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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – As the New Jersey Nets relentlessly chase the worst record in NBA history, the losing has some bizarre and humiliating subplots. Here’s another: Assistant coach Del Harris just packed his bags and bailed on his buddy, Kiki Vandeweghe.
Harris crafted a diplomatic parting statement on Tuesday night, suggesting that Vandeweghe had a developed a good grasp of coaching and that Harris’ work was done. Two months and … gone?
Harris’ explanation makes no sense for good reason: It’s largely fictional.
Sources familiar with Harris’ decision suggested issues far less tidy: The Nets’ front office made it clear to Harris he wouldn’t make the short list of candidates to take over the head-coaching job this spring. Once Harris was told that, he decided he was done dealing with the immature elements of the Nets’ locker room.
“He decided he was just too old to deal with that [stuff],” a source said.
Not unless the Nets were eventually going to pay him a head coach’s salary, anyway. After Lawrence Frank’s firing, New Jersey president Rod Thorn brought on Harris, a two-time NBA Coach of the Year, to be Vandeweghe’s sounding board and X’s and O’s aide. This was never an audition for the big job.
At 4-44, there’s no darker hole in the league. So much uncertainty still hangs over the franchise’s future. Most of the organization’s top officials will be traveling to Dallas for All-Star weekend to meet incoming Russian owner, Mikhail Prokhorov. League sources say the owner will be approved by the NBA’s board of governors in March, after his work with the Russian Olympic team is finished at the Vancouver Games.
Between now and then, the Nets can’t do much. They’ll keep trying to move Chris Douglas-Roberts(notes), who’s fallen out of favor. And they’ll hold the threat of a D-League demotion over first-round pick Terrence Williams(notes) to keep him in line.
No one is sure how dramatic of changes that Prokhorov will make within the franchise, but this march to ignobility with the nine-win ’72-73 Philadelphia 76ers leaves no one feeling safe. Thorn wants to stay as team president, but there have been no assurances. His contract ends this summer. At least one executive in the league office believes Prokhorov has his eye on Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo, popular in the international basketball community, for the Nets’ top job. Others still believe Prokhorov will give Thorn a chance, based on strong backing from the commissioner’s office and the overall body of his work.
Even so, there are still far more questions than answers when it comes to the Russian, except for this: He’s worth $10 billion, smart, determined to win and walking into a league where most owners are hemorrhaging losses and refusing to spend. The Nets will move to the Prudential Center in downtown Newark, N.J., for the next two seasons until their Brooklyn arena is constructed. Work has started on that long-delayed project, and they’re expected to have a formal ribbon ceremony in March – once Prokhorov is officially approved.
Del Harris is gone, but the Nets play on. Barely.
The ownership bid of George Postolos in Charlotte promises a massive overhaul of the organization, and league sources expect that should the former Houston Rockets president take over the franchise two of his top candidates for general manager will be San Antonio Spurs assistant GM Dennis Lindsey and Rockets assistant GM Sam Hinkie.
Should Postolos take over, several league executives wonder whether Bobcats coach Larry Brown would use the ownership change as a way to free himself for a possible return to the Philadelphia 76ers. No one is sure about the fates of Sixers GM Ed Stefanski and coach Eddie Jordan should the team continue to struggle, but Brown has kept a good relationship with owner Ed Snider and his family is still living in Philly during the season.
League executives say between now and then Brown is determined to move point guard D.J. Augustin(notes) for a veteran big man. Michael Jordan and Rod Higgins wanted to draft Brook Lopez(notes) with the ninth pick in 2008, but Brown demanded they pass on the center for Augustin. Bobcats management had gone so far to tell Lopez’s agents they were picking him.
The Indiana Pacers have asked a steep price from the Cleveland Cavaliers for Troy Murphy(notes): Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes), J.J. Hickson(notes) and a No. 1 draft pick. So far, Cleveland has balked. The Pacers would buy out Z’s contract, though, and he would be free to return to the Cavs in 30 days. This is still the Cavs’ No. 2 option behind making a deal for Washington’s Antawn Jamison(notes). … Tyreke Evans(notes) will be the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, but he hasn’t completely endeared himself to teammates with the way he dominates the ball, league sources say. Make no mistake: Losing 16 of the past 18 games has played a big part with that. There are several teams – including Houston and the Dallas Mavericks – watching the dynamic between Evans and Kevin Martin(notes) and wondering whether the Kings will become motivated to trade Martin. So far, their talents don’t seem compatible. …Teams calling the Detroit Pistons about Richard Hamilton(notes) and Tayshaun Prince(notes) are finding out that GM Joe Dumars isn’t interested in expiring contracts, but getting value for his players. … The Mavericks have their eyes on Philadelphia’s Andre Iguodala(notes) and Sacramento’s Martin, but a source says they’ve lost interest with the Washington Wizards’ Caron Butler(notes) over his so-so season.