One of the memorable lyrics in the philosophical 1966 Frank Sinatra hit, “That’s Life,” was when Ol’ Blue Eyes crooned, “You’re riding high in April; Shot down in May!” Former Brooklyn Nets head coach Avery Johnson can certainly relate. In November he was named the NBA Eastern Conference Coach of the Month. Last Thursday, following his team’s lethargic 3-10 record for December, he was fired by Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
Most of the media pointed to guard Deron Williams as the impetus for Prokhorov’s decision. The moody Williams clashed with his old Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan two years ago and sparking his trade to the Nets. Sloan, one of the most respected coaches in hoops history, allegedly saw Deron as the prototypically spoiled and overpaid NBA star and decided to retire rather than deal with him.
It is somewhat ironic that a week before Avery Johnson’s firing, Williams talked about how much more comfortable he was playing under Jerry Sloan’s offensive scheme than the one employed by Johnson.
While it would be easy to paint the events of last week in Nets-ville as a modern day retelling of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” with Williams as Brutus and Johnson as the great Roman leader, it would not be accurate.
In his post-firing press conference, Johnson refused to place blame at Williams’ feet and instead griped about how it was hard to have highly compensated athletes listen to, and respect him, when his salary was a fraction of theirs and that they knew that he did not have a contract for next season. As was clear with the Philadelphia Eagles in their game with the Giants last Sunday, players do not go all out when they believe that the people evaluating them will not have their jobs next year.
In Deron’s defense, he has the maximum five-year, $100 contract allowed by the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, so he has little to benefit by engaging in coaching politics. He stated quite vociferously that he did not want to relive the vilification that came at the end of his playing days in Salt Lake City and I believe him. My guess is that he praised the offensive system employed by the Jazz because he has not so far, by his own admission, lived up to the big contract that the Nets gave him last July.
Last Friday night Mikhail Prokhorov met with the press at the Barclays Center and admitted that he made up his mind to fire Johnson the week before. My timetable puts that as right after the Knicks ran the Nets out of Madison Square Garden on December 19. He probably waited longer than he wanted to because of the bad PR that would come with firing a coach right before Christmas.
Prokhorov made it clear that he feels that interim head coach PJ Carlesimo is the right man to turn the Nets ship around. Despite the media’s best pestering, he refused to discuss the possibility of Phil Jackson coaching in Brooklyn. “We’ll talk to the usual suspects if we have to,” Prokhorov deadpanned.
Mike Dunlap, who coached the St. John’s Red Storm men’s basketball team last year as Steve Lavin was receiving prostate cancer medical treatment, was in the Barclays Center last Friday night as the head of the NBA’s woeful Charlotte Bobcats. “Coaching the Red Storm last year definitely prepared me for this job. New York City basketball fans are free with their criticism but they are knowledgeable; 99 percent of the time they are right in what they are saying,” Dunlap said. He added that he is in touch with a lot of folks at St. John’s including sports information director Mark Fratto.
You know things are changing at the New York Times when last Saturday its sports editor decided to dedicate three pages to Knicks forward JR Smith’s tattooed body.
Former Knicks general manager and head coach, the oft-maligned Isiah Thomas, has signed on to be a commentator for cable’s NBA TV. I realize that I am in the minority, but I got along just fine with Isiah. He always answered my questions without the slightest hint of condescension or annoyance. He also did not favor big media outlets over smaller ones, which is practically de rigeur in sports and encouraged by too many misguided team public relations directors. Even his detractors concede that Isiah knows the game. He should provide some interesting insights to viewers.
Despite Saturday’s inclement weather, Yankees president Randy Levine declared the third annual Pinstripe Bowl its most successful to date. “We sold over 40,000 tickets,” Levine beamed. He estimated that the game has a $25-$30 million positive impact for the New York economy. There is little doubt that a lot of Syracuse and West Virginia fans utilized hotel rooms and restaurants.
At a press conference two hours before the game, Randy reminisced about George Steinbrenner’s love of college football. “The Boss” was a Cleveland native who was a big Ohio State booster. According to Levine, Steinbrenner used to occasionally wear a Buckeyes championship ring into the Yankees clubhouse just to annoy Derek Jeter, who grew up in Kalamazoo cheering for the arch rival University of Michigan Wolverines.
Here is a good reason why the Yankees always stay a step ahead of the Mets and it has nothing to do with spending big money. Last week the Yankees signed former Atlanta Braves outfielder Matt Diaz to a minor league contract. Diaz, while far from an all-star, is a pretty good hitter. Given the anemic state of the Mets outfield, it’s disappointing that Mets general manager Sandy Alderson did not sign him.
It was a nice touch by the Brooklyn Nets to have legendary vocalist Darlene Love perform at halftime on Christmas. A few years ago the Knicks had Martha Reeves sing “Heat Wave” and “Dancing In The Streets” during intermission of a game. I wish that this would happen more frequently.
On the topic of sports and music, one of my favorite nights at Citi Field in 2012 was when REO Speedwagon performed a full concert following a Mets game. Given the way things are looking for our Flushing heroes, they would be well-advised to book more concerts following games this season.