An Adult is Now in Charge

This time around, the red carpet wasn’t rolled out. The press conference didn’t need to take place on the main stage within the Barclays Center. The press room would suffice. After all, this event was about substance, not style.

In hiring Lionel Hollins, the Brooklyn Nets went in a different direction from where they were a year ago. The organization took a risk with Jason Kidd and was ultimately burned by the player the fan base had grown to love. It appears now we have someone who wants to be here and this isn’t just a stepping stone for the next quick promotion.

In listening to Hollins speak during his introductory press conference as well as the sports-talk radio circuit, one thing is certain – he exudes professionalism. He showed his appreciation to front office and clearly respects the roles of his bosses. He admitted to being humbled by being out of the NBA last year and you can tell that he is genuinely grateful for the opportunity to coach this Nets team.

It took a few years, but the Nets finally appear to have their leader.

It took a few years, but the Nets finally appear to have their leader.

You get the impression that the Nets won’t have worry about being embarrassed by the actions of their new leader. I am not referring to the misdemeanor charges unrelated to basketball, but the shenanigans Kidd displayed last year – the abrupt reassignment of Lawrence Frank, “Soda-Gate”, and then the attempted power play against Billy King which ultimately cost him his job.

With Hollins the Nets now have a coach who has paid his dues throughout his coaching career including: assistant roles, interim tags, and brief stints with the USBL and IBL. He admitted to being low maintenance and was embarrassed by the billboards and attention drawn to his hiring. He is a man who knows who he is and declared that it isn’t about him, but the players.

I believe I’m a leader.”

A year ago, the Nets saw the need for a heart transplant when the Chicago Bulls eliminated them in a decisive Game 7 on their own home court. The trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce was in theory supposed to fill this void and make the Nets a tougher team. It helped to some degree, but there is definitely room for more growth.

With any organization, sports or not, the tone is always set from the top. Your identity comes from your leader. It’s no wonder why the Bulls or Spurs seem to play the same no matter who’s on the roster. In Hollins, the Nets have a coach whose goal is cultivate a tough mentality and develop leadership qualities within the players. After all, his Memphis team’s mantra was “Grit and Grind”. Should Pierce and Garnett return to Brooklyn, Hollins would have two representatives on the court and in the locker room who will help him carry out his mission.

Throughout the last few weeks, Hollins has been unfairly labeled as someone who’s unable to adjust his style of coaching and that his system is antiquated by today’s standards. Since his hiring, he has made it clear that it was the Grizzlies personnel which dictated that slower pace of play. It was what made them successful, and I am sure very few people in Memphis were unsatisfied with the results. He also cited that in Vancouver they played more up-tempo with Mike Bibby and Shareef Abdur-Rahim on a roster which also included Bryant Reeves.

Hollins admitted that having a year off allowed him to view the game differently and in assessing the team, he wants to play at a quicker pace in comparison to how the Nets played last season. He even referenced that his former mentor, Cotton Fitzsimmons, always said that “you can never have too many shooters”.

For Nets fans fearful that his hiring means the end of Mirza Teletovic, think again. This roster has the ability to stretch the floor with their outside shooting and if Hollins is true to his word, it’s unlikely that he will try to shove a square peg into a round hole.

Nets fans can only hope Hollins can elevate Brook Lopez's game as he did with Marc Gasol's.

Nets fans can only hope Hollins can elevate Brook Lopez’s game much like what he did with Marc Gasol’s.

An old-school coach doesn’t necessarily mean to a return to the Avery Johnson era. Johnson’s micromanaging ways earned him the nickname “The Little General” or “The Little Dictator” to the players who weren’t as fond. It didn’t bode well that the “dictatorship” comment came from the likes of Dirk Nowitzki.

Hollins may be tough and demanding but there seems to be a difference between him and Johnson. Where Johnson was a type-A personality, Hollins doesn’t seem rigid to that extent. His former players admitted the difficulty of his training camps, but they understood the purpose and saw the benefit. To me, Hollins is that tough teacher you had who expected a lot and held you to a high standard, but you respected him for it. For some players on the Nets roster, that type of leader can hopefully bring out their best and further develop their talents.

Lionel Hollins may lack the pizzazz of Jason Kidd, but it appears the Nets are in a better place today than they were yesterday. Their new head coach wants to do just that – coach. He doesn’t appear to be the type that will let jealously control his actions, something we saw in Kidd when first-time head coaches (Steve Kerr, Derek Fisher) received more lucrative contracts and Stan Van Gundy was fully empowered in Detroit.

The Nets are now led by someone who had to take the long road to accomplish what he has. He has earned the opportunities presented to him rather than simply getting what he wanted on demand.

The Nets may have lost Kidd, but they’ve replaced him with an adult in Hollins.

Why PJ Had to Go

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.

pj carlesimo nets

Carlesimo consistently struggled to make the necessary in-game adjustments.

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.

gerald wallace reggie evans

Evans and Wallace’s offensive ineptitude fueled the fans’ frustration with the coaching staff.

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.

pj carlesimo with nets

The playoffs showcased that the Nets lacked the right leadership and system.

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.