In a move that has sent ripples around the NBA, Avery Johnson was fired as the coach of the Brooklyn Nets yesterday. The Nets came into this season with a beautiful new arena, new city, revamped roster, and championship aspirations; and their .500 record just wasn’t cutting it. “We don’t have the same fire now than we did when we were 11-4,” general manager Billy King said at a news conference in East Rutherford, N.J. “I tried to talk to Avery about it, and we just can’t figure it out. The same pattern kept on happening.” Although the ownership figured someone had to be blamed for the team not playing to expectations, I don’t believe this is Avery’s fault.
You can always go out and buy talented players, but you cannot buy team chemistry; and that is exactly what Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov did in the offseason. In a series of trades and free agent signings, the Nets acquired Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Deron Williams. They acquired Andray Blatche who was amnestied by the Wizards, and to finish putting together their roster, they signed some has-beens and below average role players. You could argue that the Nets have one of the sexiest rosters in the NBA; so full of talent and potential. While sexy sells seats, sexy does not equate to winning championships. Just ask the Lakers.
With the way this roster was thrown together, I don’t blame Avery Johnson for this team underperforming. I blame the players and the ownership. Avery Johnson is a very good and proven coach in this league. He has a career coaching record of 254-186, which is a .577 winning percentage. He led the Dallas Mavericks to four consecutive playoff appearances from 2004-2008. During that span he coached the Mavericks to the first NBA Finals appearance in team history in 2006. There are not many coaches out there better than Avery Johnson, that is, if his players buy into his proven system. That is something Deron Williams didn’t seem willing to do. Deron has publicly complained about the Nets’ offense, saying the system with his previous team, the Utah Jazz, was more to his liking. “That system (in Utah) was a great system for my style of play. I’m a system player… I loved the offense there.” That is a hint, and not a subtle one, that Deron didn’t like what Avery was trying to do in Brooklyn.
In the end, Avery becomes just another coach thrown under the bus by players and management to cover their own mistakes. This sexy roster of players, put together by Prokhorov, was not built the right way and they won’t mesh together as long as egos continue to get in the way. Now we just have to wait and see if there is a coach ready and willing to take on this roster. Phil Jackson? Jerry Sloan? In the meantime, assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo is in charge on an interim basis while the search for a new head coach continues. Regardless of who the new coach is, the players will need to buy into their system. There is still time left to save their season.
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