Mikhail Prohkorov was going to spend money. The rest of the NBA knew that when the Russian billionaire purchased the then-New Jersey franchise in 2010. They were prepared for Prokhorov to go deep into his pockets to acquire top talent, such as when he signed off on a trade for Joe Johnson last summer and on the deal for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce last month.
The owners aren’t entirely cool with being brazenly outspent, but it’s not illegal — except some suspect it is, kind of.
With Andrei Kirilenko agreeing Thursday to play for a reported $3.1 million this season with the Nets, after opting out of a $10 million deal with the Timberwolves, representatives of other teams are starting to wonder what other sort of side deals Prokhorov has arranged to get players like Kirilenko to accept below-market value to play in Brooklyn. It is against league rules for a team or owner to offer bonuses not laid out in players’ contracts, but many believe Prokhorov has the means and the willingness to make such side deals, Yahoo! Sports reports.
“There should be a probe,” an Eastern Conference G.M. told Adrian Wojnarowski. “How obvious is it?”
If Prokhorov were just spending wildly within the confines of the collective bargaining agreement, that would be one thing. The Nets are due to pay $82 million in luxury taxes alone this season on their $101 million payroll. It’s exorbitant but not illegal.
But Prokhorov admits he made his fortune during an era of virtually zero business regulation in Russia in the 1990s. He is no stranger to bribes. There is no evidence he has offered Kirilenko or anyone else anything beyond the chance to win and play in the beautiful Barclays Center, but it just doesn’t smell right, apparently.
“It’s not about stopping it,” an NBA owner told Wojnarowski. “It’s about punishing them if they’re doing it.”