Josh Newman, SNYNets.com
NEW YORK – San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, generally referred to as the dean of NBA head coaches, has mixed feelings regarding what has gone on in Brooklyn and no one can blame him.
Avery Johnson, a close friend and a key piece of the puzzle on his first NBA championship team in 1999, was fired as head coach of the Nets on Dec. 27. Johnson’s replacement, P.J. Carlesimo, is another close friend of Popovich, having served on his staff from 2002-2007 while earning championship rings along the way in 2005 and 2007.
Aside from his reputation as one of the best tacticians in the league, Popovich is also known to rarely, if ever, mince words when the media is nearby. Sunday evening’s pregame media session at Barclays Center was no different when the subject of Carlesimo came up.
“I wasn’t thrilled, nobody would be, to have a friend lose a job like Avery,” said Popovich, whose Spurs entered the night with the NBA’s best record at 39-12. “That was something, at the time, I thought was a little shortsighted or a little bit impatient. But, it’s not my business. I’m not there and I don’t know what the circumstances were, but you just hate to see it. It’s odd to have one good friend fired and another good friend take over. You make one phone call to one and you call the next one and it’s just a strange feeling.”
Popovich wasn’t the only one who thought the Nets had a quick trigger with Johnson, who opened the season 14-14, but with almost an entirely new $330 million roster constructed by General Manager Billy King with the blessing of billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
Following Johnson’s firing, Carlesimo stepped in, won nine of his first 10 games and got the Nets back into contention in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. The Nets are 29-21 overall 15-7 under Carlesimo. That stands as the second-best 22-game start for a head coach in franchise history.
“I love them both and now, I wish all the best for P.J. and hope it works out,” Popovich said. “He’s done a good job obviously. They’ve reacted well to him, they seem to believe in what he’s doing. We sure had a good time together and he was important to our program and we miss him all the time. I’m thrilled he got this opportunity.
That one loss in Carlesimo’s first 10 games was a 104-73 drubbing in San Antonio on New Year’s Eve, which was his third game and first road contest at the helm.
“We kicked his ass,” Popovich joked. “We just drilled them and we loved it. We just made jokes at each other the whole game.”
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