The Brooklyn Nets organization has displayed many times through its actions in the past year that they are in “win-now-or-bust” mode.
From their move to Brooklyn that enhanced a new, modern-age image rivaling any team around the league to their lucrative off-season spending in an effort to appease their star point guard Deron Williams, it is easy to see the goal is to win and to win now.
The Nets organization did not believe this goal could be reached with head coach Avery Johnson at the helm, which is why the Nets fired him this past week. They gave P.J. Carlesimo a chance in the meantime as the interim head coach.
The Nets have made it clear that Carlesimo will receive a real shot at taking over permanently but there are rumblings of the organization having interest in bringing in someone like Phil Jackson or Kelvin Sampson to lead the team.
The Nets are owned by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who has no trouble spending money in excess and also by music mogul and entrepreneur Shawn Corey Carter, better known as Jay-Z.
Prokhorov and Jay-Z have brought a new swagger and sense of entitlement to a team that has not been relevant since the days when Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin suited up for the team that used to be located in New Jersey. When the Nets are on an opposing team’s schedule, it now means something. They have a formidable starting five and a decent cast of bench players on the second-unit.
With a new attitude and a newfound sense of entitlement comes a new set of expectations. Brooklyn has had high expectations bestowed upon them since it was announced that they would be moving into their new home at the Barclays Center and changing their whole franchise image.
Expectations continued to skyrocket when the Nets were able to re-sign Williams while bringing in All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson for pennies on the dollar in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks. They also added to this core by re-signing Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez.
With players like the ones listed here as well as Kris Humphies, Andray Blatche, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, a resurgent Jerry Stackhouse and Reggie Evans, the Nets look like a real threat to the top teams in the East. They have had nice early-season wins but have greatly struggled in December, leading most to believe they are not true contenders.
Spending money just for the sake of spending it does not necessarily equate to wins for an NBA franchise. This is the primary reason Johnson was fired as head coach last week. The Nets sat at a record of 14-14 when Johnson was fired.
Doesn’t sound so bad, right? Not to mention, Johnson had also been named the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month in November. Even with such recognition, it was clear he was on a tight leash and the Nets front office decided to make a move sooner rather than later to try and get the team back on track.
To be honest, I think the Nets organization momentarily forgot that change does not happen overnight and that’s exactly what they expected to happen. They wanted to be in the hunt in the East right off the bat, not sitting in the middle and barely be relevant in the playoff picture. Patience was abandoned and now they are left at a crossroads early on in the season.
Johnson is not fully responsible for the woes the Nets experienced in his short-lived tenure. People may argue, like D-Will pointed out, that his system was not conducive to the players they currently have or that Johnson’s in-game coaching methods do not always lead his teams to wins.
To start, injuries played a huge role in breaking up what was a promising start to the Nets season. The team was rolling out of the gate starting the year 11-4 just in the month of November. Important wins included two over the Boston Celtics, one over the New York Knicks in an overtime thriller and one over the Los Angeles Clippers.
But the injuries started piling up and the season took a turn for the worse. Lopez, Brooks, Blatche and Humphries have all missed time this year. Lopez has been missed the most when he’s out. He is having a great season thus far and whenever he is out, the team struggles. Unfortunately, for all invested in the team in one way or another, injuries have not been the only detriment this season.
The Nets have also gotten mostly uninspired play out of their two biggest name stars, Johnson and Williams. Johnson’s shot-selection has been erratic at best and he has been inefficient in getting his points. Williams is slowly playing his way out of his annual position as one of the top five point guards in the NBA.
He came out with a statement just recently stating that he is tired right now. That is no excuse for a player who is considered to be in the top 20 in the league and is on a maximum contract.
What I am getting at here is that although Johnson may not be one of the best all-around coaches in the NBA, he also can’t help it if his players are not playing up to what they’re capable of or choosing to not give maximum effort each and every game.
Johnson cannot play the victim on all fronts, however. He did make numerous questionable coaching decisions in a short time period. One such decision was how he rarely used Brooks off the bench.
In his first year in the NBA, Brooks played great for the Nets and was considered by many to be the steal of the entire draft. He played well alongside Williams and had a knack for scoring. He was a hot name around the league and was sought after by many teams at the trade deadline.
This season though, he cannot seem to find any minutes and has yet to crack the rotation on a regular basis. This was the biggest mistake I saw in Johnson’s coaching.
The other mistake was simply rotation choices that he made through the game. I felt he would leave his cold shooting players (i.e. Joe Johnson) in too long and not give chances to other players. I understand you pay him the money you do so that he can perform, but a recurring theme this season is that he is not performing the way he has in the past.
The conversation has heated up of late regarding the validity of Williams as a star in the NBA. Many critics claim he is simply a top level “system” player. Williams does not have the freedom he once possessed in Utah with Jerry Sloan and the Jazz, when he could create and dish as he pleased, using his natural creativity and ingenuity on the court. His game was a masterpiece waiting to happen.
Now in Brooklyn, he forces three-pointers, struggles to create off-the-dribble and is not as effective at getting his teammates involved on either end of the court. When your primary star is regarded as a system player and your “top-notch” off-season additions all play well below their career-averages, your team is setup to fail.
The Nets overpaid the wrong players to come to Brooklyn and hoped they would find ways to fit into the pre-existing system. That plan has backfired in the form of a disgruntled star, a fired head coach and an overall record just above .500 at 16-15.
All is not lost for the Nets and the solution lies in gaining stability across the entire organization.