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Is Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov trying to cut payroll?

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie
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Mikhail Prokhorov, in fighting trim. (Getty Images)

The Brooklyn Nets, as a basketball team, are not a complicated situation. They want to win a title, sooner rather than later, and they have the right owner and general manager for that sort of desperate spending approach to reaching the top. What a new report from the New York Post discussed on Tuesday is a little more than complicated, however.

The report, from Post business reporter Josh Kosman, states that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is looking to slash payroll in an attempt to secure a billion dollar valuation for his team, which doesn’t make a lot of sense considering that his team’s record-setting payroll will likely have little impact on both valuations or a potential selling price. The team works out of the largest market in the world, it plays in an already-built facility designed to maximize profit, and it works in a private league where even a miserable franchise playing in a relatively small city can still be sold for over half a billion dollars.

The report, at least, chugs along:

The 49-year-old Russian billionaire feared the red ink spilled by the team — in large part because of his history of deficit spending — would discourage some potential bidders from forking over enough cash for Bruce Ratner’s minority stake to gain the 10-figure value, sources said.

Ratner’s Forest City Enterprises announced earlier this year it would sell its 20 percent stake in the Nets.

It needs to get $200 million for the team to hit Prokhorov’s target.

Now, if you were to believe this piece is serving as a major plant from Bruce Ratner’s group, you’d probably be correct. After much consternation, we’ve decided to let Ratner, the Post, and their shared interest figure their end of things out without comment.

What does deserve comment is the idea that the Nets are anything to invest in, on basketball terms.

This team will have no pick in Thursday’s NBA draft. They will not have a first round pick in the 2016 and 2018 NBA draft, as those will be sent to the Boston Celtics. They will have a first round pick in the 2015 NBA draft, but if the Nets finish with a crummier record than an improving and younger Atlanta Hawks, the Nets will have to swap picks with them. The same goes for the 2017 draft, when the Nets will have to do the same with a Boston Celtics team that is loaded with picks and assets and only figures to get better from here on out.

This is what GM Billy King did, in following Mikhail’s wishes while working under the same ideals that suited King so terribly during his time running the Philadelphia 76ers. If Richard Pryor’s character in ‘Brewster’s Millions’ had hired Billy King instead of John Candy, that movie would have been about 20 minutes long, and we wouldn’t have gotten to see this guy squirm.

The Nets were the first NBA team to break the $100 million threshold in player salaries last year, and when you add up the coaching dues and luxury tax penalties, the team’s on-court payroll alone neared the $200 million mark. All that, for a squad that could only manage 44 wins in a terrible conference and a second round appearance. The same Nets are expecting an aging Kevin Garnett to return for one final year, and for Paul Pierce to stave off overtures from contending teams to re-sign with Brooklyn, and beyond that the team has precious little room to build upon its first season in nine figures.

The team will approach that mark in 2014-15 even before potentially re-signing starters like Pierce and Shaun Livingston, and it will be at about the expected level of the salary cap in the 2015 offseason even before taking in bids for restricted free agent (and 2014 starter) Mason Plumlee. If anything, the benefit of no or at least lowered first round draft picks helps the Nets in this regard.

If Ratner’s group is hoping that increased local (and, when the NBA restructures its deal in two years, national) television revenue will aid in his attempts at selling his Nets stake, he’d be correct in that hope. If he wants to sell potential buyers on the idea that the 2016-17 are currently scheduled to only have Deron Williams on their books (at over $22 million!), that’s a fine move. A new team in Brooklyn with new uniforms and a new arena? Also, a fine investment.

In basketball terms? Nah, this franchise is not doing all that well. And due to an owner’s whims, alongside an enabling GM, it doesn’t figure to be in any condition to turn things around anytime soon.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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