By Steve Lichtenstein
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Maybe someone should remind Billy King that the definition of “interim” is not what he thinks it means.
Now, the Nets general manager studied Political Science at Duke University, so I’m hoping there’s some other reason he went out of his way the other day to pledge his support for interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, the assistant King promoted to replace fired head honcho Avery Johnson last week.
Certainly there’s plenty of precedent in teams flat-out lying to the press—that’s how we got quotes like “Mark Sanchez gives us the best chance to win” coming out of Jets headquarters all year.
As soon as the axe dropped on Johnson, there were all sorts of media reports swirling around on whom owner Mikhail Prohkorov would attempt to coax with a bucketful of cash to right the ship of his overpaid but underperforming team. King might have just been trying to be nice, hoping to save Carlesimo from daily onslaughts as to who’s next.
Or this might be another case of the Nets coming up short while shooting for the moon, like they’ve done so many times these last few years in their bids to lure superstar players. It could be that the top candidates have no interest in this job, so King is stuck with Carlesimo for the season.
If, however, King was really sucked in by Carlesimo’s two-game winning streak over historically-awful Charlotte and Cleveland (who took the Nets to the buzzer without center Anderson Varejao), well, how long did he think that was going to last? Was he banking on a Lawrence Frank-like resuscitation?
It didn’t even make it to the New Year.
The Nets put up such a stink-bomb in San Antonio last night, closing out their 5-11 December with an embarrassing 104-73 beatdown, that King now risks looking like a fool. The Nets basically quit on the game in the middle of a disgraceful third quarter in which they managed to score a franchise-low five points.
Carlesimo’s Nets were heavy underdogs, with forward Gerald Wallace, their Energizer Bunny, out with a bruised left knee. But many of the same issues that plagued the Nets in Johnson’s reign remained bugaboos. The Nets couldn’t defend the pick-and-roll (though I don’t think any team gets away with as many illegal screens and travels as the Spurs. Tim Duncan has the best hip check I’ve seen since Denis Potvin) or the three-point line. And they left their offense in the locker room at halftime, leading to runs of possessions ending in poor shots or ridiculous turnovers.
It’s been a common tale all season—the Nets again failed to step up in class when the competition stiffened. After the Charlotte win, someone tweeted, “Dear Schedule: Thanks. From P.J. Carlesimo.” Unfortunately, the Nets are going to have to beat some of these better teams in order to avoid another lottery. Their next opportunity is Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.
It’s incredibly unfair to the 63-year old Carlesimo, whose best days as head coach were nearly two decades ago, to have King anoint him as the savior for this team in turmoil. I don’t see any NBA experience as a turnaround artist on his resume.
After a good run at Seton Hall in the late 1980s, Carlesimo had three winning seasons in Portland, but never got out of the first round in the playoffs before getting let go in 1997. His subsequent engagements have yielded a record of 67-187 (that’s a .264 winning percentage, folks).
Were the Nets once again blinded by the Knicks’ success? In March, the Manhattanites passed on the usual celebrity suspects when they fired Mike D’Antoni. Instead, they struck gold when Mike Woodson moved a few seats down the bench to assume the head coaching role. Woodson parlayed the interim gig into a multi-year contract.
Of course, the two cases are apples and oranges. Woodson was able to implement immediate changes, emphasizing defense and buffing his star, Carmelo Anthony, two concepts that were foreign to D’Antoni.
It’s been less than a week, but the only adjustment I’ve noticed with the Nets is that Carlesimo seems to put a little more value in Nets power forwards Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries (who returned last night after a four-game absence due to an abdominal strain). At least that’s an improvement from Johnson’s devotion to the Knicks-style “small-ball” mindset despite the Nets’ below-average three-point shooting.
Still, I believe the Nets need a new voice from outside their circle, preferably someone with a strong NBA pedigree. There’s talent here, but their best players are going in different directions and at different speeds. The team is crying out for a coach who can implement a system that gets them on the same page, someone who can get away with bruising some egos because he can point to success using that system. It would be a shame for the Nets to give up on their inaugural season in Brooklyn the way they did in San Antonio.
The pickings may be slim, but I think that’s why Prohkorov made King put the “interim” tag on the Carlesimo press release in the first place.
In case King forgot, interim is defined as an intervening temporary period. It implies an ending at some point.
For the Nets, that point can’t come soon enough in 2013.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
Do you think King needs to continue looking for a permanent head coach or stick with Carlesimo? Share your thoughts below.