Lichtenstein: Nets’ Coaching Search Reeks Of Unintentional Comedy
By Steve Lichtenstein
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Everything’s a farce with the Nets.
Nothing’s changed since they entered the league some 36 years ago. The NBA didn’t really need a second team in the Big Apple, but they wanted the Nets’ star, the magnificent Julius Erving.
Of course, the entry fee into the big time was so steep that the Nets had to sell off Erving to Philadelphia, their division rival.
Over the years, the Nets wandered the metropolitan area — with a few specks of success sprinkled amongst mostly ghastly-to-mediocre teams — before settling on Brooklyn before this season.
Everything was going to change once the move to Brooklyn became official, we were promised. The Nets put themselves out there as a prime destination for every possible superstar — Carmelo! LeBron! D-12!
The Nets never could close the deal on any of them, though they did affix a photo of Dwight Howard in a Nets uniform on the face of tickets I purchased for a midseason game this season. At least I could dream.
The Nets did land Deron Williams two years ago, an All-Star point guard who became available after a fallout with then-Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
Williams showed what a dynamic player he could be following ankle treatments at the All-Star break, but he doesn’t have the size or the dead-eye shooting needed to take over a team by himself for more than a few games, and certainly not for a postseason series.
Williams also burned through another pair of coaches this season, first publicly chafing under the tutelage of Avery Johnson and then failing to lift the Nets over the injury-riddled Bulls in the first round of the playoffs, which sent interim coach P.J. Carlesimo packing.
Brooklyn general manager Billy King now has the unenviable task of finding the right man to lead this swaying ship. To be fair, King inherited Johnson and inferred that the Carlesimo promotion in December was intended merely as a stopgap measure, not a long-term solution.
Still, since this is the Nets, even this search for Carlesimo’s successor borders on the absurd.
According to media reports, King began by making a perfunctory call to 11-time champion Phil Jackson. He might as well have called Barack Obama.
Jackson never struck me as someone who sprints towards challenges. Jackson may have finished his playing career as a Net, but there was no way he was moving 3,000 miles away from his girl and his beach to possibly tarnish his legacy on salary-cap strapped Brooklyn, the second fiddle in a city orchestra dominated by his first-love Knicks.
There’s no MJ, Shaq or Kobe here — he would have to do some real coaching to bring the Nets into the elite stratosphere. Jackson, whose health may have also factored into his decision to decline his candidacy, probably enjoyed the flattery, but even he realized that this was not the right fit.
It didn’t hurt to call and gauge Jackson’s interest, but now King has appropriately moved on. He wants someone to bring stability and continuity to the organization.
So of course one of his targets is rumored to be … Larry Brown?
Brown, dubbed “Next Town Brown” by New York Post columnist Peter Vecsey, would be an awful choice. Like the Nets, Brown, currently SMU’s coach, hasn’t been relevant for nearly 10 years. He’s also notorious for making life difficult for his point guards.
And then there’s that wandering eye, with Brown having a history of leaving his teams out in the cold when they least expect it. He’s the gold-digging wife, demanding to change all the furniture in the house before running off with the family doctor.
It’s already happened before to the Nets, back in the early 80s. At that time, the Nets were on the rise led by young forwards Buck Williams and Albert King. But then Brown HAD to have the combustible Micheal Ray Richardson. The Nets made the deal for Richardson but, with just six games left in that season, Brown eloped to Kansas.
Speaking of vow renewals, Sloan has also indicated that he wants to put his hat in the Nets’ ring, should they deign to call. To further the comedy, Williams endorsed Sloan despite their less-than-amicable breakup in Utah. Of course, I’ve never heard a player publicly say “I’m not playing for that guy” or “Mark us down for next year’s lottery” even if his new coach came out of the School of Village Idiots, so maybe we can’t take Williams’ comments at face value.
Then there’s some intrigue with the leaks that King might reach out to the Celtics to attempt to pilfer their coach, Doc Rivers. Because the Boston/New York coach feud needs more fire after the Parcells/Belichick/Mangini carousel between the Jets and the Patriots.
It’s probably worth a draft pick for the Nets to acquire the services of Rivers, a title-winning coach who knows how to get his team to forge an identity and doesn’t look for excuses. I don’t have a problem giving up someone like Kansas’ Jeff Withey who, if he works really hard may one day grow into a homeless-man’s version of Nets center Brook Lopez, with the 22nd overall pick if it meant that the Nets finally had a coach who could bring the proper accountability and strategy to the program.
But, since this is the Nets, I’m not holding my breath for any big name — not even one of the Van Gundy brothers, who for some reason have not been mentioned on lists of King’s top targets. Even with the Brooklyn cachet they keep shooting for the moon, but only have enough juice to reach a telephone pole.
The ultimate survivor of King’s quest will likely come from a pool of current NBA assistants, headed by the Pacers’ Brian Shaw. Unfortunately, that’s more like a shot in the dark, as you don’t know if you’re getting the next Tom Thibodeau or the next Lawrence Frank.
Shaw has been credited with designing Indiana’s top-tier defense after spending seven years working with Jackson in Los Angeles. King is waiting for Indiana’s exit from the playoffs before contacting Shaw, who will then have Pacers President Donnie Walsh’s permission to look for a head-coaching job.
That’s likely the reason that it’s been relatively quiet at Nets headquarters over the last couple of days after a very tumultuous week.
King, who signed a multi-year extension as the Nets were in the midst of blowing the series in Chicago, has to get this one right. His personnel moves have placed the franchise in a tight squeeze, with little room within the NBA’s salary-cap rules for improvement despite gaping holes in certain areas (lack of scoring forwards and three-point shooting off the bench).
The Nets may have made great strides in 2012-13, but a bad choice and some bad luck could easily make them laughingstocks once again.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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