Nets Relieve Johnson, Name Carlesimo Interim Head Coach
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—After morning conversations with Brooklyn Nets ownership and Avery Johnson, General Manager Billy King announced at a Thursday press conference that Johnson had been relieved of head coaching duties. Lead assistant P.J. Carlesimo will take over as interim head coach.
"It was a tough decision," King said. "I've worked well with Avery for 2 1/2 years. "But the way we were playing lately, I spoke to ownership this morning and the decision was made. I relayed the news.
"PJ will be the interim coach at this time. Will we look other places? We may, but at this time PJ's our interim head coach. He'll be coaching tomorrow. The remaining staff will stay with him and we'll go forward from there."
The Nets' record stands at 14-14 (.500), a mark that ranks eighth in the conference, but the even Win/Loss columns mask the team's month-long slide from an 11-4 early-season pinnacle atop the Atlantic Division. Johnson earned Coach of the Month honors for that showing, but a foot injury to Brook Lopez against the Celtics November 28 threw off everything. The Nets won just twice during his seven-game absence, a slide that snowballed to 10 losses in 13 games.
And yet Johnson believed there would be more time to dig out, to coordinate the chemistry, to solidify a rotation that spun out of sync. The third year was always the thing.
"I thought when I came here I was following the vision of what we were trying to do," said Johnson, whose press conference followed King's. "For two years or so, we were gonna be a pretty bad team and then in that third year, we would improve our talent and give it a go and at least I'd have the third year and beyond to get it right."
In two-plus years at the helm of the Nets, Johnson compiled a 60-116 record while overseeing the team's transition from New Jersey to Brooklyn and Barclays Center. Joining the team in June 2010 as the final hire of former President Rod Thorn, Johnson helped reshape and redirect a franchise that foundered after Jason Kidd's 2008 trade to Dallas.
The Nets improved from 12 to 24 wins in Johnson's first season, and tallied 22 in the abbreviated 2011-12 campaign (a 27-win pace) despite Lopez – a 20-point scorer the previous season – missing all but five games after fracturing his foot in the final preseason matchup.
But with an active offseason that truly began at last season's trade deadline, when King acquired forward Gerald Wallace from the Trail Blazers at the cost of a protected first-round pick (No. 6) and two expiring contracts, expectations had been raised for the first season at Barclays Center. In July, King connected with his freshly minted Hawks' counterpart, former college teammate Danny Ferry, on a deal to slot six-time All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson next to three-time All-Star point guard Deron Williams, forming "Brooklyn's Backcourt" when the latter player agreed to terms on a 5-year, maximum extension.
Combining those major moves with the returns of Lopez and double-double averaging forward Kris Humphries, as well as role players like Reggie Evans, Andray Blatche and C.J. Watson put the onus on Johnson to blend the individuals into a team. And though they achieved that early success, King soon sensed Johnson's message was no longer reaching its intended recipients, observing a team that just couldn't click despite the coach's continued efforts.
"At the end of the day, it’s not like golf where Tiger Woods has a bad day and his caddy doesn't make any money," King said. "It takes five guys on the court at one time to play. When we were playing well, we had guys struggling but we did other things and were able to figure out ways to win basketball game. It's not put on any 3, 4 or 5 guys – it's 15 guys on this roster that haven't performed up to their abilities."
That begins with the point guard, shooting just .398 overall and .295 from three-point range, and continues on through the inconsistent performances of the bench players who proved so crucial to the strong start. Perhaps the only nightly expectation was Wallace earning his nickname ("Crash") while chasing every loose ball, banging bodies or tip-toeing across the scorer's table, threading the needle between flatscreen monitors.
With games Friday and Saturday against two of the Eastern Conferences weaker teams, interim coach Carlesimo and the Nets have an opportunity to string together wins for the first time since knocking off the Raptors and Pistons two weeks ago. King turned to Carlesimo – a three-time NBA head coach who once led Seton Hall to the Final Four – due to his experience and familiarity with the roster, telling Carlesimo to coach as if wielding a 10-year contract, while promising to evaluate his long-term candidacy with the same caveat.
Johnson said the Nets seem to need a new voice. For the first time since 2010, they have one.
"I've got to be able to look at myself in the mirror," Johnson said. "Even though I'm disappointed with how things ended, I thought I did the best job I could do under the circumstances. But it wasn't good enough, and now it's time to move on."