Court Vision: Who will replace Johnson?
By Ben Golliver
The Brooklyn Nets fired coach Avery Johnson on Thursday after a 14-14 start and will reportedly name assistant P.J. Carlesimo interim coach. Here’s a roundup of the instant reaction to the firing and rumors regarding candidates to take the full-time gig.
In the end, Billy King will get to choose his own coach, the way that it almost always works within NBA franchises. CEO Brett Yormark – who oversees the business side, not basketball – has always loved John Calipari. Yormark even traveled to Lexington to see a Kentucky game this season. Nevertheless, Yormark doesn’t have the power to try and bring Calipari to the Nets as emperor again. Calipari loves New York, but he wouldn’t return without complete control.
That won’t happen with King ruling the day – not unless Yormark won over ownership on Kentucky’s coach. For now, the Nets aren’t chasing a power-play on the sideline, but a basketball coach to get this roster righted, get the team back on course for a playoff push.
• NetsDaily.com reports, though, that ownership wasn’t pleased with the Nets’ 3-10 record in December.
The decision has been in the works for the past month, said one source, that the Russian ownership had been unhappy with team play since the season’s earliest games. According to a second league source, Mikhail Prokhorov was “very disappointed” with the team’s play when he watched three games, all losses, earlier this month. The decision was made by Prokhorov in conjunction with Dmitry Razumov, his No. 2. Razumov has been Prokhorov’s contact point with the Nets basketball operations. Ownership believed that the team’s roster was among the NBA’s top six or eight in terms of talent.
• Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports that former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, passed over in favor of Mike D’Antoni, will be part of the Nets’ coaching search. David Aldridge of NBA.com reports that “anything is possible” when it comes to a Jackson return to coaching but that Jackson’s desire to lead basketball operations could be problematic. He later added that Jackson’s agent said that his client has “no interest” in the job “at this time.” Wojnarowski also reported that Nets management has “never believed” its roster would mesh with Jackson’s triangle offense.
• The Orlando Sentinel reports that former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy has “no interest” in the Nets’ position.
• Ken Berger of CBSSports.com runs down some possible replacements.
Coaching industry sources believe Stan’s brother, Jeff Van Gundy, is getting closer to entertaining offers to return to coaching. Would a high-profile job in New York, in a conference where defense still carries the day, be enough to lure him away from the broadcast microphone? The Nets would do well to find out.
Given his association with the Russian national team, David Blatt is a name from the international scene that could intrigue Prohorov. Blatt stepped down as Russia’s coach in October after leading the team to bronze at the London Olympics. While he’s highly respected and could bolster Prokhorov’s vision for turning the Nets into a global brand, the belief in coaching circles is that Blatt should be considered a longshot at best.
• Sam Amick of USA Today Sports reports a few other possibilities.
[Phil] Jackson’s longtime Lakers assistant and fellow Triangle offense expert, Indiana associate head coach Brian Shaw, continues to look for his first head coaching opportunity as well and could be a good fit if Jackson shows no interest.
Other possible candidates who are currently available and whose resumes could match this moment in Nets’ history: former Portland coach Nate McMillan, and – however unlikely – former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. Sloan has expressed significant interest in recent openings, but coaching the Nets would mean a reunion with the very point guard with whom he battled while with the Jazz before his abrupt resignation in Feb. 2011, Deron Williams. Yet counter-intuitive though it may be, even Williams would have to admit that he played better under Sloan that he has under Johnson.
• Stein reports that former longtime NBA coach Larry Brown, currently at SMU, “cannot be ruled out” as a candidate.
• TheBrooklynGame.com lists 10 possible coaching candidates.
• Avery Johnson Jr. took to his Twitter account to defend his father.
I’m sorry are best players couldn’t make open shots. Yeah that’s my dads fault totally… — Avery Johnson Jr. (@itsaveryjohnson) December 27, 2012
• Nets forward Andray Blatche’s response to the firing: “Wow this is cray.”
