Who’s Next for Nets?
Prokhorov, King begin coaching search after disappointing first-round playoff exit
WANTED: A highly motivated and motivational thick-skinned, media-savvy head basketball coach for an NBA franchise located in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn. Must have previous experience, be it as a head coach on the collegiate or professional level, or as a highly thought-of assistant. Must work well with others, especially high-paid players who sometimes “get down on themselves” in the heat of battle and a billionaire owner with extremely high and sometimes-unrealistic expectations. Must understand that a poor month or two could result in immediate firing. Should be able to work well in front of large crowds, sometimes as many as 17,732 full-throated fans on a nightly basis. Should expect almost constant criticism and sniping from print and electronic media types, not to mention thousands upon thousands of know-it-all bloggers and tweeters. Those with an inability to close out playoff games when leading by as many as 14 points with three minutes or less to play need not apply. Starting salary: Approximately $3 to $6 million per year (negotiable). Resume should be sent to: Barclays Center, ATTN: Billy King or Mikhail Prokhorov, 620 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217.
While Nets general manager Billy King and billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov won’t be posting the above ad during their ongoing search for the next head coach of Brooklyn’s first major pro sports franchise since 1957, they will expect him to live up to some, if not all, of the above criteria.
After spending last summer spending more than $330 million to build what they both thought was a team capable of competing for an Eastern Conference title, King and Prokhorov fired not one, but two head coaches by the time the Nets’ historic first season in Brooklyn was complete.
Under the coaching combination of Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo, the Nets compiled 49 wins (tied for the second most in franchise history), won more road games than any of their predecessors (24) and earned a coveted fourth seed in the playoffs, giving them home-court advantage in the opening round.
But a gutwrenching Game 7 loss to the shorthanded, but battle-tested Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center last Saturday night precipitated the jettisoning of Carlesimo and what figures to be the most important decision of the Nets’ first full offseason since moving into their Downtown digs on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
“There’s a lot of candidates out there at this time and that’s why we reacted quickly.” King explained when asked why he waited only hours after Saturday’s Game 7 home loss to Chicago to give Carlesimo his walking papers.
Those candidates, some of whom are still working the bench during the ongoing NBA playoffs, figure to get more than the casual once, twice over from King, who received a contract extension during the playoffs and just before the Nets were sent home for the summer. Prokhorov, who delivered a conference-finals-or-bust mandate on Opening Night at the Barclays way back in November, is clearly intent not only on unseating the Knicks as New York’s top NBA team, but also delivering the Nets their first-ever championship since moving over from the ABA in the mid-1970s.
A fresh offensive system, namely one $98 million point guard Deron Williams can thrive in on a nightly basis, and an emphasis on overcoming long stretches of ineffectivness — something that plagued the Nets in 2012-13 — are just two of the criteria the new head man must come equipped with.
“Long-term, we just need to get a good fit for us,” King admitted. “It’s not about marquee, we want the guy that we think can do the job the best. And going forward for the long-term.”
While former Bulls and Lakers coach Phil Jackson, he of the 11 NBA championships, has already reportedly turned down the opportunity to be the next Nets coach, here’s a list of resumes King and Prokhorov may be perusing over the next few weeks:
The New Kid in Town: Indiana Pacers assistant and long-time Jackson protege Brian Shaw is currently being touted as the next big thing climbing the coaching ranks. A player on three title-winning teams in Los Angeles before serving on Jackson’s staff for two more championships, the 47-year-old Oakland native knows a thing or two about thriving in big-market conditions, albeit in the background rather than at the forefront. Shaw has culled great experience under Jackson and Pacers coach Frank Vogel. If Shaw wishes to implement Jackson’s famed “Triangle Offense” here in Brooklyn, King will have to go to his “Big Three” — Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez — to see if they would be open to such a change after admittedly getting bogged down at times in Avery Johnson’s and then Carlesimo’s grind-it-out system. Mark Jackson’s rapid success in Golden State and Tom Thibodeau’s meteoric rise from the assistant ranks in Chicago certainly bolster Shaw’s candidacy.
Grumpy Old Men: Hall of Famers Larry Brown and Jerry Sloan figure to throw their hats in the ring at some point. Brown, the 72-year-old Brooklyn native, is known just as much for his coaching brilliance as his vagabond existence. Still the only man ever to win a national championship (Kansas, 1988) and NBA title (Detroit, 2004) as a head coach, Brown has held 14 different head jobs since 1972, including an ill-fated stint with the Knicks from 2005-06. Sloan, 71, captured two Western Conference titles during his years in Utah (1988-2011). But it may be his depature from that job, reportedly hastened by a clash with Williams, that will be closely scrutinized before he is considered for the Nets job. Williams has already noted that he would love to play for Sloan again. The question is, do the Nets want to replace Carlesimo with candidates that are nearly a decade older than the 63-year-old they just fired?
Dealing for Doc: Rumors persist that the Nets will try to shaghai Doc Rivers from Boston. Known for his motivational skills as well as his basketball acumen, the 51-year-old Rivers delivered the Celtics’ first NBA crown since the Larry Bird era in 2009 and nearly won a second in 2010 before Boston fell in Game 7 of the Finals to Jackson’s Lakers. With three years remaining on a five-year, $35 million deal, the Nets would have to dig deep into their current talent pool to orchestrate a deal for the veteran coach. They may kick the tires on Rivers, but they’re highly unlikely to drive him home and put him in their state-of-the-art Downtown underground garage.
The Brothers Van Gundy: Jeff and Stan Van Gundy, both of whom have led teams to the NBA Finals in previous head coaching stints, are both on the market. Jeff, who is well-established as ABC/ESPN’s top television analyst, has been noncommital in his interest in the job thus far, clearly wishing to stay out of the race early. A proven winner with the Knicks, whom he led to their last Finals appearance as the No. 8 seed following the lockout-shortened 1999 campaign, Jeff also coached the Houston Rockets from 2003-07, missing the playoffs just once during that stint. Stan guided the Orlando Magic to the Finals in 2009, falling to Jackson’s Lakers in five games, after a semi-successful 10-year run as an assistant and then head coach under legendary Miami Heat executive Pat Riley. Jeff is the more likely of the two to actually get a sniff of the Nets’ job, but he’ll have to show more interest in assuming the role as King and Prokhorov appear intent on filling it sooner than later. Also, Jeff’s emphasis on defense may make him less attractive to a team that is clearly looking for a most dynamic offensive visionary.
Honorable Mention/Also-Ran: NBA head coaching retreads Mike Dunleavy, Nate McMillan and Scott Skiles may be somewhere on the Nets’ radar if their prime candidates fall through. Let’s not forget former Nets coaches Lawrence Frank and Byron Scott, both of whom figure to be working in TV for a while after failed stints in Detroit and Cleveland, respectively.
Good luck to all the candidates. We look forward to welcoming you to Brooklyn and questioning your every move.