Moke Hamilton, SNYNets.com
NEW YORK — Former Nets head coach Avery Johnson was surprised that he was fired on back on Dec. 27. According to him, he thought he had more time to turn things around for his struggling Nets.
If it were totally up to Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, though, Johnson may have been shown the door a lot sooner.
Prokhorov addressed the media during halftime of Friday night’s Nets victory at Barclays Center. During his address, he made it clear that P.J. Carlesimo would have the support of the entire front office and that the Nets wouldn’t be too concerned about finding a new head coach at the time being.
According to Prokhorov, he will judge Carlesimo by the results he sees on the court.
“He really has a chance to lead the team, definitely,” Prokhorov said when asked if Carlesimo could earn the Nets coaching job on a full-time basis. “P.J. is the head coach and we have a lot of trust in him and I want him to lead the team.”
Prokhorov says that despite the early season struggles, he thinks that the Nets still have the talent to be one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference. “I think we have very talented players but they are capable of much more than what we’ve seen in recent weeks,” he said. “We really had a lot of talent and some games showed this. This, to me, says that there were problems given a lack of concentration and a lack of ability to produce good results. For me, really, I want to see all the players give us 100 percent of their efforts in every game.”
Apparently, firing Avery Johnson wasn’t personal. “I respect Avery and I wish him well,” Prokhorov said. “But sometimes, chemistry just isn’t right.” Prokhorov also said that his decision to fire Johnson was made solely based on what he saw on the court. The most interesting bit, however, is the fact that Prokhorov says that he made the decision to fire Johnson long before the move was made on Dec. 27.
“I made the final decision [to fire Johnson] last week,” Prokhorov revealed. When asked why they waited to wait to make the announcement, he wouldn’t provide any details. “I spoke with Billy King and we had a discussion, but at the end, it was my decision,” he said.
The revelation of the decision being made last week is noteworthy since Deron Williams created a stir back on Dec. 18. Then, he made comments critical of Johnson and the Nets offensive system. Based on Prokhorov’s statements to the media, it appears as though Williams’ comments were made around the same time Prokhorov’s decision was made.
Although Williams is the Nets $100 million man and franchise cornerstone, the Nets owners isn’t ready to blame the team’s poor start on him just yet and he wouldn’t implicate Williams comments as having any impact on the decision. “I think with every team and I do believe in my team, it’s not about one player,” Prokhorov said. “We need to have better team spirit.”
Prior to Prokhorov’s media address, the prevailing sentiment across the NBA’s media circles is that Williams quit on Johnson and his poor play during Johnson’s final weeks as Nets head coach supports that theory. In yet another twist of irony, Williams sat out what ended up being Johnson’s final game as head coach of the Nets. On Dec. 26, without Williams, the Nets put forth a dispirited effort against the Milwaukee Bucks and lost, 108-93.
For what it’s worth, Williams was seen getting shots up about two hours before game time and ended up turning in one of his best efforts in recent memory. He scored 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting, despite playing just 29 minutes. He scored 17 of his points in the first half.
As for the future, Prokhorov was fairly coy with the media. He refused to publicly entertain the idea of pursuing Phil Jackson and instead endorsed Carlesimo as the head coach. He did, however, reiterate his desire to be one of the top teams.
“I want to be the number one team in the league,” Prokhorov said. When asked what his goal for this season was, he jokingly said “Just to win a championship and that’s it.”
With a new head coach and a tough road ahead, the Nets will continue searching for answers. And as the clock ticks toward the self-imposed deadline for Prokhorov’s team to win a championship, Phil Jackson lurks in the shadows. Whether or not he brings in Big Chief Triangle remains to be seen. Either way, this season just got a lot more interesting for the Nets.