• Heat forward LeBron James was surprised too.
Yeah u guys are right. Player of the Month then gets waived the next month. #NBAFlies
— LeBron James (@KingJames) December 27, 2012
• Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie with harsh words for Deron Williams.
It was a coach killing move, make no mistake. Williams kvetched to the media and didn’t hold up his end of his maximum salaried bargain by declining to penetrate and making crummy percentages of his crummy-percentage shots. And it’s no fault of Avery’s that he was probably, despite his championship pedigree, looked on as a holdover from New Jersey. Johnson didn’t adapt to the big city chaos, though. We can’t forget that, even as we focus our gaze once again on Deron Williams, Destroyer of Clipboards.
• Sean Deveney of The Sporting News writes that Williams is out of excuses.
But any NBA star knows that, if your team is struggling and you begin to talk about the coach’s system, you’re setting up that coach for the guillotine. And with the Nets now in the midst of a 3-10 funk following their 11-4 start (which earned Johnson Coach of the Month honors for November), with the team becoming a bit of a mess and an utter lack of spirit on the bench and in the locker room, Williams had to know that questioning Johnson publicly would yield one of two results—either the Nets would miraculously rally, or they would continue to slump and fire Johnson.
The concern for both Williams and the Nets is that, with Johnson gone, there are no more excuses.
Rude awakening coming for Deron Williams. Always played in tiny markets, now he’s an overpaid, underachieving coach-killer in NYC? Yikes.
Brooklyn reminds me of the early-2000 Trail Blazers – throwing $$$$ around, taking chances on shaky guys, nonsensical roster, no real plan. ”Early-2000 Trail Blazers” – meant post-2000 Playoffs after they started splurging on Kemp, Sheed, Z-Bo and added Patterson, Woods etc.
• Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com writes that the future could be bleak for this collection of Nets players.
In the short term, Johnson’s successor can build goodwill by continuing to add the Jerry Sloan-style flex sets that coincidentally appeared in the Nets’ playbook after Williams complained to the media. There’s room for improvement in the team’s dismal pick-and-roll game (per MySynergySports.com, Brooklyn generates far and away the league’s fewest shots out of pick-and-rolls, and is also dead last in effectiveness on pick-and-roll plays). Even incremental improvement on defense could allow the Nets to move up in a conference where 2.5 games represents the difference between home-court advantage and missing the playoffs if the season ended today.
The problem is that this might be Brooklyn’s best team for the foreseeable future. At an average age weighted for playing time of nearly 30, the Nets are the league’s sixth-oldest squad. Williams and Gerald Wallace are in the tail end of their primes, and shooting guard Joe Johnson has already begun an inevitable descent because of age. Among the team’s top players, only 24-year-old center Brook Lopez can be expected to maintain his value going forward. Based on the development of similar players at the same age in terms of Wins Above Replacement Player, the core showing its age figures to cost Brooklyn a win or two next season and at least three by 2014-15.
• Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop writes that Johnson seemed to have lost control.
For management and ownership, those aforementioned expectations are everything, especially this season in Brooklyn. Putting an inferior product on the floor, getting embarrassed on national television, crossfire in the tabloids — it just can’t happen. And from the perspective of most owners and managers, maintaining morale ranks just behind winning as the top deliverable for an NBA coach.
• Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk sees problems in Brooklyn’s future.
Brooklyn’s defense — which was always going to be their challenge with this roster — has been bottom five in the league the last 15 games. In the last five games this season they have given up 109.2 points per 100 possessions — which is worse than the Bobcats season average (and they are clear and away the worst defensive team in the league).
Just changing coaches is not going to solve the Nets issues. Brooklyn overpaid Lopez and Kris Humphries and took on maybe the worst long-term contract in the NBA in Joe Johnson. All of them are overpaid and questionable fits together. Wallace brings energy every night but is past his prime. The Nets have more than $70 million in salary commitments (putting them over the salary cap and current luxury tax line) for three more seasons AFTER this one.