Avery Johnson surprised by Nets' firing
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Turns out earning the NBA's coach of the month award a few weeks ago will be Avery Johnson's lone shining moment with the Nets.
In a stunning move he said blindsided him, the Nets fired Johnson Thursday, 28 games into their first season in Brooklyn. General manager Billy King said the decision to cut ties with Johnson, who was in the final season of a three-year, $12-million deal, was made by ownership during an hourlong call with Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov earlier that morning.
The Nets started 11-4 but have floundered in December, going 3-10. P.J. Carlesimo has been named the interim coach and will make his debut when the Nets (14-14) host the Bobcats (7-21) at Barclays Center Friday night. King said the Nets "may" look elsewhere for a full-time replacement, but he brushed aside an ESPN report that they will reach out to Phil Jackson.
"This is a really disappointing day for me and my family," Johnson, who was 60-116 with the Nets, said at a news conference at the PNY Center Thursday. " . . . This is a difficult time. It's something that I didn't necessarily see coming, especially after a pretty good November. Then, obviously we lost a few games in December, and you never think that when you are a .500 team . . . that something like this would happen."
He added: "If somebody else thinks maybe we should be 24-4, that's their opinion. And if I have to pay the price for that, that's the way the business is.''
King said he thought he wasn't reaching the players anymore, a sign that it was time to make a move. Prokhorov shelled out more than $330 million in new contracts in the offseason, so there was no way he was going to stand for mediocrity.
"Watching us, we just didn't have the same fire that we had when we were 11-4," said King, who told Johnson in a 30-minute conversation. "I've been trying to talk to Avery. We've been trying to figure it out, but just wasn't able to pinpoint what was missing. You lose by 17 to the Celtics, you lose to the Knicks like you did, you lose to Milwaukee. I mean, these are teams that you are talking about competing against, and it was a pattern."
Johnson's firing came 10 days after point guard Deron Williams praised the system he ran under Jerry Sloan in Utah, indicating it suited his style of play better than the Nets' offensive scheme. But King said he didn't consult with Williams or any of the other players before the verdict was rendered, and Johnson said it wouldn't be right to pin the move on Williams.
"I thought from day one we had a really good relationship, and I don't think it's fair to anybody to hang this on Deron," Johnson said. "He's one player."
"The last thing I would try to do is get any coach fired,'' Williams told ESPNNewYork.com. "I already went through that situation once when people thought I got coach Sloan fired. Why would I want to put myself through all of that? . . . First of all, I have not had one conversation with [King] about not being happy with Avery, wanting him gone, etc. It's not my fault. But as soon as I heard the news, I knew what was coming. I knew folks would blame me . . . ''
Still, Johnson left little doubt he thought he deserved more time after basically baby-sitting the Nets during the previous two seasons in New Jersey as they awaited this season's move.
"I'm not coach, president and owner," he said. "If I was owning the team, I wouldn't have gotten fired today, all right? I wouldn't have fired myself because I know what I'm dealing with and I know kind of what the future could hold. But it just doesn't work that way. This is not about the fair game.
"A lot of times, it's about the blame game because for the most part in this business, the coach always gets blamed."