When the Nets fired head coach Avery Johnson, the replacement had to come from a pool of big names. Phil Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, Stan Van Gundy, and Larry Brown headed a lengthy list of big fish Mikhail Prokhorov would more than likely lure to Brooklyn.
Settling for assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo in the interim seemed like a short-term answer. Carlesimo would call the shots while the Nets wined and dined the best available coaches.
Management probably did not count on this team doing an about-face virtually overnight, though, under Carlesimo’s direction. Carlesimo, who coached three other franchises before settling next to Johnson, is pressing all the right buttons when this team faces adversity.
Carlesimo earning his fourth full-time coaching gig appears like a realistic possibility after the Nets put another notch in their belt, winning their seventh straight game. The team is now 9-1 Carlesimo following a 113-106 win over the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night at the Barclays Center.
Carlesimo could follow in the steps of former Nets coach Lawrence Frank, who assumed his title after management dismissed Byron Scott. Frank gained the role on Jan. 26, 2004 and proceeded to rip off 13 consecutive wins.
Carlesimo's 9-1 start is the second best start for a coach in Nets history. Only Frank began his coaching stint in better fashion with the franchise.
He coached the team until the Nets lost their first 16 games of the 2009-10 season. Frank was never a long-term solution, but he coached for far longer than the remainder of the 2004 season.
On June 21, 2004, they made him the full-time coach.
With Carlesimo’s brief success, he has the chance to do the same. The players clearly respond to his assertive and no-nonsense attitude.
“We’re in a nice rhythm right now,” said Joe Johnson, who scored 21 points against the Raptors. “Hopefully we can keep it this way. It’s a lot of fun to watch and I’m sure guys are having a great time in this locker room.”
The most obvious changes in the new regime have come at the offensive end. The team is playing at a quicker pace and getting the best available shot. Williams conceded that the Nets’ defense has allowed them to play at a quicker pace, though.
“We need to get out and run more and I think we’ve done that in this winning streak and it’s made us successful,” Williams said. “But the key to that is getting stops. When we get stops we can get out and run a little more.”
Carlesimo has made the pace a point of emphasis for his players.
“I would think our pace has picked up recently, in the last 10 games or so,” Carlesimo said. “That pace is important for us. I don’t want to run up and down and shoot it quickly every time, but we need to get the easy baskets. We need to get our bigs running.”
Prior to Carlesimo’s promotion, the team routinely struggled in the final two quarters. Out of their 15 losses, five could easily have been wins.
Those games are resulting in wins under Carlesimo.
Against the Raptors, a sluggish first half in which the Nets only led, 54-50, and trailed by as many as 10 points emerged as a runaway in the early stages of the fourth quarter.
“That’s kind of been the story for us the past few games, just the second halves,” said Brook Lopez, who went for 22 points and nine rebounds despite sitting the fourth quarter. “That’s really where we bring the energy.”
The Nets led by as many as 15 points in the fourth quarter and won far more comfortably than the box-score indicated.
Carlesimo has also received contributions from players buried on the bench under Johnson. MarShon Brooks and Mirza Teletovic have made significant impacts since the coaching change.
Williams believes Teletovic’s minutes increase has allowed him to become a more focal point of the offense.
“He was in a tough position in the beginning of the season where he wasn’t getting much playing time and being thrown out there for a couple minutes and having to produce. That’s tough for anybody to do ,” Williams said. “Now he’s getting a little steadier minutes and you can see what he can bring to this team and he can be a huge part to this team. We need him.”
Although the staff and the players are the same under Carlesimo, he's finding a successful remedy. Continued success could lead to a permanent place in Brooklyn.