SAN ANTONIO – Mikhail Prokhorov attended his first Nets road game because he wanted to personally meet and welcome his new superstar point guard Deron Williams to the organization.
Prokhorov did the right thing by staying mostly out of the public eye and letting this night be all about Williams. Prokhorov had a private room at the AT&T Center, where he met Williams for the first time.
The Russian billionaire didn’t comment or gloat about the Nets’ big catch, even though he could have and some owners probably would have after some of the things that were written and said about Prokhorov’s inability to sell the biggest names on his team.
This night was about Williams, and in the Nets’ 106-96 loss to the Spurs, you could see what kind of impact he is going to have on this team.
Nets’ players weren’t this open since Jason Kidd was delivering the ball. And this wasn’t the Knicks the Nets were playing. It was the Spurs, who are more offensive-minded this season but still know plenty about defense.
Yet Williams, bum wrist and all, ran the offense and finished with 14 points and 12 assists. That total is impressive regardless. Making it more noteworthy is the Nets acquired him from Utah Wednesday.
Williams flew from Dallas, where the Jazz were playing that day, back to Salt Lake and then to Newark. He had a press conference, flew with his new team to San Antonio, had one shootaround and had the Nets in striking distance of the Spurs in the fourth quarter.
If Williams hadn’t re-aggravated a bum wrist that had been bothering him for about a month and a half, maybe the Nets would have been in better shape late. But they Nets re-aggravated coach Avery Johnson with their inability to close out to shooters.
The Spurs took control of the game with a 35-point third quarter, including 5-of-7 shooting from three. The third ended with George Hill taking an open baseline three that hit the rim, bounced straight up and dropped in to give the Spurs an 88-72 lead.
“Tough game,” Williams said. “I thought we played hard, missed some shots and messed up a couple defensive assignments late in the game.”
Welcome to the Nets, Deron. That’s what they do, even under Johnson, a defensive-oriented coach. But this is a new day and basically a new team because they have a new leader running the ship, pushing the ball and setting up his teammates.
Devin Harris was a good point guard. Williams is a great one, capable of taking over games with his passing or his scoring. On this night, knowing a limited number of plays and Johnson running a limited number of plays for him, Williams tried to do it with his passing.
He was just 5-for-13 and clearly affected by the wrist. But his vision was unaffected. Seeing him set up his teammates so easily, it’s easy to see how the Nets are going to get better by playing with Williams.
“He just didn’t have it with his shooting touch,” Johnson said. “He was really passing the ball. It could have easily been a 20-assist night with the shots that we missed wide, wide open.
“We’re a work in progress. We’re still there. It’s still exciting with the possibilities of our future.”
When the game was over, Williams was taken to an undisclosed location to meet the man signing his checks and the man who hopes to sign them well into the future.
Williams has an opt-out clause after next season and has said it’s a “strong possibility” he will be with the Nets.
He’s saying the right things about being impressed with how much the Nets gave up to get him, how excited he is about what they want to do going forward and how much he appreciated Prokhorov leaving a heli-skiing trip in Vancouver for a little face time with Williams.
“He was just telling me how excited he was and he wanted to come and see me in person,” Williams said. “He was going to call but he felt like he needed to come and say hi to me in person. We just talked about some things.”
This was the first of many conversations Williams and Prokhorov will have and the first of many games the star point guard will have with the Nets. The owner and the organization hope the relationship doesn’t end after next season.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)