Moke Hamilton, SNYNets.com
EAST RUTHERFORD — On Thursday, the Brooklyn Nets announced that the organization fired Avery Johnson. Usually, head coaches that are removed are not afforded the opportunity to address the media once the decision has been made, but perhaps in a sign of appreciation, the Nets gave Johnson some time to speak.
In doing so, Johnson may have tipped general manager Billy King’s hand and subtly hinted that the Nets may look to trade either Brook Lopez or Kris Humphries once they become trade eligible on Jan. 15.
For the most part, Dec. 15 is a key date on the NBA calendar. That day is the day that most players who signed free agent contracts become trade eligible. However, for players who received 20 percent raises over their previous year’s salary and were re-signed using the “Bird” exception, they are not eligible to be traded until Jan. 15.
For the Nets, the two players who fall under that designation are Lopez and Humphries.
As of now, all other players can be moved, but Johnson specifically cited Jan. 15 as a date that was circled on his calendar, and that may be telling.
“I really thought we were going to meet and talk about what was gonna start happening around Jan. 15 when we could make a couple of moves,” Johnson said. “I shared with him everyday kinda what I saw with the roster and I really thought that’s what we were gonna talking about.”
Coach Johnson also explained that he didn’t think that the Nets were necessarily finished with building the team’s roster. “I always thought we were gonna turn it around and knowing full well that we weren’t necessarily finished with this roster,” he said. “We made some bold moves in July during free agency, but you know, we were going to keep building and moving in the right direction and knowing full well that we weren’t finished, I thought we had a little bit more time.”
Before he got the opportunity to speak, general manager Billy King revealed that he and Johnson spoke about the Nets roster, as well. “[Me and Avery Johnson] talked about personnel,” King said. “People that know me in this room, I’m not one to shy away from making a trade. But it’s trying to figure out what trade to make because once you start moving some pieces then you’re rearranging the whole thing, so before we do that we wanted to see where we go from here.”
One name that has been linked to the Nets is Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova. The Nets were linked to Ilyasova this past summer before he re-signed a five-year deal with the Bucks worth $40 million. Ilyasova, like Lopez and Humphries, cannot be traded until Jan. 15, so Johnson’s comments may have been in reference to him.
However, Humphries has struggled thus far this season and in what ended up being one of his final acts of head coach, Johnson benched Humphries and elected to start Gerald Wallace at power forward. Some thought that the move meant that the writing was on the wall for Humphries. Both he and Lopez were dangled in potential Dwight Howard trades this past summer, so the organization is obviously open to dealing either—or both—if the right deal came along.
As for Ilyasova, whether or not the Bucks decide to trade him remains to be seen, but after signing the rich contract this past summer, he has struggled—averaging just 8.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game after turning in career best numbers last season of 13 points and 8.8 rebounds.
A multi-team trade involving Humphries and Ilyasova may make some sense, but it cannot be completed until Jan. 15, and that’s why Johnson’s comments were interesting.
Unfortunately for him, Johnson will not be around when that time comes. “This is a difficult time, it’s something that I didn’t necessarily see coming, especially after our pretty good November,” he said. “You never think that when you’re a .500 team and then going into two more home games in December, that something like this is going to happen. This is part of our business, fair or unfair… It’s time for a new voice and the team will have a new voice. Hopefully, they’ll get back on track.”
Johnson, like King, dismissed the notion that Deron Williams played a role in his dismissal. Williams recently made critical comments about the Nets offensive system and many saw his words as a dig at coach Johnson.
“I thought from day one [me and Deron Williams] had a really good relationship and I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to hang this on Deron,” Johnson said. “He’s one player, we had 15 players and it’s up to the coach, really, to try to maximize the team.”
Now, that’s P.J. Carlesimo’s job. And Johnson, understandably, feels that it’s unfair.
“Being a coach is not always fair,” Johnson said. “You’re not gonna always get a fair shake… A lot of the times, it’s more about the blame game. That’s just the way it happens.”
Now, less than a month after leading the Nets to a franchise best start, Johnson is out of a job. “I think [for me], the future is bright,” Johnson said. “[In Dallas], we helped them get to the next level… For me, I’ll have a lot of different options.”
As the Nets continue their march toward the All-Star break, they’ll need to find answers. And fast. The idea of missing the playoffs in its inaugural season in Brooklyn is one that can’t sit well with the Nets ownership and that probably had something to do with Johnson’s removal.
Hopefully, for the franchise, this will end up being the correct decision.