This will probably break your heart—no one wants to see a billionaire go hungry—but it looks like Bruce Ratner isn’t going to get an overseas bailout. The real-estate magnate’s plans to build a new Nets stadium and complex on Atlantic Yards have been held up by angry local residents and zoning battles for years now, but it appears the deal will fall apart the old-fashioned way: not enough money.
After Ratner denied a Daily News report last week that he was considering selling the team, NBA commissioner David Stern confirmed “Russian oligarchs” had come a-calling, jokingly pointing out that the offer, along with a separate one from a Dubai group, was made “when oil was $140 a barrel.”
Even if the Russians aren’t coming, the clock seems to have run out. Stuck with an asset that’s reportedly losing him $30 million a year, Ratner has been backed into a corner. Thanks to Ratner’s boosterism, the Nets have decidedly less value without the Atlantic Yards project. He has an asset he can’t sell and doesn’t have an asset he can.
The Nets are in an impossible situation, both on the court and off. They have an owner who seems to consider them a sunk cost. And they have a team that might finish last in the Eastern Conference this year. All of which will probably put that final nail in the LeBron James–to–the–Nets coffin. (The only two data points in favor of the theory were that LeBron wanted to play in the big city and that he’s friends with co-owner Jay-Z. Neither one of those facts matters now.) Meanwhile, they’ve gutted the roster—expect Vince Carter to be gone by the trade deadline—simply to offer a huge contract two years from now to a player who will never sign. And now what? The Nets purposefully estranged a Jersey fan base whose feelings toward the team have turned from ambivalent to furious to ultimately dismissive. Remember when the Knicks were falling apart under Isiah Thomas, and the Nets saw an opening with Brooklyn to become the premier NBA franchise in the city? There will be no more of that talk. The Nets are actually in worse shape than the Knicks. That is difficult to do, even if you are trying.