Mikhail ProkhorovÂ has more than 100 million reasons to halt theÂ Dwight HowardÂ chase. But it helps to be the richest owner in all of American sports.
Prokhorov, unlike the vast number of NBA owners, has pooh-poohed the idea of a revamped luxury tax, bankrolling the Netsâ€™ uninhibited spending and star chasing this offseason. If the Nets pull off a trade with Orlando for Howard and, assuming they re-sign Howard to a max deal and keep the contracts of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace, Prokhorov will pay a luxury tax of approximately $107.5 million over the next four years, according to a league source.
None of this would be possible without Prokhorov: not the $1 billion arena nearly complete in Brooklyn, not the trading for Johnsonâ€™s supposedly untradeable contract, and not the continued chase for Howard while approaching cap hell.
â€œWhen he first bought the team, he said he would do whatever it took to build a championship team,â€ Avery Johnson said Thursday. â€œHe has a chance to step up and be a really dynamic owner, because as time goes on weâ€™re going to be spending a lot of money.
â€œYouâ€™ve got to have an owner thatâ€™s willing to do it, but spend it wisely,â€ the Netsâ€™ coach said. â€œAnd heâ€™s been great.â€
The new collective bargaining agreement was supposed to deter teams from gaining an advantage by outspending others. Even high-end owners like the Lakersâ€™ Jerry Buss have been queasy about crossing the threshold once the more punitive tax starts in 2013-14. But Prokhorov is worth $13 billion, or thereabouts. And while he spends most of his time in Moscow â€” and has prioritized his political career over the Nets â€” his money is omnipresent.
Even if the Nets donâ€™t get Howard, they will most certainly be paying the luxury tax until 2016 with about $230 million owed to Williams, Wallace and Joe Johnson. They are also prepared to re-sign Brook Lopez to a long-term deal if they canâ€™t land Howard, and give either Kris Humphries or Ersan Ilyasova a new contract to start at power forward.
Mark Cuban, who has taken the opposite approach by dumping salaries since the new CBA was signed, issued a warning to owners like Prokhorov.
â€œIf they spend wisely, possibly (thereâ€™s an advantage),â€ Cuban wrote in an e-mail. â€œIf they spend it on what turns out to be bad contracts, particularly contracts signed under the old CBA, then it doesnâ€™t matter how much money you spend. You are locked into only being able to improve your team using the taxpayerâ€™s exception.
â€œThat puts you at a distinct disadvantage.â€
Understanding the restrictions the Nets will face in filling out the rest of the roster, Avery Johnson â€” who oversaw Thursdayâ€™s first practice of the Netsâ€™ summer league team â€” emphasized the importance of finding competent role players.
â€œYou can run the cutest plays and have the best defensive schemes, if you donâ€™t have size and athleticism and guys who can put the ball in the basket, guys who know how to get their own shot, have high basketball IQ, mentally tough, youâ€™re not gonna win,â€ Johnson said. â€œThen, at the same time, youâ€™ve got to get some role players, because whatever stars you may have, itâ€™s been proven over the years with guys like Robert Horry and James Posey and Shane Battier and those guys, those are the guys that really help win some games for you and help get you over the hump, and the stars are always stars.â€