BROOKLYN. N.Y. – Towering electronic advertisements that promote all the basketball talent and pedigree $190 million can buy greet patrons arriving nightly at Barclays Center.
The advertisements include these words: “Hello Brooklyn, Are You Ready?”
So far, it’s a contradictory question for a Nets team that spent so lavishly and yet has started this season 3-8 by losing six of its past seven games.
The NBA’s current labor agreement was supposed to even the proverbial playing field between the league’s disparately sized markets because of a luxury payroll tax so punitive no owner in his right mind and even in the biggest of markets would thumb his nose at it.
Enter Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who didn’t flinch during a summer when he approved the acquisitions of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from Boston, signed former Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko to a seemingly sweetheart deal that launched an NBA investigation, and then gambled his entire investment on Jason Kidd when he hired the recently retired player to coach six other former All-Stars.
The Nets’ payroll surpasses $100 million. Their luxury-tax penalties will approach another $90 million. That is nearly three times what the Wolves — Friday night’s opponent at Target Center — will pay for their players.
Prokhorov’s expensive experiment suggests that the two-month labor lockout two seasons ago changed nothing.
He uses the catch phrase “Aiming At Amazing” to describe his team and perhaps his spending spree. For now, though, the Nets are an aging, injured mix of players who, indeed, in an unexpected way have done what Prokhorov intended — push the in-town rival Knicks toward what he envisions as a “new golden era” for New York City basketball: Both teams with massive payrolls have started the season 3-8 and are tied for last place in their division.
Garnett calls that start “dismal” and Pierce says he and his teammates are “angry.”
A team that has seven players in their 30s — including Garnett, 37, and Pierce, 36 — also is hurt, and hurting: Garnett, Pierce, Deron Williams, Kirilenko, even youngster Brook Lopez all have missed games. Looking overwhelmed at times, Kidd already finds himself on the NBA’s coaching hot seat and blamed himself after Monday’s home loss to Portland for “bad” coaching.
“When they put this thing together, they didn’t say it was going to happen right away,” veteran guard Terry said after Monday’s loss. “We all would love it to, but it hasn’t and everything has become very difficult, whether it’s shots or getting stops. Everything has been a grind and so that’s what it takes. At the end of the day, we’ll see what we’re made of. It has been a tough month for us, but we’re going to stay optimistic. We have a great situation here.”
In a recent interview with the team’s YES television network, Prokhorov said he wanted a departure from the traditional kind of NBA coaching hire and described hiring Kidd as a “light bulb went on that said what an amazing idea.”
He also said he didn’t hesitate to make the Garnett-Pierce trade with Boston or think twice about spending so much money to far surpass the NBA’s luxury tax threshold.
“Hell yes,” he replied when asked his reaction to the trade proposal.
“Heck no,” he said when asked about any luxury-tax concerns.
“What am I doing here?” he told YES. “I don’t go halfway on anything. I go to the end. I go all the way. … I agree 100 percent, it’s just impossible to buy a team. If you want a real champion, you need a combination of factors: Of course money, plus you need to have best people on court, off court. You need to have a passion, a team spirit.”
The Nets also need good health. They played Monday without starters Lopez at center and Williams at point guard. Williams returned to play Wednesday at Charlotte and reinjured one of his chronically injured ankles.
“You’re missing your key big man and your star point guard,” Terry said. “I don’t know how much success you’re going to have without that.”
And the Nets need time as well to learn each other in an Eastern Conference in which only four teams have winning records, none of them in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Division. Garnett, Pierce, Terry, Kirilenko, Shaun Livingston, Alan Anderson and rookie Mason Plumlee all were added this season.
“I’m not a genie, I’m not a fortune-teller,” Garnett told reporters Tuesday after he and Pierce refused to talk after Monday’s loss. “The only thing I know is just work through the process. We have a group of guys willing and committed to changing what the current is. It’s easy to give up and say, ‘You know what? This is too hard.’ But we don’t have that type of team, nor do we have that type of character.
“I really believe when you go through dismal times like this, it builds character. It shows you who’s within and who has the rope and who’s going to let go. It really separates the ones that are willing to fight and so far everybody’s in here. Everybody’s in the conversation. We’re in here.”