EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New Jersey coach Avery Johnson has been around Mikhail Prokhorov enough to know the billionaire owner of the Nets' NBA franchise has the leadership skills to be the next president of Russia.
Prokhorov announced Monday that he would run against Vladimir Putin in March's presidential election, another sign of the growing discontent with Putin after 12 years in political power.
Like most of his players, Johnson found out about Prokhorov's decision to run early Monday before the Nets worked out for this weekend's preseason opener against the rival New York Knicks.
Johnson and more than a couple of his players joked that they would vote for their 46-year-old owner, if they had a vote, an obvious signal that they know who signs their paychecks.
Speaking after practice, Johnson said Prokhorov's decision to run would have no bearing either on ownership and what is going to happen to the team in what will be a lockout-shortened season.
"He is still a terrific owner," Johnson said. "We are going to be excited to see him when the season starts. There will be no dropoff with what we are doing here with the Nets."
Prokhorov took over as the Nets owner in 2010 and the team won 24 games last season in his first full year as owner.
Johnson refused to speculate on what would happen if Prokhorov won the election. However, he was one of the many Nets' employees who quipped they would be willing to vote for him.
When the giggles stopped, Johnson got serious when asked if Prokhorov could run a country.
"He is pretty smart," said Johnson, who is entering his second season as Nets coach. "He has great leadership skills. When you are behind the scenes and you are talking to him you know he is a special person. It wouldn't surprise me. He just wants us to stay focused on basketball. Whatever is happening in Russia will take care of itself in March sometime."
Johnson and Prokhorov were part of the Nets' delegation that met with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh after free agency opened in July 2010, and he was impressed with the way the Russian made his presentation in trying to lure the free agents to New Jersey.
"I can't say I'm too surprised," Nets center Brook Lopez said. "He just seems like that kind of guy, very, what's the word I'm searching for, motivated. He definitely likes to be in position to help, help people flourish and help create change."
Prokhorov also was at the front when the Nets tried to arrange a deal for Denver superstar Carmelo Anthony last season, although he did make a couple of missteps in that one.
He showed he could be a forceful owner when he instructed the team's leadership to end trade talks for Anthony after the negotiations got too expensive, too public and seemed to be hurting the team.
A month later, however, Prokhorov issued a statement on a Saturday saying he had no plans to meet with Anthony before the trading deadline despite the Nuggets willingness to let the two sides talk. That same night, Prokhorov pulled an about face and met with Anthony, who would later be traded to the rival Knicks.
The Nets would eventually trade for point guard Deron Williams, giving Prokhorov at least one marquee player for a team that has missed the playoffs the last four years.
Williams described Prokhorov as a man of many talents. When asked about him being president of Russia, Williams gave some support.
"I don't know enough about him to know his personal background, but I'm sure he can do it," Williams said.
"He is a man of little words, but he's cool, a laid-back guy," Morrow said. "I can tell he is one of those guys who walks into a room and has this presence about him, a tall guy. He's a good dude. Any conversation I've had with him, he's been cool."