After the recent firing of Brooklyn Nets head coach Avery Johnson, the reports rushed out of the media about the possibility of 11 time NBA Finals champion and ex-Knick & Net Phil Jackson returning to New York to coach the beleaguered team.
For starters the firing was almost inevitable. The Nets owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, who is worth in upwards of $17 billion, has invested a lot of money into this team. The 5-year $98 million signing of PG Deron Williams & the 4- year , $80 million contract for guard Joe Johnson were made in order to bring relevancy to the franchise that had floundered in East Rutherford, N.J. for many years. Not since the days of Kenyon Martin, Jason Kidd, and Richard Jefferson have the Nets been even mentioned in the same sentence as other elite teams.
So why the firing of Avery Johnson… Several reasons. For one thing he’s in the last year of his contract so that made the axing easier. He has been given a team with arguably one of the best backcourts in the league, a decent swingman in Gerald Wallace, and, when healthy, a productive center in Brooke Lopez. Ironically, Johnson began the year at a torrid pace, taking the team to 11-4, a franchise record for the best 15 game start to a season.
Then there’s Deron Williams’ dissatisfaction with Johnson’s offense. He has watched his points per game drop from 21 last year to 16.6 so far this season. Williams has made his voice heard within the organization as well as the media and the last thing G.M. Billy King or owner Prokhorov need is their franchise player upset with the system. Remember Williams did the very same thing in Utah which resulted in the firing of long time coach Jerry Sloan.
Even Gerald Wallace has vented his displeasure with the organization and so fearing a mutiny might be in the offing, it appears that Prokhorov had heard and seen enough. He had been to see his team play 5 times this season; all losses.
So what about Avery Johnson’s replacement? Well, when you have $17 billion in your savings account, you don’t hesitate to kick the tires and see if an unemployed legendary coach would be interested in coming to Ft. Greene, Brooklyn. It would probably take $10 to $13 million per year to get him here, if he’s interested. The reason why he just might bite at the bait would be because he is not expected to bring a championship to Brooklyn this season so the pressure would be tolerable.
It would also create what Prokhorov is drooling over; an opportunity to grab the headlines on the back pages of the papers from the hated Knicks, but not in the same way that the Jets and Woody Johnson go about doing so. Those are ’empty’ headlines. The Nets owner craves productive back page fodder, the kind where his team plays winning ball and can be included in playoff conversations because his team is relevant again.
So what if finicky Phil turns down the cash and opportunity. Who would be another strong candidate? Well, he happens to be sitting right on the Nets bench as we speak. P.J. Carlesimo. Before you start shaking your head, remember he has always been a knowledgeable and astute coach who, unfortunately, is best remembered more for the Latrell Sprewell choking incident back during a practice session in 1997 than for his talent as a head coach. Before that incident he was one of the most respected coaches in the NCAA and NBA. Right now he is the interim coach and my guess is he won’t get the full-time gig but should.
Clearly, with a Phil Jackson signing the “rivalry” between the two New York teams would increase. There would definitely be a buzz around the city and personally, I wouldn’t mind it even though we’re not fans of his. And furthermore, if he turns down Prokhorov’s offer, at 67 years of age, when do you suppose he would coach again?