Here’s the globalization of the NBA in all its wonderful fury: A man born and raised in Soviet Russia is now the most aggressive spender in the league, which has socialized itself with a new collective bargaining agreement.
For better or worse, it doesn’t get any more American than that in this contemporary age of economic outsourcing, foreign investing and supposed redistribution of wealth. As outgoing NBA commissioner David Stern sails into the sunset, the fruits of arguably his greatest accomplishments — spreading the game beyond North America, getting the Nets out of New Jersey and a new CBA — have somehow converged in a borough across the bridge and given rise to another kind of invasive tree in Brooklyn.
But this book is all about opulence rather than austerity. In other words, vodka shots are on the house at Barclays Center!
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire who, according to Forbes, is about twice as wealthy as Heat owner Micky Arison, has racked up a projected payroll this offseason of more than $100 million. Whereas everyone else around the league started tightening the screws this offseason in preparation for the NBA’s new age, Prokhorov went gangsta’ and assembled a team of familiar Heat rivals with one goal, preventing a three-peat.
At small forward there’s Paul Pierce, who LeBron James has called his No. 1 rival in the league. At power forward there’s Kevin Garnett, whose disdain for the Heat is second only to his dislike for Carmelo Anthony. Off the bench, and back from his “Twitter death” after being dunked on by LeBron (Google it), is Jason Terry, who, while playing for Dallas, twisted the knife in Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals.
In luxury tax alone, Prokhorov will be on the hook for about $80 million at the end of the 2013-14 season. In comparison, the Heat’s luxury-tax bill was projected at more than $30 million before it parted ways with Mike Miller to save money. To fully appreciate the absurdly brutish way in which Prokhorov has been throwing around his money, consider that the Nets’ expected luxury tax bill is greater than the payrolls of the large majority of the league.
Might the Nets now be interested in Miller, you know, just to stick it to the Heat? That’s tasty but doubtful, considering Miller (now a free agent after clearing waivers) is healthier than he has been in three years, and all Brooklyn would have to offer him as a free agent would be the veteran’s minimum and a seat on the bench.
Adding Miller would be an all-out declaration of war, but, make no mistake, the Nets already have enough to compete for the Eastern Conference crown. When Joe Johnson is the “weak link” in the starting lineup, you’re a contender. Of course, it’s the deep bench that the Nets are hoping will prove the difference in a seven-game series, and already you can see how this team might stack up with the Heat.
Deron Williams will have the advantage at point guard, center Brook Lopez will be a mismatch in the paint and Andrei Kirilenko will come off the bench and guard LeBron. Parallels already have been drawn between the doomed 2012 assemblage of talent in Los Angeles and Brooklyn’s big haul this offseason. Not buying it. Pierce and Garnett are both old, Terry is a reanimated walking corpse and Williams, apparently, has an addiction to Gray’s Papaya (or something like that), but as long as Lopez isn’t traded for Dwight Howard, the Nets should be just fine.
And, without getting off on too much of a tangent, Howard’s diva gene is … well … does the general manager of the Rockets moonlight as a casting director for MTV’s reality shows?
Back in Brooklyn on Thursday, the Nets held a news conference to introduce the new faces of their franchise. Oddly enough, some of those faces didn’t seem too happy to be there. I actually thought Pierce was going to break down in tears when he started talking about the Celtics.
“Obviously, I would have loved to end my career in Boston, but, you know, that day and age is probably over with a lot of players ending their careers in one city,” Pierce said. “I think it’s really starting to sink in as we speak, just being in this arena. You saw the trade and you say, ‘OK, there’s a trade.’ But for me to actually be here looking for a place to live, being in this arena, getting to find my way around the city, it’s started to sink in that it’s real.
“I’m not a Boston Celtic, I’m a Brooklyn Net. That’s the way it is. It’s a business and at some point we all have to move on, and I’m trying to create a little legacy in Brooklyn.”
Added Garnett: “It’s unfortunate we had to move from Boston, but I felt like both sides are going in different direction. For me, one of the major reasons I decided to come here was for the bones of what’s here on this roster.”
I’m sure the New York media will latch on to and overstate the reserved demeanor of the news conference. Nice try, Nets, but you’re not fooling anyone. If Brooklyn learned anything from the Heat’s 2010 summer celebration, it’s that over-the-top introductory pronouncements can haunt you … especially in New York.
But the signal was clear at the end of the show when — surprise! — Prokhorov stepped onto the stage and shook the hands of his new players. Because Prokhorov is hysterical, he later compared Kidd with Tom Cruise in Top Gun.
“Maybe you do remember a film Top Gun. This film just arrived in Russia one week ago,” Prokhorov joked with reporters. “I want to refresh your memory. Tom Cruise plays Maverick, and he was the one who was a top flier and a real leader. And at the end of the day, he made a decision to be instructor because it was the highest value just to be a leader.”
So Kidd is a maverick again, the Heat is on notice and the NBA has been hijacked from Russia with love.