The sports world is up in arms over the firing of PJ Carlesimo. After all, he guided the Brooklyn Nets to a 35-19 record after taking over for Avery Johnson. The Nets finished in 4th place in the Eastern Conference before being eliminated in seven games to the Chicago Bulls. Sounds like a successful season for the Nets considering they won 49 games compared to the 46 wins the previous two years.
On the surface it was a successful season, but if you watched the Nets closely there were a number of troubling signs throughout the year. The majority of their wins came against the bottom half of the league. There were some quality wins (at OKC, sweeping the Pacers, & splitting with the Knicks), however, they consistently struggled against the league’s upper echelon and in most cases they weren’t competitive. What’s ironic is that the same sports media that criticized the Nets for their mediocre record against winning teams were the same people that lambasted the decision to fire Carlesimo.
Throughout the season, a disturbing trend with the Nets was the inability to start strong in the second half. Usually big halftime leads were squandered while the offense lacked cohesiveness and the defense lacked focus. It was crystal clear that the opposing coaching staffs were able to make the necessary adjustments during the intermission while the Nets seemed disorganized.
Carlesimo showed stubbornness to change his rotations, especially when the offense was flat. When he initially took over the job, he hinted that there would be more of Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche together on the court. Instead he remained loyal to the Gerald Wallace/Reggie Evans duo which severely limited the offense. Players who could have potentially helped (Mirza Teletovic and MarShon Brooks) were never properly developed nor given a real chance to excel.
The playoff series against Chicago was a microcosm of the Nets season. They showed a small glimpse of explosiveness in Game 1, but seemed overmatched in the other games. Even in their other victories they struggled mightily. What was amazing about this was that even though the Bulls were severely shorthanded, Tom Thibodeau proved that his coaching system could suffocate the Nets’ offense no matter who was playing. It also didn’t help that Carlesimo’s lack of offensive creativity accentuated the coaching discrepancy.
To lose the decisive Game 7 on their own court showed that this team lacked the passion and leadership to be a legit contender. Surely, blame can be put on the players as Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, and Deron Williams seemed too passive at times, but ultimately it is on the coach to instill the tough-minded, winning attitude.
If Carlesimo proved that he couldn’t beat the decimated Bulls with home court advantage, then why proceed into the future with him at the coaching helm? If a relationship isn’t going anywhere and has no real potential, then the difficult decision to end things has to be made. Otherwise you are simply postponing the inevitable.
It is a shame that Carlesimo is out of a job, but that is the unfortunate reality in the coaching profession. He just wasn’t the right guy for this job.