When Avery Johnson was hired as coach of the New Jersey Nets before last season, everyone, including me, thought it was a great hire. Avery had proven himself in Dallas, leading that team to one of the best records in the NBA year after year. He always seemed to fall short in the playoffs, and this is why he was fired, but after a 12-70 season, the least of the Nets worries were going far in the playoffs. Another reason why we all thought Avery was a great hire is because he is a former player and most players really like him. He would be an excellent recruiter to get players to come to New Jersey (or more importantly Brooklyn), and players would want to play hard for him.
However, since Avery has come to the Nets, the team has really not performed well. The team is 40-92, good for a .303 winning percentage. That is not good at all. If Avery were the coach of a team with slightly higher expectations, I don’t think he would still be around. He wouldn’t have even lasted half a season if he was coaching the Knicks with that record. The players still like him, and Nets GM and owner Billy King and Mikhail Prokhorov still support him fully, but he has really underperformed as coach of the Nets, especially this year. Even though the Nets have suffered a ton of injuries, they are still performing lower than their talent level. The one reason I say this is Deron Williams. He alone should be able to lead a team to playoff contention. Deron has had a pretty good season statistically, but he is clearly not happy playing in New Jersey and his attitude, especially recently, has been awful. When a star player like Deron has a bad attitude, you have to give some of the blame to the coach. I think that Deron is still competing, but I think Avery might be a little bit afraid to just tell Deron to shut up sometimes. Avery should fight battles with the referees, not Deron. Deron just needs to play basketball.
Another issue I have noticed with Avery’s coaching is the progression of Marshon Brooks. At the beginning of the year, Marshon was a rookie of the year candidate, and he should only have gotten better as the season went on. However, he has digressed and gotten worse both offensively and defensively (defensively is arguable, but he hasn’t improved) and some of the blame for this has to be on Avery. Some say that Marshon may have hit his “rookie wall”. I don’t buy this at all. This is not an excuse for stats dropping. There is no such thing as a rookie wall. Marshon should have continued to improve as the season went along.
Yet another aspect of Avery’s coaching that I don’t like is calling up plays in crunch time. A lot of this is Deron Williams’s fault, but a lot of it is the coach’s fault as well. The only game I can remember this year where something good happened in the last minute of the game was the Clippers games when Farmar nailed a buzzer-beating 3 to give the Nets a victory. And there are tons of instances where the Nets have either turned the ball over or taken a really bad shot when they needed a bucket. A couple of examples are the Hornets and Cavaliers games. Both of those were very winnable games that the Nets just couldn’t close out. Who knows, Avery could have called up great plays that the players just haven’t executed, but part of the blame has to go to the coach.
I don’t want to hate on Coach Avery too much in this article, and he has done some good things since coming to the Nets. Maybe the most important is that he has made the team appear like it is going to be a winner once it moves to Brooklyn, and this can attract free agents, though it has not done so yet. I think Avery has been a big part of changing the outside appearance of the franchise from one of complete failure to one of a good future. Another good thing that Avery has done is that he has completely transformed Kris Humphries. Before last season, The Hump was a complete garbage time nobody. Even with the Kardashian debacles, Kris has worked his way to become a very solid starter over the last two seasons, and has become an absolute monster on the glass. Avery deserves some of this credit, because it wasn’t like Kris was a rookie who was realizing his potential. Avery helped him create that potential.
I don’t want to say that the Nets should fire Avery this year because I still think he is a good coach who has just had some tough luck. But if they were to fire him, which is unlikely, there are plenty of coaches who they could hire. Phil Jackson is one unlikely choice. He coached the Kobe Lakers and Jordan Bulls, and has won 11 championships. He would definitely be able to attract free agents and create hype in Brooklyn, but I doubt he would want to take over what could be an “expansion franchise”. Another possibility is former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. He was Deron’s coach in Utah, but got fired some say because of Deron. If this was not the case and if they still have a good relationship, Sloan would be a good hire. Lastly, Illinois coach Bruce Webber was recently fired, and he was Deron’s coach in college, so Deron obviously likes him. I’m not so sure Webber is a very New York guy, but if the Nets want to keep Deron after this season, maybe it would be a good idea to give him a call.
I truly hope Avery works things out with the Nets and will stay with them long term, but his wins and losses so far do not look good. The Nets should definitely think about what they want to do with him in the offseason. What do all of you think? Do you think Avery’s a good coach? Do you want the Nets to keep him after this year? Can you think of anybody else that would be a better hire?