Despite high-profile names like Phil Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy being tossed around, Brooklyn Nets general manager Billy King says he has “not contacted anybody” about becoming the permanent replacement for recently fired head coach Avery Johnson.
King told Ian O’Connor during an interview on ESPN New York 98.7 FM on Sunday morning that the team “supports” interim coach P.J. Carlesimo and will “re-evaluate” things moving forward, while deflecting questions about Jackson by repeatedly saying “P.J.’s our coach.”
“We’ve put our support behind (P.J.) and then we’ll look at things and evaluate it later,” King said. “I know people have been throwing lists together and things like that, but we have not contacted anybody. … We’ve made the move and now we’re going to let P.J. coach.”
While King didn’t want to put a timetable on anything, he did suggest that Carlesimo could conceivably finish out the season, calling it “a great opportunity” for Johnson’s former assistant, who has several years of NBA head coaching experience under his belt with three other franchises.
Sources had told ESPN.com that the Nets have made Jackson, an 11-time NBA coaching champion, their top target to replace Johnson on a permanent basis. But when King was asked about when he was going to contact Jackson, he replied, “I don’t know how many times I can say it or Mikhail can say it. P.J.’s our coach. We’re gonna let him coach and then re-evaluate things. I know Mikhail said it about 10 times when he was asked, and I’ve been saying it, and I think people just keep dismissing what we say.”
Prokhorov spent $330 million to improve the Nets’ roster in the offseason and said a successful first season in Brooklyn would be defined by a trip to the Eastern Conference finals. Given those high expectations — the Nets are in the third-year of Prokhorov’s five-year championship plan — it seems reasonable the Nets would contact the biggest names on the market.
Carlesimo, who is 2-0 since taking over for Johnson with wins over the Charlotte Bobcats and Cleveland Cavaliers, said Saturday he believes the possibility of retaining the job for the rest of the season is “available” to him. Carlesimo had a fancy lunch meeting in New York City with Prokhorov Saturday, but declined to discuss specifics of what was said about his future.
“Sometimes you just need a different voice,” King said. “What I like about P.J. is he’s had NBA head coaching experience. I think he understands the game, he’s been around it.”
King believes this is a good time to give Carlesimo an opportunity to lead the team.
“More than anything, you just need to calm the waters and let guys breathe as a group and try to gel,” King said. “Because if we’re in the middle of a search, the turmoil just continues. We need our guys to just focus on the now and San Antonio (on Monday).”
Van Gundy is held in high regard by the Nets, but a league source said he needs to learn more about the organization before determining his level of interest in the job. He also would prefer taking over after the season, not during it, the source said.
“I would never comment on a job that was filled,” Van Gundy told Yahoo! Sports, which first reported his preference to wait until after the season. “I was an interim coach. I hope P.J. has great success there. He’s someone I respect greatly.”
Kelvin Sampson, Nate McMillan and Mike Dunleavy have been other names mentioned to take over for the Nets.