NEW YORK -- Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is reportedly headed to Turkey this weekend to party with a bunch of models in celebration of his 50th birthday.
Even when his team loses and its season ends, Prokhorov wins.
On Friday night, however, the Nets didn’t just lose. They got eliminated and blown out of their own building.
Prokhorov’s five-year championship plan went up in flames, as the $107 million Nets were torched by the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks 111-87 in Game 6 of the first round of the playoffs in front of a frustrated crowd at Barclays Center.
Another summer full of uncertainty looms on the horizon.
“They’re just a better team than us right now,” Deron Williams said of the Hawks. “They’ve been together. They’ve figured out how to play consistently the same way. And I think that’s what we’re trying to do. We had moments where we just tried to do it on our own, and we’re not very successful when we do that.”
The difference in the series was the starting lineups: Atlanta’s starters outscored Brooklyn by 46 points. Brooklyn’s starters got outscored by 55 points.
The Hawks led by 13 points after the first quarter, but just six points heading into the second half. Five minutes and 36 seconds later, however, they led by 21. Their starters weren’t messing around. Boos came in bunches from there. They would not stop until, mercilessly, it was over. Atlanta scored 41 points in the third quarter and went into coast mode from there.
The expectation is that the Nets want to re-sign both Lopez and Thaddeus Young, according to sources, and that could happen after both opt out of the final year of their contracts and agree to multi-year deals to stay in Brooklyn.
But Johnson (owed $24.9 million next season) and Williams (owed $21 million next season and $22.3 million in 2016-17, assuming he opts in), injury-prone and on the decline, are both due a ton of money moving forward as well. Getting rid of them could prove difficult. Williams, who averaged just 11.3 points and 5.5 assists during the series while shooting 39.1 percent from the field, perhaps, could be a buyout candidate.
The pressure now falls on Nets GM Billy King, who is entering the final year of his contract, to re-shape the roster. Brooklyn needs to continue to get younger, faster and more athletic. The Nets also need leadership. They need more talent. Basically, they need everything.
Potentially having boatloads of cap space heading into the summer of 2016 at least proves some reason for hope.
But Brooklyn does not have total control over its own first-round pick until 2019, the result of several win-now, big money moves that resulted in just one playoff series victory. The Nets have to swap first-round picks with the Hawks in 2015 -- so they will select 29th instead of 15th. Their 2016 and 2018 firsts belong to Boston. The Celtics can also swap firsts with the Nets in 2017.
Brooklyn’s Big Three had a chance to do something special. Injuries and coaching changes prevented that. Williams, Johnson and Lopez appeared in just 132 out of a possible 246 regular-season games together. In Year 1, they played for Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo. In Year 2, Jason Kidd. In Year 3, Lionel Hollins.
It appears that Hollins will be back. A chance for continuity. But it is unknown if Brooklyn’s Big Three will join him.
“I don’t think Lionel’s going anywhere, so that’s definitely reassuring,” Williams said. “You never know what’s gonna happen in the offseason, but it’s good to know you’re gonna have the same coach, and if we keep most of our guys, we’ll have something to build on for once. We’ve had the same core, but we’ve [been semi-] healthy and [rarely] played together under the same system, so hopefully we can build on things.”
The Nets were lucky to even be in the playoffs in the first place. They won 38 games. Playing in the Eastern Conference allowed them to get in. By the time that they came together, by the time that the front office couldn’t trade anyone, by the time Hollins had to coach these players, it was too late.
“We definitely thought we had more in us,” Johnson said.
Prokhorov probably did too. But the highest payroll in the league once again didn’t do the Nets any good. They need to change the way they operate. They know it.
Will Prokhorov get an offer that he can’t refuse and sell the team? Will he make good on his promise to get married now that his five-year championship plan failed?
Those are questions for another day. For Prokhorov, it’s party time. For the Nets, another summer of uncertainty looms on the horizon.