Hooker: Firing Johnson Panic Move By Nets

By Chris Hooker

There’s a reason why fans don’t work in the front offices.

I don’t want to call out fans. Few on this planet are bigger ones than I am. I love basketball and I love the Nets, probably too much for my own good. This is why I am particularly upset at Billy King and Mikhail Prokhorov for acting like Deron-Williams-jersey-wearing-Brooklynites.

The thing is, fans are stupid. They overreact, they’re hopelessly optimistic, they draw insane conclusions and they read into things that don’t even matter. We spend morning, noon and night thinking about and breaking down our teams, playing out unlikely and impossible scenarios in our head. When we watch games, we shout inane things at the television or at the court from our seat in the stands. We yell obscenities and irrational statements that, if played back on a tape recorder, probably would have been contradicted several times throughout the course of a two-and-a-half hour basketball game. There is a reason why most of us here are fans and not general managers or vice presidents.

When the Nets have a bad month following a great month, it’s okay for fans to demand for a coach’s head. In fact, that’s normal, even encouraged. It’s a good thing if fans aren’t accepting stretches of bad basketball. It means they are die-hards, it means that they care about the direction of their team. If a fan watches a game and jumps to a gut-conclusion on Twitter, like, “Fire Avery because he had a bad December!” it means that person watched enough of the Nets to know they had a bad December and cares enough about that team to voice his or her opinion. For a brand new team in a new city, that is only a good thing. That’s what sports is about. But then, that fan should go to bed and wake up with the same head coach with that team because general managers aren’t supposed to overreact to bad stretches like dumb fans.

Yes, every reason Billy King gave for firing Avery Johnson is true. He went 3-10 in his last 13 games as the Nets coach. He may have been losing his players. Perhaps his system wasn’t the best fit for the Brooklyn Nets roster that King constructed.

And, really, most additional reasons the fans gave for wanting Avery gone were also likely true. He appeared to clash with players, recently MarShon Brooks and Kris Humphries. At one point he wasn’t Brook Lopez’s biggest supporter. Deron’s comments only stoked that fire. Surely, he played some questionable rotations and his idea of team defense wasn’t really yet working.

But still, doesn’t this move reek of desperation? Isn’t it a classic panic move?

Avery Johnson was hired two years ago. He coached two below-terrible teams and he was a reason Deron Williams chose to return. He was given less then two months in the era he helped lead the Nets into. His team probably overachieved the first month, and probably underachieved in the second month. The team had nine new players, and most of the returning roster hadn’t even played long enough to get to know each other’s styles before this season.

Sure, Avery wasn’t the most effective coach right now. No one would deny that. But how can someone establish himself as a proper head coach after 28 games with an entirely new roster in an entirely new city and stadium with an entirely new fan base? 14-14 isn’t an ideal record by any means, but could it have been worse?

Why not just keep Avery Johnson on the bench the rest of the season? Why not just let the struggles happen, let the good times roll, let a potential roller coaster of a season go on? Does firing a coach a third of the season in only to replace him with a new face and a new system really make the team better right now? After all, isn’t that why they chose to fire the man today?

Ever since Mikhail Prokhorov signed on, and the Nets hired Billy King and Avery Johnson, every move they have made have been about making a ‘splash.’ First it was with Avery himself, then with LeBron, Carmelo, Dwight. Even the Gerald Wallace trade could be put under that category. Each major decision has been quick and in win-now-as-in-right-this-very-second mode. There is no time for gelling, for chemistry building, for putting together a team. It’s all supposed to just happen. It’s all manufactured.

When the Nets locked themselves into this roster, I was excited about the potential of having a consistent group. I was ready to watch a team grow together. For the first time since the departure of Jason Kidd, the Nets had a team. Not a collection of fill-in role players as they awaited the next big thing, but a group of guys who would stay and be successful together. The first 28 games have been a disappointment, but isn’t that what growth is all about? Isn’t that why a season is 82 games, and why players are locked into contracts that last years on years?

Billy King gave the fans what they wanted, but the problem is, most fans don’t know what they are talking about. Avery may not have been the answer, but how can we be so sure that he was the problem?


  1. unfortunately,alot of fans including yourself dont have insider information—
    one of Johnsons former net players-told me over a year ago that no veteran wants to play for Avery–meaning he believed free agent signings would be difficult with Johnson as head coach AND that once the nets got better-Avery would be fired

    lastly,he stated that the nets really didnt want Avery as head coach but no one else wanted the job 2 years ago —therefore,it was well known internally that johnsons coaching career would be temporary

  2. to Hooker,
    you obviously believe what you read–big mistake–players ,coaches use the press for their own needs–to be specific–Johnson was not a reason for DWill to sign an extension—it was ALL ABOUT THE MONEY–

  3. I think one reason to think he was the problem is that the players who work with him on a day to day basis felt like he was the problem. The assistant coaches aren’t going to contradict him because he is their boss. But after the assistant coaches, the players are in the best position to judge their coach. They may not have the right tools to judge him, but they do see him and see his decisions and coaching every day. So they have far more data to work with than any fan or the media.
    Avery had the head coaching job for what has to be considered one of top basketball teams in the world (I’m using a broad definition here and I’m comparing the Nets to all basketball teams down to high school level. Each of those teams has a coach). Do you think he was an elite basketball mind? If he isn’t, why is he getting paid millions to coach? Why out of the 100,000 basketball coaches in this country is he in the top 0.01%? Me, I just didn’t see it.

