Throw out all the numbers when looking at P.J. Carlesimo’s track record. Not even wins and losses will sway management. Regular season that is.
Carlesimo and the Brooklyn Nets have certainly turned the ship around since he took over for Avery Johnson. The record is better, including the Nets’ 98-90 loss to the Dallas Mavericks Friday night. He took over a 14-14 team and the Nets have gone 20-11 since.
The support has come from far and wide for Carlesimo too. Those with NBA connections think he’s earned the right to coach the team long term. The jury is still out, though.
Unfortunately for whoever has this job, the bar has been set. In many ways it is a thankless job. The owner will spend an infinite amount of money in order to bring a championship to the Barclays Center. The money is a gift and a curse, especially when Mikhail Prokhorov is not around the team on a day-to-day basis.
Mark Cuban watches every game from behind the bench. He gives interviews to the media right alongside his players. He’s connected and the process counts.
With the Nets, the process is far more irrelevant. Prokhorov will pay, but he demands results. Pressing the right buttons means less in Brooklyn than practically anywhere else. Prokhorov maintains a brain trust, but they do not want to give him explanations for why the team isn’t making good on his promise to emerge as a championship contender.
But even the process doesn’t speak well to Carlesimo. He promised not a lot would change schematically and boy has he delivered.
Although he gets on his players and they truly respond playing for him, the Nets’ lack of offensive ingenuity will probably signal this season’s downfall. Isolation and pray will only work for so long. At some point, ball movement and offensive flow will need to rule the day in Brooklyn. If Carlesimo cannot deliver that, the organization will find someone who will.
Games like the one the Nets lost to the Mavericks don’t go a long way towards inspiring trust in Carlesimo. The Nets followed a tried and true script: Compete for two quarters against a quality opponent and fall apart in the third.
“The start of the third quarter was so poor and we just drifted back to what has been a problem for us, when we don’t score and turn it over,” Carlesimo said. “We don’t play with the same kind of energy.”
It would be a lot easier to blame the players if Carlesimo had not taken Avery Johnson’s system and run with it. Not a lot has changed, but in his defense, he never said anything would.
"I liked the vast majority of everything we were doing," Carlesimo said of Johnson’s system. "Maybe we're going to simplify a little bit, maybe we're going to tweak some things. There won't be wholesale changes ... virtually none in the short term.”
Carlesimo made that quote directly following Johnson’s dismissal. In many ways it was an unfortunate one because he took the culpability away from the players. If they continue to fail, the system that he decided not to change could be to blame.
Obviously the coach is always an easy scapegoat because it’s far easier and cheaper to unload one than up to 15.
And losing to the Mavericks reaffirmed a number of ongoing concerns. The question marks go back a lot further than Brooklyn too. This team’s modus operandi has been sloppy ballhandling and sluggish starts to halves.
Check and check for Friday night.
The frustration could stem from running an inefficient offensive system. Deron Williams criticized the offense prior to Johnson’s firing and Carlesimo basically said they would continue to run it.
Possibly an “If at first you don’t succeed,” dilemma. Unfortunately the Nets are “trying again” with the same ol’ tricks. More like banging one’s head against the wall as opposed to going in a different direction.
“I think we put ourselves in a bad position,” Brook Lopez (19 points, nine rebounds) said. “One through twelve, we did not have any energy, no energy on the floor, no energy on the bench and that is tough... It is a lot of different things. I think that there are little lapses in in our offense at times. At times guys are just forgetting things and then not taking care of (the ball).”
A familiar and telling complaint.
Following sluggish losses in which the team falls behind by 20 points, the “energy” is often blamed. The fact is this team is far too talented to trail any team by 20 points and at home no less.
“It is something we talk about a lot, which is energy,” Williams said.
The question is: does the team become lackadaisical because of their lack of trust in the system? Or is the system simply an inefficient one?
Another possibility is that the players simply do not work well enough together to execute the system, poor or spectacular.
But there are questions the Nets need to answer before they empty their lockers for 2012-13.
So how does P.J. retain his job long-term? Win in the playoffs.
Despite what Prokhorov said, a championship is not the benchmark this season. Getting out of the first round is. There’s far too much invested in this team to simply allow them to recede into the night following a first-round exit.