The New Jersey Nets had strutted around so full of themselves: big talk, blustery billboards and puffed-up promises. Even so, no one bought into the myth of Mikhail Prokhorov the way they did within that forlorn franchise. The Nets treat the Russian owner like some deity, like a Euro Mark Cuban, when he’s little more than an absentee landlord cutting big checks and delivering delusional proclamations of championship parades inside of five seasons.
If the Nets truly need to sell Carmelo Anthony(notes) on accepting the trade and signing a contract extension, they’re a bigger lost cause than they’ve ever been. The Nets can’t let Prokhorov and Jay-Z get on a jet and go sell that now because this process has already cost them too much credibility – and because billionaires aren’t supposed to beg. Make no mistake: The manufactured aura of this ownership dream team will be obliterated with a ’Melo rejection.
After all, ’Melo isn’t Kobe Bryant(notes). He isn’t LeBron James(notes). Or Dwyane Wade(notes). He isn’t a transcendent talent who sells out the arena, elevates everyone and changes everything. Anthony is a prolific scorer, but he’ll never be your leader. There are stars worth a franchise selling out everything, but Anthony isn’t one of them. For all the big talk out of these Nets, all the promises that the world wanted to come play for the Russian billionaire and rap mogul in Brooklyn, that makes ’Melo’s painful, public reluctance to make a commitment even worse.
Prokhorov promised a title by 2016, but the way the Nets are going now, they’ll be fortunate to win a playoff series over that time. And that’s with or without ’Melo. The Nets barged boldly into last summer’s free agency to emerge with a class that included Johan Petro(notes) and Jordan Farmar(notes). No one of substance cared about Prokhorov’s move to Brooklyn or his yachts and mansions and jets and entourages of party girls.
When everyone believed Prokhorov would hit the NBA like a force of nature, he’s hit it like Herb Kohl.
Now, the Nets are behaving in a most desperate way and trying too hard to validate Prokhorov’s relevance in the sport. Anthony treats the Nets like the unattractive girl he refuses to tell his friends he’s seeing on the side. She walks past in the lunch room, tosses him a smile and ’Melo tells his friends he hasn’t an idea why she keeps doing that.
Part of it is Anthony trying to protect his image, sparing himself a LeBron-esque lampooning. Part of it is simply denying everything, so there’s no follow-up questions to answer. Part of it is pure confusion and frustration, because as hard as his wife and reps push him on the Nets, it comes down to this for ’Melo: Why would I do this?
This has become pure folly, and the Nets have allowed themselves to become the punch line. The Denver Nuggets keep coming back for a larger haul, pushing to get another 2010 first-round pick – injured, but promising rookie Damion James(notes) – into the trade package, a league source said. The Nets will send back three future first-round picks. New Jersey keeps bending, keeps giving and still has to go groveling to ’Melo. His reps have sold the Nets hard on this deal, and it’s believed that his wife, La La Vazquez, will get Joumana Kidd-level latitude within the franchise.
The Nets should’ve had an assurance months ago that Anthony would sign with them and spared themselves the embarrassment of this negotiating process. No one preys on desperation like William Wesley and he’s found so much with the Nets. Worldwide Wes controls CAA’s basketball division – its coaches and players – and sees New Jersey as a prime location to package them for monster commissions and maximum influence. With LeBron helping recruit, they’re working college and high school kids hard on a future with CAA. The packaging of James, Wade and Chris Bosh(notes) to Miami has changed everything and pushed future free agents into a conglomerate mindset.
Old-school New York Knicks president Donnie Walsh never warmed to the idea that agents could dictate his coaching hire, but the Nets’ move to Brooklyn makes everything negotiable. Everything’s available there. The Nets’ suits need to sell sponsorships and fill a new arena in 2012 for a franchise that barely has a fan base in Jersey – never mind one that resonates across the Hudson River.
Yes, everyone senses desperation with these Nets – the Nuggets, ’Melo’s agents – and that’s for good reason. They’re selling and selling, but no one’s been buying the big, mysterious Russian billionaire who actually isn’t such a mystery after all. He doesn’t know the NBA. He doesn’t like the Internet because he says there’s too much information. He barely had any thoughts about who to hire or why. And he’s never around anyway.
Through it all this summer, New Jersey ran TV ads promoting salary-cap space. The Nets thrust bigger-than-life murals of ownership on the sides of skyscrapers and even shadowed Madison Square Garden with that Prokhorov/Jay-Z “Blueprint for Success” monstrosity. They taunted the Knicks, and promptly crumbled back to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
All of the bravado was wildly entertaining, and all of it completely without substance. Blueprint? There’s no blueprint, just a series of shots in the dark. They’re winging it, and that’s never been so clear. If they get ’Melo, they get him on Denver’s terms: young players and picks and dumping of bad contracts onto New Jersey. If they get ’Melo, they get him on the agent’s desire to include cap-crushing Richard Hamilton(notes) into the deal. If they get ’Melo – truly get him – he won’t be choosing the Nets. ’Melo will be choosing the market and money.
Mikhail Prokhorov is on his way to the United States on Tuesday, and the Nets believe he’ll head to the Rockies with Jay-Z to sell Carmelo Anthony. Desperation meeting desperation in Denver. Between bullying and charm, Prokhorov has amassed a global fortune and sold an image of mystery and intrigue. And yet, so far, his ownership run with the Nets has had far more bluster than buoyancy.
In the end, it comes down to this. Get on the plane, Mikhail and Jay-Z, and you’d better come back with something you should’ve had long ago: a commitment from Carmelo Anthony, a promise fulfilled finally from what’s turning out to be one more delusional, directionless NBA owner and his fumbling franchise.