P.J. walks plank after Nets tank against Bulls at Barclays Center
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The gloom was palpable, and somewhat eery, after a night that began with such high expectations and ended with a heartbreaking thud as the Brooklyn Nets saw their historic inaugural season come to a calamitous completion before a sellout crowd at Downtown's Barclays Center.
Riding along the F, B, D, N and R lines Saturday night as the city continued to implement its alleged "FastTrack" program, it was easy to envision the scene nearly six decades earlier -- the subways actually ran much faster then -- when the beloved Dodgers dropped Game 7 of the 1956 World Series to the hated Yankees at Ebbets Field.
There were fans of all ages decked out in their "Blacked Out Nets" garb, many of them hoping beyond hope that "this was just the beginning", as Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov had promised just shy of two weeks earlier prior to Game 1.
Instead, it was the bitter end as the Bulls, rather than our Nets, would move on to face the defending NBA champion Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals following a gutwrenching 99-93 Game 7 defeat before 17,732 Brooklyn basketball fanatics.
It was far too soon for the traditional borough mantra of "Wait Til' Next Year' as the packed subway cars were heavy with the stench of defeat following Brooklyn's first seventh game since October 1956. But at least the Nets' brand new fan base knew, somewhere in the recesses of their collective psyche, that come next November, the process of pursuing an NBA title here would begin anew.
For Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, that hope died with the final buzzer Saturday night.
There was no confetti, no "Brook-lyn!" chant, no jubilant locker room celebration or winner's podium at the postgame press conference.
The 63-year-old coaching sage, who had helped guide the newly arrived franchise to the second-most wins in franchise history (49), a team-record 24 road victories and home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs, received only his walking papers after the season-ending loss. And he didn't have to wait long to get them.
"The Brooklyn Nets organization would like to thank P.J. for his efforts with the team in his roles as both head coach and assistant, and for his contributions to the team's success both on and off the court," Nets general manager Billy King, on the direct orders of Prokhorov, stated only a few hours after Brooklyn was ousted by the banged-up but brave Bulls. "We wish P.J. and his family only the best in years to come."
Nice sentiment, but a pink slip nonetheless.
The writing for Carlesimo's ousting was on the wall far before the Bulls celebrated at the Nets' expense Saturday night. Barring a miraculous run to the NBA Finals, Prokhorov appeared intent on making the latest of his bold moves since assuming ownership duties from Downtown real estate magnate Bruce Ratner four years ago.
After spending upwards of $330 million this past summer to reinvigorate the roster and refresh the Nets' brand, the Russian billionaire fired the NBA's reigning Coach of the Month, Avery Johnson, after an 11-4 November turned into a 3-11 start to December. Carlesimo, Johnson's top assistant at the time, took over the reins and did a strong, if not masterful job, of navigating what easily could have become a sinking ship to the playoffs.
But Carlesimo, a loser in four first-round playoff series during a star-crossed career as an NBA head coach, doesn't bring with him the star power and sex appeal of say a Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan or even a Jeff Van Gundy, all of whom have been mentioned this week as possible candidates to be the next head man in Brooklyn.
"I think short of winning a championship, it wouldn't have made any difference. I mean, Billy was pretty candid," Carlesimo admitted during his round of radio interviews earlier this week after getting the hook Sunday morning. "Had we won [Game 7] Saturday and advanced and were getting ready to play the Heat [Monday], I think anything short of winning a championship wasn't going to change his mind or [Prokhorov's] mind."
"Philosophically, I think Billy and the organization wanted someone that they felt was more in line with their thoughts and the way they felt about the roster and the whole situation going forward," Carlesimo added while making it known that he would be open-minded to virtually any NBA suitor in need of a new head coach.
In the NBA, as in any major pro sports league, you fire the coach before you change the players. Carlesimo's firing, only four-plus months after Johnson was shown the door following the Nets' up-and-down start, is a clear indicator that $98 million point guard Deron Williams, high-priced sharp-shooter Joe Johnson, All-Star center Brook Lopez and whoever else remains on the roster for next year will get another shot at proving they can displace the Knicks as New York's team and deliver the Nets their first-ever NBA title.
'I think we have a great group of the guys in the locker room. I just think, like I said, we talked about the word inconsistency all year. I think we just need to find a way to be more consistent, especially mentally,'' Williams said after Game 7. ''I think that's what got us in this series, is just the toughness, the mental breakdowns.''
The most severe of those cerebral failures came in Game 4, when the Nets somehow squandered a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead in the final three minutes of regulation, then lost the critical contest in triple-overtime.
Down three games to one, however, Carlesimo's crew rose from the ashes to grab the next two games, bringing Brooklyn home for what many felt would be a Game 7 celebration as the shorthanded Bulls appeared to be on life support.
But the Nets couldn't pull the plug, and instead saw their dream season die, killing the hopes of their fervent supporters in the process.
Win or Go Home quickly turned into Win or P.J. Goes Home, which he did, albeit with the same class and poise he displayed during a tumultuous all-too-brief stay at the helm of this ultimately misguided ship.
"They felt I wasn't the guy, so they gotta get the guy in here they want," Carlesimo admitted. "It was a great opportunity, it was a nice job. This franchise is in great shape right now in terms of the move to Brooklyn and Barclays Center and everything is on the uptick right now.
"The roster is a good roster, it's a little tight, there's not a lot of flexibility going forward, but Billy and Mikhail Prokhorov are willing to do what they have to do to be successful, so I think it will be a very good opportunity for somebody," he added.
That "somebody" will enter his new post armed with the knowledge that going 38-23 over the final 61 games after inheriting a 14-14 team wasn't nearly good enough for the previous guy.
Good luck P.J. And HELLO OFFSEASON.
Hoop du Jour: The Bulls, to their credit, didn't show any letdown after dispatching the Nets. Missing starters Kirk Heinrich and Luol Deng, and still without last year's MVP Derrick Rose, Chicago stunned the Heat in Game 1 on Monday night, pulling out a 93-86 victory in South Beach as former Poly Prep star Joakim Noah had 13 points and 11 rebounds despite playing through plantar fasciatis in his right foot. Noah burned the Nets for 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots in Saturday night's Game 7, with up to 25 friends and family members on hand at Barclays. ''I'll remember this for the rest of my life,'' Noah said after eliminating the Nets on their home floor. ... The Nets have already intimated that they have reached out to Phil Jackson for the head coaching position. The winner of a record 11 NBA titles with the Bulls and Lakers, Jackson recently took on an advisory position with the Detroit Pistons. Carlesimo doesn't believe Jackson will wind up in Brooklyn. "Obviously he's always been linked to this job ... but it seems that's not on his wish list anymore," Carlesimo noted earlier this week. "From what I'm reading and hearing all the time, he wants a Pat Riley-type situation, a team where he can do that [be in the front office], that obviously would not be the case in Brooklyn." ... As for Jerry Sloan, who coached Williams in Utah before the two reportedly had a falling out that resulted in the coach's departure, the Nets' point guard indicated that he would look forward to a reunion here in Brooklyn next season. "I'd love to play for coach Sloan again," Williams said. "I would listen," Sloan told Comcast Sports Net Northwest when asked if he would be interested in the Nets job. "I haven't done the research on their roster, but I would definitely listen if they called."
For continuing coverage of the Nets' coaching search, look back here Thursday afternoon or read Friday's Brooklyn Daily Eagle print edition.