  4. The team had a great start because of the new Brooklyn running through their veins and then when it sunk in their coach was Avery they gave up.

    look at all the terrible games in December. They lost to MIL 2x, they barely beat Det, it was a miracle they beat Tor despite TOr missing all their players.

    Ownership has been watching the product and realized the team gave up. Instead of waiting until the season was wasted they salvaged the season by acting decisively.

  5. Just a hint, but Brooklynites who are just wearing the Nets gear, are either: (1) hipsters that know nothing or (2) NYers who have been watching basketball their entire lives and really want the Nets to succeed. This isn’t about a fan base panicking. When every commentator shares the sentiments that the fanbase and the players are complaining about, then there’s something real to address. It was less of a panic than a pandemic of terrible offensive schemes (or lackthereof) that everybody saw. No matter how inexperienced one is in watching basketball, one does realize the offense runs better when the ball is moving and not stagnant.

    1. Funny story: my teenage niece, who is a very casual Celtics fan, watched the Xmas day game with me. After about 10 minutes she asked me what my team was trying to do. It just didn’t make any sense to her. I explained that this was the Nets’ “system” for the last two years and she gave me a confused look.

  6. If he lost the locker room, that’s a HUGE problem. Yeah he had a lot to balance, and he had just tried to shake things up offensively, which would not have worked within the first few games. But if a coach loses a locker room, its game over for them. It’s done.

  7. what some people don’t realize is how bad the Nets were the past month. Do you know they were within 10 pts of being 0-13? they almost lost to a horrible Toronto team with none of their best players, it took them 2 OT to be a bad Detroit team, and after getting 3 days off they barely the sixers.
    if the team was 0-13 would you have fired Avery then? Its been that bad.

  8. Billy King gave Proky what he wanted, which was a huge payroll.

    Fans wanted a good team that would be exciting to watch and could compete.

    Billy King didn’t deliver that.

  9. I agree with you, Hooker. I do think this was a Steinbrenneresque panic move that may scare off high-profile coaches, and a lot of fans are boneheads. Be a fan, not a lunatic. It’s entertainment, treat it as such. Calling to trade Hump ASAP when he can’t be traded. Now trade D Will when he’s still better than most PGs while having career lows.

    While they were solid defensively, they did look lost offensively and seemed to regress. But new team, early in the season I don’t think Phil Jax or Red Auerbach would have fared a whole lot better, especially without Lopez for an extended stretch.

    I fear the panicking isn’t done and a bad contract trade will come before the deadline. Remember that stretch when the Knicks hired all these big name coaches and still had little success – Lenny Wilkins, Larry Brown. I hope we don’t see that here.

    1. Nets are not solid defensively, they just play at the slowest pace in the league.

      They are 19th in defensive rating, and teams have started to realize that you should run the ball on the Nets at every opportunity, including made baskets by the Nets, because the Nets are slow getting back on defense.

  10. you can say all these things about the Knicks also, the headlines, the splash, the bad decisions, panic moves, and so on and so forth. And this has been happening since the Dolan’s took over, check the facts…

  11. avery johnson didn’t do anything wrong during his time this season with the nets. We got off to a 11-4 start because we mainly played bad teams. deron williams has just not performed well and joe johnson is only finally starting to click. these last few games he has been guard-happy and needs to start playing Evans and Humphries more as well as marshon who is a lot better then keith bogans.

    1. Avery’s offense and defensive systems are terrible, and as they failed before his eyes, he said he would make changes, but only the words changed, not his strategies.

  12. Chris I don’t really understand the argument you’re making here. You’re kind of all over the place. First you list a dozen reasons why it was a right to fire him (offensive system, slow pace, squabbles with players, poor record, etc) then the only reason you can come up with for why he should have stayed is “well it could have been worse, right?”

    If you wanted to talk about how it takes a long time for a group of guys who haven’t really played much together to mesh as a group, that’s fine. But to say “Why not just ride it out with a coach who wasn’t getting results?” is, frankly, lazy. Then you blame the fans? Insulting.

    This isn’t about the fans. This is about a team that has the talent to play fast but plays slow. This is about a big strong and quick point guard who excelled in pick and roll situations and driving to the basket in Utah jacking 6 three-pointers a game. This is about a team that was incredibly fun to watch in November, zipping the ball around, extra passes, extra passes, everyone is involved, turning into the most selfish team I’ve watched in years.

    Whatever it was that Avery was doing in November that got them an 11-4 record and a “Coach of the Month” award disappeared over the last month. This team went from very good to very bad without changing players. Want to blame Brook’s injury? Fine. What about their 2-5 record since he returned? Or the fact that he’s not even getting 30 minutes a night this season?

    Fact is, he was finally given a team of talented individuals and could not get them to play well (or even decently) when times got tough. Like I’m sure you did, I watched all 82 games in 09-10 and I’ve been less interested in watching them play the past few weeks than I was that season.

    The talent is there. The results are not. Ultimately that falls on the coach. Sub-par results from Avery and honestly Chris, sup-par effort from you on this column.