Mikhail Prokhorov has new expectations

NEWARK, N.J -- Is Mikhail Prokhorov softening on his prediction that the New Jersey Nets will make the playoffs this season?

Giving a champagne toast prior to the Nets' season-opener against the Detroit Pistons at the Prudential Center on Wednesday night, Prokhorov said he was optimistic about the season but did not reiterate his belief the Nets would make the playoffs in his first year as owner.

Prokhorov previously said he believed the Nets would make the playoffs this season and win a championship within five years.

When asked on Wednesday night for his expectations for 2010-2011, Prokhorov first said that the Nets are "a young team. We have 11 new players." He later said that he "wanted to have fun."

When asked why his expectations had changed, the Russian owner said cryptically, "I will comment on this a little bit later."

Prokhorov, the first non-North American-born NBA owner, will be in New Jersey to watch the team's opening three games, including Sunday afternoon's matchup against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat.

The Nets pursued all three Heat stars when they were free agents in July, but came up empty.

Prokhorov hinted the Nets' pedigree -- they finished a league worst 12-70 last season -- contributed to the team's inability to land a marquee star.

"The league is very competitive," Prokhorov said. "It's not easy to break down the wall between the team franchise and the great player. But the situation is changing and I'm very optimistic."

Prokhorov bought 80 percent of the Nets from developer Bruce Ratner in May. The team is scheduled to move to an arena in Brooklyn in two seasons. Prokhorov said he was "sure" the arena would be ready for the 2012-2013 season.

The owner also said he planned to see 25 percent of Nets home games this season. He will meet with businessman and politicians and get a first-hand feel for the organization during this visit.

He also said that he'd seen the billboard near the construction site for the Nets new arena in Brooklyn that the New York Knicks put up. It features Amare Stoudemire posing in front of the Manhattan Bridge.

"I saw the picture but I think Amare, he is very sad. It looks like he wants to play in Brooklyn in a couple of years," the owner joked.

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.