By Steve Lichtenstein
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If ever an NBA team could use a laugh, it’s the Nets.
This certainly has been a tumultuous Christmas week in Brooklyn. Those back-to-back poundings at the hands of Boston and Milwaukee sent forward Gerald Wallace into a rage about his team’s mindset and by Thursday, coach Avery Johnson was terminated by owner Mikhail Prohkorov.
So it only seems fair that the first team Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo’s faced happened to be the hapless Bobcats, who bumbled their way to their 17th straight defeat, 97-81, last night at a sold-out but subdued Barclays Center.
It’s been a rarity this season, especially this cruel month in which the Nets have registered but four wins in 14 games, but the YES cameras caught various Nets smiling throughout the telecast of this laugher.
There was Kris Humphries chuckling on the bench, sitting out his third straight game with an abdominal strain but obviously feeling better about his situation for the first time since Johnson yanked him from the rotation prior to the injury a week ago. His status for tonight’s game versus Cleveland is still uncertain.
There was MarShon Brooks, who grinned with relief after scoring on a breakaway layup. Brooks had been in and out of Johnson’s doghouse all year and the inconsistent minutes resulted in his offensive game needing some rust-proofing. Brooks put up nine points in his 20-minute audition for Carlesimo.
There was Reggie Evans, who—oh wait. The Nets enforcer was at his serious best, grabbing 13 rebounds in a hard 27 minutes. I felt that, at the end of his tenure, Johnson failed to appreciate the little things Evans does on the floor to win games.
And in the owner’s box, it looked like giggling general manager Billy King was trying to get Prohkorov to laugh at a joke.
Maybe it was of the lame knock-knock variety, lost in translation, or just that he was still mad about having to cut short his heli-skiing vacation to address this crisis, but Prohkorov was not the least bit amused.
Then again, I wouldn’t expect a competitor like Prohkorov to find anything funny about the state of his franchise, not after he committed $330 million in new contracts over the summer to upgrade the Nets’ talent only to see them stumble to .500. Prohkorov is still somewhat of a mystery to me, but Net fans can’t complain about his intentions.
That’s why I can’t see Prohkorov settling for Carlesimo, a career 40% winner who hasn’t piloted a playoff team since 1997. King may have told Carlesimo to “coach like he’s going to be here for 10 years”, but Prohkorov’s profile suggests he is itching to pull the trigger on a bigger name in the next 10 minutes.
The problem has always been that Prohkorov’s Nets often shoot for the moon but barely get off the ground. Prohkorov could not close the deals on LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, and now he expects us to believe he can persuade Phil Jackson to coach here?
I give the delusional Prohkorov the same odds on landing Jackson as I did when he tried to oust Russian President Vladimir Putin. Jackson’s 11 rings were won on the backs of the greatest players in the game. There’s no Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal or Kobe Bryant here. If Jackson really had any interest in damaging his winning legacy, he would have been coaching the Knicks by now.
Jackson is just one of a slew of celebrity and oft-churned coaches bandied about as possible successors. I fully expect this soap opera to run at least as long as last summer’s Howard miniseries, with me once again constantly refreshing the various sports websites for any breaking news. What did the Van Gundy brothers say? ESPN will have different sources contradicting each other on its crawl.
Until the coaching situation gets resolved, I don’t expect much to change on the court.
The Nets still have enough talent to beat dregs like Charlotte. Carlesimo did not alter the starting lineup and pretty much maintained the substitution patterns. The Bobcats’ ineptitude makes it difficult for anyone to extrapolate tonight’s performance towards future contests against the better opponents.
Those were the games that showcased Johnson’s shortcomings as coach and led to his dismissal. Whoever is put in charge needs to address the issues—the stagnant offense, the pick-and-roll defense, and the rebounding deficiencies– that turned a feel-good story in Brooklyn into such a drama.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.