Despite getting the team off to a solid 11-4 start and being named the NBA’s Coach of the Month in November, the Brooklyn Nets fired Avery Johnson on Thursday.
With the team in the middle of a 3-10 slide, capped off by an embarrassing 93-76 loss Christmas Day at home to the Boston Celtics which was broadcast on national television, the writing was on the wall — literally. Nets CEO Brett Yormark tweeted this exasperated message soon after the end of that game:
One thing that coaches can never expect is job security; usually, they are hired to be fired — or they resign. In Johnson’s case, the Christmas Day defeat followed a loss at Madison Square Garden to their crosstown rival New York Knicks on Dec. 19. The three wins they’ve managed in December all came against teams which are well under .500: Detroit, Philadelphia and Toronto.
Struggling guard Deron Williams is also in a slump, scoring only 10 points in the loss to the Celtics on 3-for-7 shooting with two rebounds, six assists and four turnovers. Williams didn’t get a chance to redeem himself the next night against the Milwaukee Bucks: Johnson relegated him to the bench, and Williams did not play in a 108-93 loss.
In the week before Johnson’s firing, Williams had openly criticized the Nets’ system and said he was more comfortable playing the “flex” offense run by Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. The irony here is that Williams was labeled as one of the causes of Sloan’s sudden retirement from the Jazz in February 2011.
Now Williams is leading an ESPN poll — 52 percent at last count — which puts the blame squarely on his shoulders for the Nets’ woes. Realistically, it can’t all rest on his shoulders. Brook Lopez had been a major cause of the team’s upswing, finding his game both on offense and defense before being sidelined by a foot fracture. Andray Blatche and Jerry Stackhouse both made significant contributions which, given their past histories, could not reasonably be expected to last over an entire season.
P.J. Carlesimo takes over on an interim basis while the club looks for a permanent replacement. Given what happened with the L.A. Lakers appointing Mike D’Antoni after the fans had openly demanded that Phil Jackson be re-hired, he could be a candidate for the high-profile position. Whoever decides to take the job is facing major hurdles: a squabbling team with huge expectations in the biggest market in the NBA. Good luck with that.