Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Nets finally find relevance with Williams

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA -Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

Mikhail Prokhorov has been chasing relevance for his Nets since becoming majority owner of the franchise in September of 2009. A billionaire that became the second richest man in Russia and the 39th most well off in the world in the precious metals industry, Prokhorov likely just doesn't understand why the Nets will always be afterthoughts in the New York market.

In fact, to borrow a phrase from New York's real No. 1, the Nets couldn't get arrested in that town.

That hasn't stopped Prokhorov from poking the bear at every opportunity. In a bold move over the summer, the Nets purchased ad space, featuring a gigantic 225-by-95-foot mural of Prokhorov, minority owner Jay-Z and the Nets logo right outside Jim Dolan's office window at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks, normally nothing more than bemused by their baby brother across the Hudson, actually called the league office to complain, a response that only emboldened Prokhorov, who has been working since Day 1 to find a way to upstage the Knicks.

The Russian got involved in the LeBron James sweepstakes over the summer and was likely thrilled when "The King" took his talents to South Beach but at the end of the day, whether he chose the Knicks or not, James at least took them seriously.

 The Nets? Not so much.

 As the Summer of LeBron quickly morphed into the Winter of Carmelo, Prokhorov embarrassed himself by recruiting a player that never had any intention of agreeing to play for the Nets.

 Tired of 'Melo's waffling Prokhorov finally instructed his basketball chief, Billy King, to cease negotiations in an effort to save face only to reengage a few weeks later.

 Prokhorov just couldn't understand that 'Melo was obsessed with the thought of playing in the Garden and becoming a 2011 version of his boyhood idol -- Bernard King. Using part of his $65 million to hire a limo service and make the quick trek from Newark into Manhattan was never an option for Anthony -- even though King also toiled for the Nets during his NBA career.

 The Nuggets' front office always preferred New Jersey's offer, specifically the upside of Derrick Favors, to any of the packages the Knicks put on the table but Carmelo was always driving this thing and played hardball to the very end until Denver, loathe to become another Cleveland and Toronto, finally acquiesced and sent Anthony to Manhattan on Tuesday.

 The Nets looked second-rate again, forced to think about salary dumps and players like Andre Miller.

 Then a funny thing happened, King, never known for his creativity while running the basketball operations in Philadelphia, pulled a rabbit out of his hat, sending Favors, Devin Harris and a pair of first round picks to Utah for Deron Williams.

 Although D-Will's reputation took a bit of a hit after a dust-up with Jerry Sloan earlier this month that prompted the Hall of Fame mentor to walk away, even his most vocal critics will agree he is at worst the second best point guard in the game.

 A two-time All Star, Williams made the All-NBA Second Team in 2008 and 2010, won a gold medal as part of the Team USA at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, was a member of the All-Rookie First Team in 2006 and became only the third player in NBA history to have 1500-plus points and 800-plus assists while shooting 50.0-or-better from the field in a single season back in 2007-08.

 Right now Williams can still opt out of his contract after the 2012 season and he, like Anthony, has made plenty of noise about potentially playing for the Knicks. A looming lockout and new CBA could change that thought process rather quickly, however.

 In one 24-hour period, Prokhorov fired a shot across the bow at MSG and finally thrust his Nets into relevance.

Meanwhile, his timing couldn't have been better. Whether the Knicks admit it or not, you can bet they have at least a twinge of buyer's remorse on 'Melo debut day. 

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