shown himself to be a player with real talent during his time in Europe. He was league MVP during the regular season and also the second highest scorer in the Euroleague. As far as having European ownership in concerned, I think it does give our team a bit of a broader view. We know these players well, as well as the team management. But the NBA rules are strict, and designed to create a level playing field for all the teams. Also, Mikhail has said many times, and I fully agree with him, that we are not looking to bring Europeans, including Russians, into the Nets as a goal in itself. To build a winning franchise, you have to have only one goal in mind: to get the best possible people, no matter where they are.
2. What does your new job as a Nets director entail? How can you help the Nets in basketball operations in that role...and where else do you think you can help?
As a member of the board, I will have a vote on the major issues facing the team. I also hope to contribute some fresh ideas. I am lucky to have been through the process of building a championship team already, having taken CSKA from being a non-contender to the Euroleague quarterfinals 7 years out of 7, and winning the title in two of those years. Ironically, that makes me the only member of the Nets board with a championship trophy! Of course, there is nothing that can compare to the NBA in terms of talent and professionalism. But sometimes an outsider can also bring good ideas to the table and I would like to make good use of my new role.
3. Mikhail is talking about reducing his business responsibilities as his political responsibilities rise. Is there a connection between that reduction and your being named a director?
No, I don't think so. Mikhail's involvement in the Nets has always been strategic, and he has not been involved in the team decisions on a daily basis. I'm sure he will continue to maintain his involvement in the team. Aside from his business interest in the club, I know he gets a lot of pleasure being the owner of the Nets. He made me a member of the board as a gift for my 50th birthday, which, lets face it, was one of the best presents a guy could get. But he has had access to all of my advice and ideas all along, and didn't have to make the position official. I don't believe it had anything to do with his decision to take part in Russia's political process, but rather that he wanted to show his appreciation. I've been advising him on sports for many years.
4. You have been a strong advocate of globalization for years, going back to the first connections between the NBA and CSKA. How would characterize the team's success so far in meeting globalization goals?
We're off to a good start. So far, the Nets have visited Russia, China and England, where they played to a sold-out arena. The team has a Russian website. We have not passed up any opportunities to bring the Nets to a wider audience. There is a lot more to be done, however. I think I have a pretty good sense of what works in Russia and the rest of Europe and I have a lot of ideas about how to tell the story of the Nets to an international audience and grow our fan base. This is one are where I think I can contribute to the efforts already underway.
5. Last year, there were discussions about how the Nets would hire a Russian, perhaps Andrei Vatutin, as key basketball executive in the team's front office, part of Mikhail's promise to use the Nets to help Russian basketball. Nothing ever came of that. There are no Russians on the coaching staff or the roster. Would the addition of a Russian executive, coach or player accelerate making the Nets Russia's team? Could that happen this year?
Of course, the addition of a Russian to the management, coaching staff or roster would enhance interest at home, in the same way a player like Yao Ming brought a huge Chinese fan base to the Rockets I would be happy to see that happen at some point, just because there are many ways Russian basketball could benefit from the Nets connection. But, once again, if we want a winning team, the priority has to be talent. Any other concerns are in distant second place.