By Steve Lichtenstein
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P.J. Carlesimo obviously has a lot of time on his hands.
The former Nets interim coach, who was terminated back on May 5 following Brooklyn’s Game 7 loss at home to the depleted Bulls in the first round of the NBA playoffs, is using much of it to hold court on the club’s status.
Through his new gig as an ESPN analyst, Carlesimo’s most recent diatribe was related to the Nets brass’ unrealistic expectations, both under his and prior head coach Avery Johnson’s terms.
“The expectations to win a championship in two years, that’s a heavy load for anybody, not just Brooklyn,” said Carlesimo in a conference call yesterday. “I don’t know if that’s realistic the way the roster is right now.”
Who said anything about a championship? Even the most optimistic fan knows that the Nets are miles away from “glory road,” with the Heat likely to preside over the Eastern Conference so long as their lineup remains stacked with the best player in the world, two future Hall of Famers, and a supporting cast loaded with 40 percent three-point shooters.
Of course the Nets roster is incomplete when compared to the elite teams. Carlesimo was often left with damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t options like whether to insert either offensively-challenged but defensively diligent players like Reggie Evans and Keith Bogans, or going with more skilled players like Andray Blatche and MarShon Brooks, who often treat defense as an afterthought.
To beat the Heat, you need better three-point shooting and a lower turnover rate than the Nets had exhibited throughout the season.
No, the disappointment around the city, from both Nets and Knicks fans, is that their respective clubs didn’t even make it to Miami to submit a challenge for supremacy of the East.
Carlesimo is attempting to alter the conversation from his failure to match Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau’s strategies, which played a significant role in the Nets’ defeat and was the underlying cause of his dismissal, no matter what Nets general manager Billy King said.
Carlesimo needed to give Blatche more minutes at power forward to combat the Bulls’ inside defensive tandem of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. He misused Gerald Wallace early in the series, hanging him out by the three-point line where he has never thrived in his 11-year career and then benching him when those shots caromed off the rim. C.J. Watson, the biggest goat in the series, was given too much responsibility in end-game situations.
And then there was Game 4.
The Nets’ catastrophic collapse from a 14-point lead over the final three minutes and subsequent double-overtime loss set them back 3-1 in the series. As the Bulls locker room transformed into a M.A.S.H. unit, the Nets climbed back to even the series, but that choke job left no room for error.
The Nets then played a stinker of a second quarter in Game 7 and this time, there was no coming back.
As for Johnson, I don’t know why anyone is bringing up that reign of error now. That campaign mercifully ended with the Nets at 14-14 and heading further south.
It was Johnson’s idea, after watching the Knicks give the Heat fits, to re-make the Nets into the Knicks East. Play small, spread the floor, and jack up threes.
That works if you have a boatload of high-percentage three-point shooters on your roster. The same strategy sank the Knicks in their second-round loss to Indiana when the shots stopped falling.
The Nets? With star point guard Deron Williams hobbling around on sore ankles and over-reliance on inconsistent shooters like Wallace and Bogans, it was a recipe for disaster.
I gave Carlesimo credit for turning the team around based on a more physical identity. The All Star break treatments to Williams’ ankles also played a major role, with Williams returning to his prior All Star form on both ends in the last two months. Still, Carlesimo’s 35-19 record to close the season provided Brooklyn the reward of home-court advantage in the first round and, for that, he deserved some praise.
It was just that the playoffs showed why King needed to go in a different direction to get the Nets to that next level. You can’t have your team discombobulate the way Nets did in Game 4 and, for that matter, on a somewhat regular basis all season. That stuff almost always falls on the coach.
The Nets didn’t have to defeat Miami this season for Carlesimo to keep his job. But they certainly had to get to them for Carlesimo to make a fair claim in his case.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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