Even as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein was reporting over the weekend that Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is still nursing his man crush on former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson, interim coach P.J. Carlesimo has the Nets rolling along.
That improved the Nets’ record to 8-1 since he took over for Avery Johnson, who was fired on Dec. 27 after Brooklyn began December 3-10 after an 11-4 November earned Johnson Eastern Conference Coach of the Month honors.
It’s true the Nets haven’t played the most rugged schedule since the coaching change, with six of Brooklyn’s eight wins under Carlesimo coming against teams firmly at the bottom of the league. But the Nets won at Oklahoma City 110-93 on Jan. 2 and beat the surging Pacers, who had won four in a row and six of their last seven, on Sunday night.
“I don’t know how much (Carlesimo getting the full-time job) matters, to P.J., but I don’t look at him as an interim,” Johnson said. “He’s our guy right now. I have 100 percent faith in him. I don’t look at him as, ‘He’s just going to be here for a little while.’ I’m figuring he’s the coach.”
Prokhorov has shown he has a little bit of George Steinbrenner in him since buying the then-New Jersey Nets in May 2010. He wants to win on the court, but also in the New York press, as evidenced by his high-profile—and ultimately failed—pursuits of Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard.
Jackson said Tuesday that he has “no intention of ever coaching again.” Another potential candidate linked to the Brooklyn job, former Miami Heat and Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, told NBC Sports on Sunday that Brooklyn is not “a place (my family) would relocate to at this point.”
This is Carlesimo’s fourth shot at sitting in the lead chair on an NBA bench. Carlesimo began his career as a college coach, going 65-93 in six seasons at Wagner (1976-77 through 1981-82) before taking over for Hoddy Mahon at Seton Hall for the 1982-83 season.
In 12 years at Seton Hall, Carlesimo took the Pirates to never-before-seen heights, culminated by an appearance in the 1989 NCAA Tournament championship game, an 80-79 overtime loss to Michigan.
Carlesimo spent five more seasons at Seton Hall, earning two Big East regular-season titles and two Big East Conference tournament titles before leaving for the NBA after the 1993-94 season.
Carlesimo was 212-166 in 12 years at the Hall and he had everything a coach could want—control, influence and job security.
But he heard the call of the NBA and answered, taking over the Portland Trail Blazers for the 1994-95 season. Carlesimo was fired after the 1996-97 season following three consecutive first-round exits. At the time, a source told the Vancouver, Wash., Columbian that it came down to style.
“He refused to double team, press, trap,” the source said. “And the young guys are going to have to play if the team is going to keep them in the future.”
Carlesimo wasn’t out of work long. Sporting a record of 137-109 in three years with Portland, he was hired almost immediately by the Golden State Warriors. It was in Oakland, Calif., where his career would take an infamous turn.
He clashed almost right away with the Warriors’ star, Latrell Sprewell, and—in the midst of a miserable 19-63 season—it came to a head on Dec. 1, when Sprewell attacked Carlesimo at a practice. Sprewell was suspended for the rest of the season and ultimately traded to the New York Knicks.
Carlesimo lasted into his third season in Golden State before he was fired 27 games into the 1999-2000 season with a record of 46-113 in two-plus seasons.
After spending two seasons with NBC, Carlesimo returned to coaching, but surprised many observers by not returning to the college ranks. Rather, he opted for a job on Gregg Popovich’s staff with the San Antonio Spurs, where he earned three championship rings as an assistant coach from 2002-03 through 2006-07.
He got another shot at an NBA head coaching gig in the summer of 2007, when he was hired to take over the Seattle SuperSonics. He had a young Kevin Durant and little else and the lame-duck Sonics struggled to a 20-62 record.
Carlesimo kept the job after the franchise moved to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season, but was fired after a 1-12 start. His undoing in Oklahoma City wasn’t his unrelenting attitude so much as it was his insistence that Durant could succeed as a 6-11 two-guard.
Carlesimo went back to television, this time with TNT, in 2009-10, working both pro and college games, and joined Jay Triano’s staff with the Toronto Raptors as an assistant in 2010-11. Fired along with Triano after the season, Carlesimo joined Johnson’s staff in New Jersey in December 2011.
Donyell Marshall, who played under Carlesimo three different times through his career, with Team USA in the early 1990s, with the Warriors in the late 1990s and with the Super Sonics and Thunder, told the Daily News that Carlesimo has definitely changed over time.
“It was a very difficult situation for him in Golden State, coming into a situation where he really didn’t get the backing right from the start from the star player, from the time he was hired until the (attack),” Marshall said. “Being with him again in Seattle, I think he learned how to deal with situations and is much calmer. He doesn’t take the, ‘I’m the coach and you’re the player’ approach. I think he learned from that. He learned that he has to sit down and talk and try to get rid of the problem and try to get a solution rather than saying, ‘I’m the coach and that’s the way it’s going to go.’
“During timeouts (in Seattle), he’d talk to players. It wasn’t necessarily the screaming and yelling, it wasn’t necessarily the P.J. way, it was what’s best for the team way.”
Point guard Deron Williams says Carlesimo hasn’t turned down the volume that much, but the way he treats the players has earned him respect.
“(Carlesimo gets after it,” Williams told the Daily News. “He’s yelling all practice, all game. But I think guys respect it because he’s a straight shooter.”
Williams shared one impression of Carlesimo that might surprise Sprewell and others who played for him earlier in his coaching career.
“He’s pretty hilarious,” Williams said. “That’s what makes it funny. When he’s yelling, he’s still funny. We try not to laugh right there, but he does a great job of balancing it. It’s not like he’s just screaming all the time. He’s doing a good job of teaching us as well. Sometimes he yells to get his pointa cross. That’s when you know he’s serious.”
What’s not funny is the job Carlesimo has done since taking over the Nets. Maybe Mikhail Prokhorov would be better served to see the results he’s getting from the “interim guy” before embarking on another quest to win headlines in the New York papers.