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Much in the same way incumbent top assistant coaches rarely act as a new-and-improved voice when they take over for fired head coaches, former Brooklyn Nets coach Avery Johnson never had a chance with his team. He had the stink of Old Nets on him from Day One of the team’s first game in Brooklyn, a carryover from East Rutherford and Newark and those old red, white and blue uniforms. It didn’t matter that Deron Williams had been playing under him for 20 months by the time the team’s Brooklyn Era began, purely because Williams never took that time seriously.
Williams, unable to get out of that rebuilding rut with the same old voice on the sideline, began his first year in Brooklyn with a terrible two months of play. Johnson didn’t adjust, and as a result (as first reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski), the disappointing Nets have let Avery go.
Williams is the reason Johnson won’t be a Net into 2013. Williams' sub-40-percent shooting and inability to curb his insistence on chucking 3-pointers (despite a 29 percent mark from long range) did in the former Dallas Mavericks coach. But it’s also probably true that Avery wasn’t right for this job. Williams refuses to be the penetrator he was in Utah, that’s to be sure, but it was always going to take a different voice to pull something new out of the team’s most important player – and you can’t bide time for 67 games with Williams during a rebuilding project from February 2011 until April 2012 and expect the same voice and player to flip the switch once they get some free-agent help.
It’s human nature, sadly. Johnson and Williams never got over working in that rebuilding mode. On top of that, Johnson rarely adjusted and expectations weren’t met. His team has been hit by injuries and his roster was less than ideal in spots. High-priced players, workers featuring contracts that weren’t always on par with production. An $83.5 million lineup, four players making double-figure salaries and a .500 record. Throw in the nationally televised Christmas day embarrassment that saw no Net besides Gerald Wallace seeming to care about his team’s fortunes, the fortune the team’s high-profile owners were spending and the decidedly un-cool and old-school New York Knicks running away with the division, and you can see why it got to be too much.
You can also see, even if this team played in Bismarck, N.D., why Avery had to go.
He wasn’t adapting well. There were instances of the Nets running Williams’ cherished flex cuts, but by and large this team seemed to serve as a reaction to Johnson’s frustrating loss to an isolation-heavy Miami Heat squad in the 2006 Finals. Most gave the Nets 50- or 55-win credibility entering the season based off the ability for Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez -- and any number of big men -- turning themselves into a fearsome pick-and-roll outfit. Throw in Wallace, desperately crashing a few more times before his wheels fall off, and the Nets had enough to make it interesting at the top of the Atlantic.
General manager Billy King, even after the Nets split their first 28 games and even with Williams currently sidelined with a wrist injury, seemed to think the same. No player on this team is fireable, not with those salaries, and King himself surely isn’t going to take the blame for the roster that he and Williams and owner Mikhail Prokhorov wanted to put together. As a result, as it is in the NBA, Avery gets the axe.
Sadly, it’s probably for the best. Partially because Williams never seemed to get over Johnson acting as coach of the Newark Nets, and partially because Avery didn’t hold up his end of the bargain with a roster that was more or less in place by mid-July.
Those deadening factors – tuned out by the team, turning us off with his play calls – helped show Johnson the door. It was apparent from the summer that Johnson was going to have to construct a top-five offense in order to make up for his roster’s slow-moving feet on defense, and the Nets currently stand at 10th in offensive efficiency (with the caveat that Lopez has missed a quarter of his team’s games) with a No. 19 rating on defense that cannot be sloughed off by pointing to the fact that his former team was littered with sluggish defenders.
It was a coach-killing move, make no mistake. Williams kvetched to the media and didn’t hold up his end of his maximum-salaried bargain by declining to penetrate and making crummy percentages of his crummy-percentage shots. And it’s no fault of Avery’s that he was probably, despite his championship pedigree, looked on as a holdover from New Jersey.
Johnson didn’t adapt to the big-city chaos, though. We can’t forget that, even as we focus our gaze once again on Deron Williams, Destroyer of Clipboards.
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