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On his arrival into the National Basketball Association, an ominous, mysterious mythology blossomed about Mikhail Prokhorov. All around the world, everyone had a story about the bad-ass billionaire owner of the Brooklyn Nets.
Notice was served to the NBA: Prokhorov planned to entice your star players with global playboy junkets, side deals and Jay Z's courtside daps. He planned to obliterate your salary cap, hand out two-fisted luxury-tax payments. Everyone feared a rogue basketball colony in Brooklyn.
As it turns out, Prokhorov has been an absentee landlord overseeing a flawed and failed vision. His aura stripped away, mostly they'll remember Prokhorov as a malfunctioned ATM machine spitting out cash and showing up at training camp to perform basketball tricks fit for a kids' birthday party into the blank stares of the Nets' players.
For the $123.2 million in luxury tax that Prokhorov has paid out, he'll be toasted on the verandas and yachts of rival owners who've bathed in his wayward excesses. They pocketed his millions, pilfered his picks and beat the Nets senseless.
Prokhorov has drained his franchise's natural resources – unloading seven first-round and 11 second-round picks in the five-plus years of deposed general manager Billy King's regime. The Nets have no present, no future, no identity. They're too impatient to hire an accomplished NBA GM and slowly, surely work themselves out of this ditch.
As much as anything, that's why Nets CEO Brett Yormark is determined to repackage John Calipari as a franchise savior. The Nets couldn't get star players to sell tickets and TV ratings, so he wants to try a star college coach. Again.
Yormark is pushing Prokhorov to reach back to the Nets' Jersey roots, dust off a failed '90s experiment and sell it as something sparkling and new. Twenty years ago, the Nets stunned everyone with a five-year, $15 million contract for the UMass coach. For Calipari to consider the Nets – and, yes, the Sacramento Kings, too – league sources tell Yahoo Sports that the teams have been informed of his asking price: 10 years, $120 million.
When Calipari spoke with minority ownership in Sacramento last spring, he told them that it would take an offer of $11 million-plus a year to get his attention, league sources said. Calipari turned down a 10-year, $80 million-plus offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, because he wouldn't leave Kentucky with only an incremental raise on what is now an $8 million to $9 million annual package on campus.
Cleveland's offer has become a baseline for Calipari's contractual demands: He wants the 10 years and now the $12 million a year that Phil Jackson makes to run the Knicks.
Calipari's sell will be this: As his old Kentucky stars – DeMarcus Cousins (2018), John Wall (2019) – become free agents, he'll have the Nets positioned to sign them. His former players have largely kept excellent relationships with him, but there are those close to them who say that most of his ex-stars remain reluctant to committing to 82 games a year of Cal's abrasive style. It wore out players fast in the 1990s in New Jersey, and Calipari would need to bring a different disposition to the NBA and prove that he's willing to treat NBA players like men, not teenagers.
Around Calipari, there are some who prefer him to take the Kings job, because there's more of an infrastructure in place. Brooklyn has been left in shambles, with immense limitations on reshaping the roster. Nevertheless, New York is New York, and Calipari has never stopped thinking about redeeming himself in the pros. His enshrinement into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September makes it even easier to justify the years of NBA losing that will likely prelude a turnaround, because he no longer needs to keep shining that résumé for Springfield.
Before the Kings approached him late last spring, Calipari had been hoping the New Orleans Pelicans would consider him, league sources told Yahoo. The idea of reuniting with Anthony Davis was the allure, but New Orleans had no interest in giving him complete control, nor paying his massive salary.
Eventually, Calipari engaged in conversations with the Kings on and off for several weeks, but owner Vivek Ranadive didn't have the minority ownership support to authorize that kind of an investment, sources told Yahoo Sports.
One minority owner with the Kings, who was part of multiple calls with Calipari, told confidants, "He kept saying it wasn't about the money, but he kept talking about the money."
For Calipari, the perfect scenario will be engaging the Kings and Nets in a bidding war. In that instance, Prokhorov could be hard to beat. So now, there promises to be two parallel searches for the Brooklyn Nets' next GM and coach: one that includes traditional candidates; and one that is the dance with Calipari. There were cringes within the Nets over the PR ramifications, but ownership plans to use King as a consultant on the search process.
Between now and the end of the college basketball season, Calipari will issue his typical denials on a return to the NBA, but talks will be ongoing and the leveraging intense. Calipari has always wanted back in the NBA, and the Nets give him a chance for everything he wants: the money, the power, the geography.
For John Calipari and Mikhail Prokhorov, the question will come down to this: Does each give the other a chance to win?
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