The Brooklyn Nets need a new permanent head coach after Avery Johnson’s dismissal. P.J. Carlesimo is a solid stop-gap but he’s more known for being on the receiving end of the most abusive coach-player relationship in league history and for flaming out as Durant and Westbrook’s first NBA head coach. But instead of whittling down the pros and cons of the prospective coaches, let’s take a trip back to Christmas morning for a little anecdotal truth.
Courtside during the Los Angeles Lakers’ Christmas clash with the New York Knicks, an interesting footnote in pop culture history was taking place as Chris Breezy and Rihanna were schmoozing courtside in public for the first time since Brown brutally assaulted his girlfriend nearly four years ago. It was a TMZ moment but it holds hoops significance.
No, Carlesimo is not going to put Latrell Sprewell on his coaching staff or reconcile with his attacker. However, if Rihanna can forgive Chris Breezy, why can’t Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams scale back their respective egos and (Brooklyn) bridge their differences?
Unlike Rihanna, Williams hasn’t released any tracks with subliminal lyrics clamoring for reconciliation with Sloan. However, last week he did prop up Sloan and his flex cut offense while simultaneously using Avery Johnson as a speed bump under the bus to prevent fans and the media from jumping on his rapidly declining numbers during a recent 3-11 losing skid.
“That system was a great system for my style of play,” Williams said before a Dec. 20 matchup with the Utah Jazz. “I’m a system player. I love Coach Sloan’s system. I loved the offense there.”
In the process Williams pretty much labeled himself as a system player who is unable to adjust his game to alternative styles and Johnson’s plodding offense fit Williams like OJ’s hand fit the prosecution’s glove but he wouldn't quit, so the Nets pulled the trigger.
In Utah, Williams’ field goal percentages hovered between 45 – 50%. During his tenure in Brooklyn and New Jersey, Williams has been a sub-40% shooter. The culprit has been Williams’ shot locations.
Williams doesn’t quite have Russell Westbrook’s explosive finishing ability at the rim but once the bulky point guard gets in the lane, he’s much more physically imposing than a Chris Paul or even Kyrie Irving. Unfortunately, he’s not getting to the basket enough anymore.
At his apex in ’07-08, 38% of 23-year-old Williams’ shot attempts came at the rim. During his final season with Boozer in Utah, in ’09-10, Williams attempted 24% of his field goals at the rim. That number has dipped to 17% this season.
The lack of pick and rolls, off-ball movement and the overabundance of isolation plays forced a frustrated Williams to shoot more long range attempts. In a lockout-shortened 2012 season, Williams' 342 attempts from behind the arc were almost 100 more than he did during any season in Utah. This season, he's on pace to shoot nearly 450 treys for a career-low 29%. From Stockton and Malone to Boozer and Deron, the pick and roll was Sloan’s bread and butter in Utah.
Sloan was the victim of coaching an elite roster at the height of the Jordan years but he’s also the third winningest head coach of all-time.
Of course, General Manager Billy King will have to set rigid boundaries for Williams if this reunion can take place. Chris Brown had to undergo anger management, Kobe Bryant experienced life without the greatest coach of all-time. Nets management has to cease treating Williams as the defacto assistant GM.
“In training camp he was in my office after practice every day just sitting there. He calls himself, ‘the assistant GM’, “ King chuckled about Williams’ involvement in personnel decisions last April.
While the absolute reasons for Sloan’s resignation were never spelled out on Time Square-sized billboard letters, it was painfully obvious reading the tea leaves that management was beginning to drown out the longest tenured head coach in the league for their cantankerous 26-year-old point guard.
As we’ve been forced to learn throughout time from Michael Jordan’s Bobcats ownership and Isiah Thomas’ executive career to Kobe Bryant’s insistence on trading a budding Andrew Bynum for balding Jason Kidd, players don’t often make excellent executive decisions.
It was Williams badgering King to stop waiting on Dwight Howart that forced his wooden puppet hands to push through the ultimate hardwood loner, Iso-Joe Johnson. Before the season, Johnson talked optimistically of harkening back to his early years in Phoenix alongside Steve Nash when just 14.9 percent of his possessions were defined as isolation plays, according to Synergy Sports. However, his goal of becoming Spot-Up Joe and getting fed easier baskets from Williams never came to fruition.
As a result, Johnson has been running more isolated sets than he did in Atlanta when he earned the Iso-Joe nickname. According to Synergy Sports Technology, as of Dec. 19, over 40% of his logged plays this season were either direct isolation plays or isolated post-up plays compared to 35% during his final season in Atlanta. Instead of dominating the ball like a Steve Nash type point guard, at times he's resorted to watching a feature presentation of "Iso-Joe".
Mike D'Antoni wanted to trade Williams for Carmelo Anthony before resigning as Knicks coach. It was a trade that may have saved both his and Johnson's jobs because The Little General’s battle plan was never an ideal fit for Williams’ offensive arsenal. Back in 2008, Jason Kidd ripped Johnson for his unimaginative offenses and short leashes on point guards.
Conversely, Sloan wasn’t as much Williams’ problem as Salt Lake City and Carlos Boozer’s departure were. In Brooklyn, he’s got the large media market he wants and the talent. Now, all he needs is the right head coach. Fellas, it’s time for a reunion so you two can put a (championship) ring on it.
Associate SportsNet Editor/ @CerebralSportex