By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
After all the Ivan Drago, ridiculous, redundant, and Russian metaphors, Mikhail Prokhorov just performed a very American function.
He fired Avery Johnson, the short, squeaky point guard who turned limited talent into a lucrative NBA career and parlayed his overachieving aura into head coaching gigs. Now Prokhorov is back in the spotlight as he searches for a suitable replacement. As the first foreign owner of an NBA team, Prokhorov is getting a rapid-fire on-the-job lesson in the hardships of NBA life. Unlike most real-world quandaries, you can’t just throw money at a problem and make it right.
I have no proof that Deron Williams demanded Johnson’s dismissal. But directly with words or indirectly with performance, Williams got Johnson fired. And it doesn’t look so coincidental when considering that Jerry Sloan – a Hall of Fame coach – retired after tiring of Williams in Utah.
This wouldn’t be the first time a star player got his boss booted. But the star generally plays like one. Magic Johnson was the progenitor of hardwood mutiny when he personally and publicly got Paul Westhead canned in Los Angeles right after winning a title during Johnson’s resplendent rookie season. But he was Magic Johnson, the greatest ever to play Deron Williams’s position (with all due respect Oscar Robertson.)
Jason Kidd got Byron Scott fired. But Jason Kidd is the best point guard since Magic retired. What both men have in common was accomplishment. Magic won all the time and Kidd took two mediocre Nets clubs to the NBA Finals. Deron Williams has done nothing, other than draining $100 million from the Russian commodities merchant – an intentionally murky description of how the Nets owner made his Rubles in Russia, where the corrupt and incorruptible are often indistinguishable.
What Williams and the Nets have done is dangerous. They haven’t established a precedent, but they have put the entire burden on themselves. There are no more excuses, no more frontmen and faces of their failures. If this was a collective rebellion, then they better produce on the parquet.
And the soaring, 6 ‘ 8″ billionaire bossman of the franchise better give his new general total autonomy, lest this happen again the next time Williams pouts his way through another 10-point performance with six assists. When you demand max money, you’d better give max effort. This season is a referendum on the new, true leader of the Brooklyn Nets, who can’t be fired but could be forgotten. The rest is on Deron.
Sure, we can discuss Johnson’s 60-112 record with the Nets, which would be rather myopic when pondering their D-League roster over the last two seasons. They dashed out to 11-4 this season before faltering to 14-14. But there was a time when a man was given a full slate of games before they fitted his neck for the vocational noose. Maybe Johnson isn’t the man for the job. But can we say that for certain after 28 of 82 games?
One could – and I would – argue that Avery Johnson got the shaft. As soon as the Nets move into their new, cozy confines with a respectable squad, Johnson gets fired before he can coach an actual NBA roster for an entire season. But as Clint Eastwood told us in his epic, “Unforgiven,” deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.
Should Avery Johnson been given the opportunity to coach a full 82 game season? Share your thoughts below.