When Mikhail Prokhorov bought the Nets back in May, I drank the Prokhorov Kool-Aid like no other. As a diehard Nets fan, I had just witnessed a 12-win season, the team trading away all of my favorite players, and worst of all, losing the Draft Lottery and seeing the Wizards end up with John Wall. My optimism about the team was at an all-time low, and the only thing I could grasp on to for any hope was Prokhorov with his deep pockets and bravado.
After Prokhorov became owner, I saw LeBron James, or at least Rudy Gay, wearing a Nets uniform on Opening Day. I envisioned players lining up to play for the mysterious man from Russia who promised to make his team into a global superpower. Even when all the big-name free agents spurned us and we were left with a disappointing haul of Travis Outlaw, Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro and Anthony Morrow, I justified it as being financially prudent and saving cap space for the Summer of 2011. And when the pursuit of Carmelo Anthony began in September, the excitement rushing through my body was so palpable that I even turned a raggedy old Nets t-shirt into something resembling a Carmelo jersey. I thought finally, finally the Nets were on their way back to relevance, but when the pursuit ended before the season, I was still optimistic – especially after they won their first two games.
Last month, the pursuit of ‘Melo picked up again and my mind went back and forth between optimism and pessimism. By last week, I just wanted there to be a resolution one way or another. Either ‘Melo was coming to New Jersey and being the face of the Nets as they moved into Brooklyn, or he wasn’t, and they would move forward without him. I just wanted the drama to end, but I could never have expected it to end the way it did with Prokhorov, the supposed White Knight, saying the pursuit was over in a press conference. I was glad it all ended, but now I am left confused – both about Prokhorov as an owner, and the future of my beloved Nets.
The first implication I think this trade has for the Nets is it means that no A-List free agents will be signing with them now or in the foreseeable future. They came so close to landing a top-10 player in the NBA and failed, because there was no certainty ‘Melo would even sign the extension with the Nets. This is a situation where the Nets had a ton of leverage: the Nuggets wanted to trade ‘Melo to them, they are moving to his birthplace in two years, and they could offer him maximum money he wanted. Yet they still couldn’t get the deal done and get him to New Jersey.
With no star to recruit free agents, and the sting of being spurned repeatedly by every star player since July, it appears no free agent would sign with this team unless the Nets vastly overpaid for them, something Prokhorov has pledged not to do. Nobody is lining up to play with Devin Harris and Brook Lopez these days, and the Nets, I sadly think, are finally starting to realize that.
Another big factor that will prevent the team from making that big splash they have tried so hard to create is Brooklyn. The Nets have been pitching the aura of Brooklyn and playing in the Barclays Center for years, but yet there is nothing more than steel in the ground at this point. The lure of Brooklyn will not exist until the Barclays Center is finished and the team moves in, because then players will see the arena is no longer just talk. Until then, the Nets will have to cope with playing in New Jersey and the second-fiddle status that offers them in the New York area, and they will have to wait to compete with the big dogs.
While the future is no longer centered around Carmelo Anthony, I still retain some optimism this team can be good in about three years. The Nets have five first-rounders combined in 2011 and 2012, including their own picks which are likely to be in the top-five each year. If New Jersey can somehow land a difference-maker in the Draft like Oklahoma City did with both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, then add solid role players like Serge Ibaka and James Harden, the future can be bright. If the team can also acquire solid pieces to the playoff puzzle who aren’t named Outlaw, then add them into the mix with Derrick Favors, Lopez and Harris, then maybe, just maybe, I will have something to cheer for. Until then, I will just have to hope Favors turns into a stud, and Prokhorov finally starts backing up all his talk with some bold moves that help him fulfill his promise of a championship within five years.
What do you think?
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