By Steve Lichtenstein
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I guess this mess in Brooklyn really was all Lionel Hollins’ fault.
Obviously, there were numerous other factors involved in the Nets’ 110-104 “home” victory over the Knicks on Wednesday besides the sunnier disposition of Brooklyn interim coach Tony Brown over the recently fired Hollins.
The Knicks were missing star forward Carmelo Anthony, who injured his ankle during the grueling win over Boston the previous night. The Nets took advantage to snap a 10-game losing streak at Barclays Center and an overall five-game skid.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov didn’t stick around town to see it. He reportedly flew back to Moscow sometime after he was caught on camera yawning during Monday’s second-half throttling by the Spurs in Brown’s debut.
This after Prokhorov told the mob at his press conference earlier on Monday that he would be more visible around the team while the organization searched for replacements for Hollins and “reassigned” general manager Billy King.
Could it be that he’s already settled on his targets, despite harping to the media on Monday that the search would be diligent and exhaustive?
Social media was abuzz all Wednesday with a report from ESPN that Bryan Colangelo, formerly the GM in Phoenix and Toronto, was a prime candidate to succeed King. And later Mitch Lawrence of Sirius XM and the Sporting News tweeted that the Nets have reached out to former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau about joining the Brooklyn circus.
While I am skeptical of the reports, at least it’s quieted down the John Calipari rumors for the moment.
Despite Brooklyn CEO Brett Yormark’s supposed close personal ties to the University of Kentucky kingpin, it would seem to be superseded by Prokhorov’s remark on Monday that he wants a separation of powers between coach and management. Calipari, who said via Twitter that he is not in negotiations with any NBA team, was rumored to be intrigued by the possibility of a dual president/head coach role — for a hefty price.
That would be a disaster for the Nets — another big-name signing that would temporarily boost their public relations while having minimal (or at worst detrimental) effect on the on-court product.
Another typical Brooklyn behavior is to leak high-profile figures into the open and pray that one sticks. That appears to be the case with Thibodeau, who in my opinion is the best coach available on the free market.
However, Thibodeau would have to be going stir crazy at home to choose the Nets over other potential coaching vacancies that will surely arise in a few months.
King left Brooklyn a vapid wasteland. The team is poorly configured for the modern game and assets that could possibly improve the situation — such as future first-round draft picks — have been wasted on King’s failed win-now maneuvers.
Why would Thibodeau want to come here?
Let’s also recall that Thibodeau had a very public feud with his superiors at his previous place of employment, which is the antithesis of what Prokhorov said he was looking for in a coach.
Besides, you could man the bench with the ghosts of Red Auerbach and John Wooden and it still wouldn’t get these Nets to .500.
And neither will Brown, despite the platitudes he received from the press and his players following the win over Brooklyn’s crosstown rivals. Forward Thaddeus Young subtly ripped his former coach when he told the media afterwards, “When your coach is not panicking and he’s staying positive and he’s continued to motivate us, it’s huge for us as far as an energy standpoint.”
But like Hollins, Brown won’t be able to give Joe Johnson another gear so he can stay in front of his man, or give Young a few inches so he can be even more effective in the paint against bigger players on both ends. He’s not a marionette who can move Brook Lopez’s feet so he isn’t out of position on defense so often or knock down jump shots for the inconsistent Wayne Ellington and Bojan Bogdanovic.
The biggest strategic adjustment Brown has made is inverting his backcourt rotation, starting Donald Sloan and Ellington and bringing Shane Larkin and Bogdanovic off the bench.
It’s the equivalent of rearranging the luggage on the Titanic.
The Nets may feel better about themselves for a little while, but in the end talent — or lack of talent– is the primary determinant over the course of a season.
Which is why the Nets need to focus on the general manager position first, and then give such GM the freedom to choose a coach whom he feels can best execute his strategy.
Colangelo had ups and downs in his two previous stops, winning one Executive of the Year Award at each place. He set coach Mike D’Antoni up with athletes who fit the Suns’ heralded “seven seconds or less” attack. And much of the Raptors’ current success can be traced to Colangelo’s moves during his seven-year tenure, such as the drafting of DeMar DeRozan in 2009 and the trading for Kyle Lowry in 2012.
On the other hand, Colangelo also was responsible for dealing superstar Jason Kidd to the Nets for problem child Stephon Marbury back in 2001 and taking current Net enigma Andrea Bargnani with the first overall selection in the 2006 NBA draft.
He hasn’t had a full-time NBA gig since the end of the 2012-13 season, when he left his president’s job in Toronto a month after the Raptors stripped him of his general manager title.
So maybe the Nets shouldn’t be (and very well might not be if the report is inaccurate) in such a rush to judgment. Experience isn’t always a good thing: King had experience before Brooklyn — he burned the Sixers to the ground as well.
Besides Colangelo, the only other candidate mentioned in the media has been former Atlanta GM Danny Ferry, by the Daily News. King’s college teammate at Duke was let go following his controversial comments regarding then-free agent Luol Deng prior to last season.
For some reason I doubt Prokhorov or any of his Russian lieutenants have a good feel for anyone other than the big names.
Maybe Prokhorov should spend more time in this country, so he can finally get it right.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter at @SteveLichtenst1