Nets' Russian billionaire owner vows quick turnaround

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has a five-year plan for turning the New Jersey Nets into champions, but the NBA's first foreign owner said he was not ready to reveal his strategy.

"If I tell you, I would have to kill you," the new owner of the NBA's worst team jokingly told reporters on Wednesday at a suite in a luxurious midtown hotel.

The Nets, coming off their worst season at 12-70, came up losers again on Tuesday night when they drew the third pick in next month's NBA Draft despite having the best odds in the weighted lottery.

Prokhorov, 45, said they would still get a good player in the draft and the lottery misfortune would not lead him to change his timetable.

"How fast can we build a championship team? If everything goes as planned, I expect us to be in the playoffs next season and win a championship in one year minimum, and maximum in five years," he said.

Prokhorov said the team would pursue free agents but said he could not comment specifically on the biggest prize of the upcoming crop -- two-time MVP LeBron James, whose contract with the Cavaliers has not quite yet expired.

"I feel pretty sure I can convince the best of the best that the Nets are the place they want to be," he said.

Prokhorov said he doubted he would be enlisting the help of recording artist Jay-Z, a minority shareholder in the Nets who is a friend of James.

"(But) I'm looking forward to hanging out with him," Prokhorov said of the hip-hop star.

The 6ft-7in Prokhorov, a basketball player in his youth, hinted that he believed his edge would come from his insights into globalization.

"We are going to create and to build a global franchise to sell all around the world," he said. "I think I have a competitive advantage compared to other owners."

Prokhorov, who made his fortune in gold and metals and was ranked the 39th richest man in the world by Forbes Magazine, joked that other NBA owners should not find him threatening.

"America," he said. "I come in peace."

(Editing by Ian Ransom; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)