Hot! Why Did the Brooklyn Nets Fire Coach Avery Johnson?

The Nets shocked the basketball world by firing head coach Avery Johnson, just a month removed from being named the NBA's coach of the month.

The Nets shocked the basketball world by firing head coach Avery Johnson, just a month removed from being named the NBA’s coach of the month.

 

Thursday morning the unemployment rate in the United States sat around 7.9 percent. The Brooklyn Nets increased it in the afternoon by .000001 percent when they fired their head coach, Avery Johnson.

It was a stunning development, but as Jay-Z would say, there’s “no church in the wild” for any coach in the NBA these days. Winning in the past does not guarantee you a job tomorrow. Even if that past came as recently as last month, when the upstart Nets opened the season by going 11-3, and Avery Johnson was named the Coach of the Month by the NBA.

No, it seems instead that the firing of the man who narrowly edged out Knicks coach Mike Woodson for those November coaching honors proves one thing: The National Basketball Association has become a perilous place to work, even for proven coaches like Johnson. Just ask Mike Brown, another coach with a NBA Finals track record that lost his job this year.

In this case, the big question is who or what sparked this sudden decision to remove Johnson? Could it have been a move to appease the fans, many of whom pulled out their sharpened pitch-forks the moment the Nets fell to 3rd place in the Atlantic Division on Wednesday? Back in November when things were clicking for the Nets, they defeated the Knicks in a nationally televised matchup and moved into 1st place in the Atlantic Division, instantly raising the expectations of the fan base that began to flock to the Barclays Center in droves to watch the new team in New York, “take over.”

Unfortunately, the Nets just couldn’t keep up their good fortunes. The Nets have floundered in December, stumbling through a brutal 3-10 stretch that has left them at 14-14, good for 8th place in the Eastern Conference. They lost Brook Lopez to injury for a few weeks, but even upon his return they were unable to recapture November’s magic.

Now, Johnson is gone, and it’s quite possible that the reason he lost his job was because the product on the court had stopped living up to the hype the franchise had garnered for itself in its maiden season in Brooklyn.

Johnson’s firing could have been yet another case of an all-star player groaning loud enough for his front office to react by removing the coach. Fans should recall that star point guard Deron Williams has a track record of forcing management’s hand in head coaching decisions. His clashes with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan ultimately lead to Sloan’s firing despite his stellar 1,127-682 record with Utah. It’s not inconceivable to think that a frustrated Williams might have blamed Johnson’s system for the slowdown in his production over the past two-plus seasons with the Nets. If Williams was indeed unhappy, perhaps he complained enough behind the scenes for management to finally side with their star player, and hope that the next coach can bring out Deron’s best.

This possibility is not a pleasant one, and as of now it is all speculation, but it wouldn’t be the first time a player orchestrated, directly or indirectly, the downfall of his coach (remember the Carmelo Anthony, Mike D’Antoni saga?). Whether or not there is any truth to this rumor, fans will certainly be watching Williams closely in the next few weeks to see if his play picks up.

Otherwise, a few critics might even say that the Nets were taking a page out of the antics-laden book of the New York Jets, firing their coach in order to stir up some controversy and attention. Controversy sells, especially in a major market like New York, and the pursuit of coaching candidates — like Phil Jackson, Stan Van Gundy or, ironically, Jerry Sloan — will undoubtedly keep the Nets high in the news rotations for the foreseeable future. The team can afford to bring in a big name that will, if nothing else, add to the excitement and stardom that Brooklyn so desires.

Or, perhaps the Nets simply felt that Johnson wasn’t giving the players what they needed to succeed. Their offense has fallen off badly in recent weeks and on-court chemistry has collapsed. It hasn’t helped that they have blown several big leads and are having trouble closing out games in fourth quarters.

So with Johnson kicked to the curb in just 28 games (barely a New York minute, really) and a disappointing December, the current public perception of the Nets is that of a franchise in disarray. There is no question Johnson got a raw deal here, but in the end Brooklyn may benefit from dispatching him.

Because it is unclear which explanation of the firing is most accurate, the Nets deserve more more time to try to right the ship before we issue our ultimate judgment on whether it was the right thing to do.

Time which the team apparently did not feel it owed Avery Johnson.

Author

Robert McManus

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