WASHINGTON, December 12, 2011 — After a miserable season that saw them stumble to a 24-58 record then lose their top three draft pick thanks to the pre-draft trade, the New Jersey Nets have been hit with the ultimate insult – their owner thinks he has a better shot at becoming president of Russia than of bringing one of the NBA’s hallowed franchises back into the limelight.
Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who owns an 80 percent stake in the franchise, will challenge long-time Russian leader Vladimir Putin in March’s Russian presidential election.
It’s a sad reflection on a franchise that was once the pride of the ABA; the most exciting thing that may take place during their upcoming season is their owner running for election halfway around the globe. Though the NBA was quick to insist that Prokhorov’s political ambitions will have no impact on his role in the NBA, the reality is that the two events have everything to do with each other. In just the past year, Prokhorov has generated more controversy than the amount of interest the Nets are likely to provoke in the upcoming shortened season.
For Nets fans, this could mark the only thing worth following throughout the season. Instead of watching their team’s playoff chances plummet from 0.1 percent to 0.000000001 percent, they’ll surely derive much more amusement from tracking Prokhorov’s status in the presidential polls as Russians try to decide whether he’s truly an opposition candidate or just another body thrown into the race to split opposition support.
But the hypothetical question posed by this entire business is this: which would be an easier task for Russia’s third-richest man, turning the Nets into a contender or reforming Russia?
Now, the Russian system is admittedly in dire straits. Their political system is a mess, their government is widely assumed to be driven by corruption, and their economy is being kept afloat solely by high oil and gas prices. But something similar, minus the corruption, could easily be said of the Nets. They’re currently buoyed only by the star power of point guard Deron Williams, while a cobbled-together supporting cast happily consumes salary cap space while not providing much of anything in return. And Dwight Howard isn’t coming to town, not with the limited assets that the Nets would be able to give up in return.
For this year at least, the Nets are a sunken cause. Russia is not. Within the upcoming NBA season, Russia has potential for change, which has been energized by the recent protests. The important thing is that the Nets do not. Trapped in a competitive climate while unable to compete, the Nets are truly trapped in a pathetic situation.
But if it’s impossible for the Nets to be turned around this year, the potential challenges in Russia for Prokhorov might not be any harder. Sure, it’s difficult to reform an entire country, but it can’t be any harder than taking a franchise from 24 wins to 54? Russia also has more than just a front. (Yes, this is a parallel between Williams and Vladimir Putin.) Prokhorov sure doesn’t have the cap space, flexibility, and time to fix the Nets, but he would have near-unlimited quantities of all three with which to take on the broken Russian system.
As unlikely as it may seem, Russia is closer to reform than the Nets are to respectability. If Mikhail Prokhorov can only bring one of the two up to its proper place, then the smart money is on him pursuing the course which could change the world.
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