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As team slumps, Nets coach Johnson fired in month after he won Coach of the Month honors, one week after "Road to Brooklyn" welcome

After winning NBA Coach of the Month for November, and shortly after appearing in a webisode welcoming him to Brooklyn, Brooklyn Nets coach Avery Johnson saw his team stumble badly, and yesterday he was fired, in the third year of a three-year contract.

Johnson had managed the long exile in New Jersey, but, according to some accounts, had lost the confidence of some on his team, and had been unable to get a contract extension--and thus perceived power--from principal owner Mikhail Prokhorov. Pro sports is a business, and the biznizmen in Moscow were not pleased.

Hype vs. reality

As the New York Times reported:
On Thursday, Avery Johnson became the first head coach fired by the Brooklyn Nets because he failed to reach Deron Williams and because the Nets had slipped to 14-14 after a promising 11-4 start — and these things were most certainly related. 
But Johnson was fired, too, because the hype very quickly outpaced the reality in this maiden season in Brooklyn. The chic uniforms, the cool arena and the remade roster made the Nets easy to embrace. They invoked Jackie Robinson, borrowed a flagpole from Ebbets Field and traded on every ounce of Brooklyn zeitgeist. As Prokhorov and his lieutenants are now learning, it is easier to be hip than good.
I don't know if I'd call that hip, but it's certainly slick, the way they have used the Brooklyn brand.

Star-Ledger columnist Dave D'Alessandro wrote:
"Yeah," Billy King said. "It’s ironic."
If you define "irony" as an action made to conceal the notion that the team might be best served to torpedo everyone from the owner down to the franchise player, then we agree.
The Nets were careful in putting only Mikhail Prokhorov’s name on the news release announcing Johnson’s firing, ostensibly because a fellow who had been to five games and one practice has the necessary grasp of all this team’s problems.
King said a few times that "it was ownership’s decision" and that it was made "exclusive of talking to any player," but soon you’ll read elsewhere that Avery was incorrigible and that this was the GM’s call — compelled by a desperation to turn this season around because his neck is now on the line, and by a need to show some authority leading a franchise drowning in its own hubris.
D'Alessandro also nailed King's two-faced statement that interim coach P.J. Carlesimo was supposed to approach it as if he was here for ten years, but then the Nets announced that a search would begin immediately:
Like that was hard to figure out, considering they didn’t make Carlesimo available to wave at the cameras.

No bitterness?

As the Post beat writer wrote, Johnson handled the departure in a classy way:
Then again, Johnson's son, on Twitter, was much feistier:
He later backed away from such sentiments.

The press release

The brief press release was headlined Brooklyn Nets Relieve Avery Johnson of Coaching Duties
BROOKLYN—The Brooklyn Nets have relieved Avery Johnson of his head coaching duties, it was announced today by General Manager Billy King. A search for a new head coach will begin immediately.

“The Nets ownership would like to express thanks to Avery for his efforts and to wish him every success in the future,” said Brooklyn Nets principal owner Mikhail Prokhorov. Johnson was named head coach of the Nets on June 15, 2010. In two-plus seasons as head coach of the Nets, Johnson compiled a record of 60-116.
Road to Brooklyn

So it was no small irony that the latest webisode of Road to Brooklyn, on Jay-Z's Life + Times YouTube channel, features Johnson being welcome to the borough by MC/DJ Talib Kweli.

The welcome

"Hello, Brooklyn, I'm coach Avery Johnson of the Brooklyn Nets," Johnson tells the camera, then, to his host, "I'm so excited about being here, and excited about meeting you."

At Junior's, Johnson shakes hands with workers. You have a unique perspective on leadership, Kweli says, pointing out Johnson's been a player and a coach.

"I've actually been in their shoes," Johnson responds. "I know about all the different pressures... I know what it feels like to play injured... and also have to deal with the family side... I just think I have that unique perspective, It helps me in terms of being patient with them... It's a pretty unique situation, and I think it's been efficient for me, and hopefully my players see it that way."

He asks Kweli if he admires any one person from Brooklyn. Kweli cites Michael Jordan, Spike Lee, Mike Tyson, "people became iconic in the world."

"Even like Jay-Z, to have him part of our ownership group, is crazy," says Johnson.

Making an impact

They briefly reference the controversy over the arena. "Anytime a big change like this happens so quickly, it moves people," observes Kweli, asking Johnson what he'll do.

"We don't want to move into a building and play games. We want to be part of the community," Johnson responds. "We also gotta get into these rec centers... hospitals.. schools... because I think our players have such a powerful message, and we can impact this community in Brooklyn."

And they have, but that of course is not enough.

Kweli asks what the coach expects from his players.

"Brook Lopez needs to be an All-Star," Johnson responds. "He needs to dominate his position."

So far, Lopez has not done so, though he's had some good stretches.

Johnson shakes hands with a guy from the Bronx who says he's an ex-Knicks fan, but had too many disappointments. Maybe not now.

The sample cheesecake, and then visit the kitchen.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing you at the Barclays Center," Johnson tells his host.

"I'm here to see a championship," Kweli responds.

"You ain't here to see somebody just floating around," Johnson says in assent.


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