Josh Newman, SNYNets.com
With each passing game, with each successive strong effort and with each win, this Nets season that once appeared to be doomed by inconsistencies now looks as bright as ever. At one point, there were seemingly too many moving parts, while a late November injury to Brook Lopez and an early coaching change saw the Nets at a very low point back when interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo took over.
Now, as the second half gets under way Wednesday evening in Minnesota, the Nets are at a high-point.
The man at the helm, Carlesimo, is 11-2 since taking over for the fired Avery Johnson on Dec. 27, but he’s not going to take credit for any of it. It’s just not his nature.
Given the fact his players seem more at ease, looser and more cohesive out on the floor, we don’t really see how anyone but Carlesimo can be responsible for those things, but that’s neither here nor there.
The point is, at 25-16 in a mediocre Eastern Conference, the Nets are “in the mix” at the halfway point, both in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. In the middle of the resurgence of Mikhail Prokhorov’s $330 million roster, a question is being asked.
Should the interim tag be removed from Carlesimo’s title?
In a word: No.
Given the 11-2 mark and the players responding to Carlesimo the way they have, the easy answer appears to be yes. He has certainly made the most out of a head coaching opportunity he never thought he would see.
In his previous three coaching stints with the Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors and Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder, the Fordham graduate and one-time Seton Hall head coach compiled a win-loss record of just 204-296.
He had success in Portland, turning in a solid 137-109 record, but couldn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs in three seasons. He was eventually fired after the 1996-97 season.
Carlesimo was relieved of his two other head coaching jobs in Oakland and Oklahoma City and landed a spot as an assistant coach with Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. Carlesimo won two championships on Popovich’s staff before eventually leaving and resurfacing in Toronto. It was during the lockout shortened 2011-12 season that he ended up on Avery Johnson’s staff as an assistant.
When General Manager Billy King announced Johnson’s firing, he said that Carlesimo was chosen as the interim head coach mainly because of his experience. When that decision was made, Carlesimo got an opportunity to show that he could still coach on this level and thus far, he’s excelled.
As the Nets continue to roll and the debate over the interim tag continues too, it’s important to remember one thing, even in spite of Carlesimo’s early success: any team willing to remove an interim tag midseason is taking a leap of faith.
Doing so could wrongly suggest that the Nets are willing to commit to Carlesimo long term, or that the front office wouldn’t begin a search for a new head coach if the team gets cold and loses six or seven games in a row.
After such an up and down season, it’s important for the Nets to keep perspective. In a season in which missing the playoffs is simply not an option, Carlesimo and his team seem to have responded positively to the pressure brought forth by Johnson’s firing.
Why alleviate that?
Carlesimo should not have the interim title removed until the season is over.
This isn’t unprecedented in New York. Mike Woodson took over Mike D’Antoni last season, went 18-6 in the regular season and led the Knicks to their first playoff win since 2001.
Woodson still had to wait until two weeks after the Knicks were eliminated by the Miami Heat to have the interim tag removed.
Committing to Carlesimo may end up happening in the offseason, but are the Nets really ready to commit before then to a coach with a .419 career winning percentage and a 3-9 career playoff record?
Objectively speaking, Carlesimo also has three firings on his resume.
Should the Nets believe in that coach after less than a month? After just 13 games?
No, for this team, the bar and the expectations should be higher. And that’s why the interim tag remains and should remain until the offseason.
For now, Carlesimo isn’t going anywhere, especially since the team has been successful and has just 41 games remaining in the regular season.
Once the season ends, that’s when the real debating will begin.
Addressing the media at Barclays Center on Nov. 3, Mikhail Prokhorov said a reasonable goal for this team is the Eastern Conference Finals.
Maybe that is written in ink, but given the circumstances Carlesimo took over with the team at 14-14, more than a few folks believe a trip to the second round may do the trick.
But regardless of how successful the Nets are this season, the franchise will certainly do its due diligence and have a mini-coaching search, headlined by Phil Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy. By that time, if Carlesimo has proven that he’s the man for the job, then that’s the time when he should no longer be called “interim.”
Certainly, Carlesimo deserves respect for the job he’s done, but for now, keeping the interim tag on him is the right move.
Keeping his feet in the fire will ensure that nobody on this roster will be judged by partial greatness. In Brooklyn, mediocrity won’t cut it, that’s the way I see it.
I bet you Carlesimo does, too.
Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter for up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA