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Prokhorov starts over by searching for more than just Nets coach, GM

NEW YORK –- Mikhail Prokhorov didn't make any grand declarations of winning a title in five years or getting married, for that matter.

On Monday, the Brooklyn Nets owner said all the right things with few details after firing coach Lionel Hollins and reassigning general manager Billy King. Prokhorov promised only to not rush the franchise-altering decision of hiring a new coach and GM.

But as his media conference went on, the good-natured Russian billionaire just couldn't help himself from uttering "championship" and how he believes the Nets are actually not far off from contending for a title. Next season.

Yes, the same Nets who mortgaged their entire future away to Danny Ainge's Boston Celtics and have roughly the same odds of winning an NBA championship as you and I do of winning Powerball.

It's going to take a lot more than perhaps $40 million in cap space, young players such as Markel Brown and Chris McCullough and a little luck, as Prokhorov mentioned, for the Nets to go from languishing in NBA purgatory to reaching the Warriors' current golden state.

"You know, our approach helped us to reach three playoffs in a row, but we have failed to go further," Prokhorov said. "That's why we need a small reset for this year, and I hope we'll be back not as a playoff team [but] as a championship contender. This is my only goal."

Bless Prokhorov's optimistic soul for eternally thinking the Nets are a move or two away from becoming the San Antonio Spurs.

Unlike the Spurs, though, Brooklyn has no formula for success. For the past few seasons, so many in the Nets organization and around the league have often asked the same question whenever talking about the Nets: "What exactly is their plan?"

"They have no direction" is also something often said by many about the Nets, who have become a graveyard for coaches and a basketball wasteland void of future assets.

"Obviously we're going in a different direction right now, so I'm in the dark," said the franchise's center Brook Lopez, who later could only chuckle when asked about playing for his eighth head or interim coach, in Tony Brown. "It's … it's been an experience [playing for so many coaches]. I don't know how to cover it up or put it any other way."

Are the Nets willing to take a defined approach and stick with it instead of going for the quick fix or the sexy splashy move? Are they about winning it all or satisfied with just trying to win New York City and stealing some of the Knicks' thunder while marketing Brooklyn and the sparkling Barclays Center?

Forget about trying to get on equal footing with the Knicks. How about finding a young talent to rival Kristaps Porzingis for the next decade?

This isn't a "small reset" for the Nets. Prokhorov has to get this right. His decision of picking the right coach and general manager –- whether that is a tandem as he prefers or a coach in both roles –- is what will either help the Nets dig out of their grave or continue their self-destructing ways.

"I can share with you what my strategy is: I want us to have a much firmer blueprint of what kind of players we are looking for, and why," Prokhorov said. "I line with strategic balance, developed with a new coach and with a new GM. So I think we need to have a sense of identity and style of play.

"Are we building a team around franchise player, or are we balancing with younger athletes without superstar system, or are we about 3-point shooting or defense or speed? Of course we can't be [everything] at the same time, so it will be a very important conversation."

First, Prokhorov has to figure out which of his lieutenants he will lean on the most in what could well be his most important decision as Nets owner.

Most say Sergey Kuschenko, a longtime trusted basketball confidant, has Prokhorov's ear. There's also Dmitry Razumov, who has helped Prokhorov oversee things here in the U.S. as the chairman of the board of directors and certainly has had a close-up view of the Nets' failures. CEO Brett Yormark also has had his success marketing the team and Barclays Center. How much say will Yormark have moving forward remains to be seen. There would appear to be too many cooks in the kitchen.

"The most important thing we need to change, we need maybe new level of leadership here," Prokhorov said. "I mean in the front office and in the coaching staff. So, for me, maybe the biggest lesson is to be in New York. And it's a little bit of another animal."

If Prokhorov thinks big, he should open his checkbook to Spurs GM R.C. Buford and let Buford construct the organization in the Spurs' model much like how some NFL teams look to copy the New England Patriots' way. Buford, however, is a longshot at best.

Prokhorov said he also wants people who can handle the pressures that come with trying to win in New York. We know some basketball minds who can deftly navigate these waters:

John Calipari. Cal has already coached the New Jersey Nets and he would have plenty of motivation in proving himself again on the pro level, not to mention the Barclays Center-sized check it would take to lure him away from Kentucky. Sources say Calipari would command an annual salary in the range of $12-15 million to coach and have personnel control. Yormark is a close friend and will surely be pushing a Cal-Nets sequel.

Even without total control of the Nets' own first-round pick until 2019, Calipari would certainly be confident that his recruiting prowess will work with free agents -- namely former Kentucky Wildcats. But do even his former players want to play 82 games a season under Calipari, who spent a great deal of his New Jersey tenure screaming nonstop at Kerry Kittles? Also, will Calipari have patience with what could be a slow rebuild? Calipari, though, would make the Nets interesting again -- a plus given how the owner has had a penchant for caring about this kind of thing (see the Jay Z billboard mural outside Madison Square Garden). He also would seem to work well with Yormark marketing Brooklyn as well.

Tom Thibodeau. The former Chicago Bulls coach knows how to win, knows how to get his players to play hard with effort -– something that has been an issue in Brooklyn at times. His teams defend. As a former longtime Knicks assistant coach, he knows the demands of coaching in this area well.

But Thibodeau will not come cheap and likely will have plenty of suitors –- perhaps some with a better roster or future. He also will want a GM who will have his back. Thibodeau is all about basketball, as it should be, and if the Nets want him they'll have to let him do his job with no meddling from management.

Jeff Van Gundy. The former Knicks coach has flirted with the Nets in the past and is still beloved in this area. His brilliant basketball mind would do the Nets serious good and his candid interviews would certainly give the Knicks a run for their money in the New York tabloids.

Like Calipari and Thibodeau, JVG won't come cheap and could have his share of suitors if he decided to coach again. He has a great gig now at ESPN, and convincing him to leave is a longshot but worth looking into.

Mark Jackson. Brooklyn's own Jackson deserves some credit for helping to lay down the groundwork for Golden State's success before things went sour. The former Knicks star was once a Nets TV analyst and would bring an old-school toughness with a flair for providing terrific quotes. Like all the others mentioned above, Jackson would require a GM aligned with him.

Chris Mullin. Jackson's former St. John's teammate is a name to consider, according to a source. Another Brooklyn native, Mullin has his share of executive experience as well. How would a pairing of Jackson as coach and Mullin as GM work together? However, Mullin is just getting started as St. John's coach.

Patrick Ewing. Like former Nets coach Jason Kidd, Ewing would provide Brooklyn with a local pro legend to provide instant relevance despite a lack of head-coaching experience. Ewing has served his time as an assistant and is ready for a shot to prove what he can do. How would James Dolan feel watching Ewing succeed as Nets coach?

Another possibility on the radar is Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina, one of Europe's most decorated coaches with experience working for Prokhorov with CSKA Moscow. If the Nets want to think outside the box, Spurs assistant Becky Hammon and and a young up-and-coming assistant like Sean Sweeney, who is on Kidd's staff in Milwaukee and was a former Nets assistant, would be interesting.

Winning won't be easy. It will require work and a lot of patience. For better or worse, Prokhorov is married to the Nets and if he doesn't find the right partners at coach and GM, there will be many more years of misery ahead.

"Frankly speaking, I deserve a championship now much more than six years ago," Prokhorov deadpanned. "I criticize myself a lot. … Trust me, I tortured myself much more than you."