Posts Tagged ‘Avery Johnson’

Parker Puts Teeth Back In Spurs Defense

HANG TIME, Texas — The first inclination when you hear that Tony Parker will likely be back in the starting lineup tonight is to figure the Spurs’ offense will get a boost from their sparkplug point guard. He is, after all, their leading scorer, assist man and firecracker.

But the truth is that where Parker’s presence was felt most during the three weeks he was sidelined with a sprained left ankle was on defense. While our ace stat man John Schuhmann has noted that the Spurs have refocused in specific areas to get back to a top-three defensive ranking overall, the team has suffered at that end of the floor in his absence.

Look no further than a 136-106 thumping by Portland, a 107-83 loss at Minnesota (without Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard) and even allowing lowly Cleveland to cruise into San Antonio and make things far too interesting before losing 119-113.

As Schuhmann points out, the Spurs have concentrated more this season on contesting shots and that’s an area where Parker has shined, along with cutting off opponents’ penetration into the lane.

It was another good friend, the dapper Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News, who went into Parker’s individual numbers to show how critical he is to the defense.

He found that Parker’s minus 4.0 on/off total on defense (the amount of points the Spurs give up per 100 possessions when he’s on the court compared to off) is third-best on the Spurs, trailing Tiago Splitter (minus 6.8) and Leonard (minus 4.8) but ahead of Duncan (minus 3.5).

Also, opposing players register a 13.3 PER (15.0 is average) with a 43.5 effective field-goal percentage while matched up against Parker, according to For comparison’s sake, Memphis guard Tony Allen, widely considered one of the NBA’s top perimeter defenders, holds his opponents to a 13.6 PER on 51.6 eFG.

“Defensively, he’s been unnoticed, really, coach Gregg Popovich said while Parker was out. “But he’s done a hell of a job on that end of the floor guarding difficult players every night. His leadership has been very important to what we’ve done. I trust him the way I used to trust Avery (Johnson). Offensively, you guys have all seen it. So all three of those aspects of the game (defense, offense, leadership) have been apparent all year long.”

So while the Spurs will be happy to have Parker put some juice back into their offense tonight, it’s sinking his teeth back into the defense that will give them a real bite.

Feeling Lucky? Try 7 GMs With Decisions

HANG TIME, Texas — The clock ticks down, the trade deadline draws near and all 30 NBA general managers are burning up their phones with possibilities realistic and absurd.

Some need to make deals to solidify playoff teams, others simply can’t bear the thought of sitting still. As Thursday gets closer, here are seven GMs with big decisions to make:

Danny Ferry, Atlanta Hawks

Is it finally time to give up on the hope that Josh Smith can be more than a numbers-gatherer in Atlanta? Ferry, the first-year Hawks’ GM, wasted no time in moving out Joe Johnson’s big contract. Part of the decision was that J-Smoove would blossom without Iso-Joe taking up a big part of the offense. Instead he’s averaging 1.4 fewer points and one rebound less than a year ago, his efficiency rating is down from 21.14 to 19.90 and he’s shooting only 50 percent from the free-throw line. The sense is that it’s “just time.” Still, that doesn’t mean Ferry has to move him. He’s positioned the Hawks so that they could afford to keep Smith and still sign a pricey free agent next summer. But that won’t stop the likes of the Bucks, Suns, Celtics, Wizards and Sixers from making a run. The Rockets have long had eyes for Smith, but might be more inclined to wait to make their moves in free agency.

Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics

Despite their 8-1 record since Rajon Rondo’s season ended due to torn knee ligaments, it’s too hard to see the Celtics making a serious and deep playoff run on the aging legs of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The obvious move would be with the 36-year-old Garnett and making that long-rumored deal to the Clippers (Eric Bledsoe). The challenge is getting K.G. to waive the no-trade clause in his contract. Can Ainge appeal to Garnett’s own best interest to get another ring or his loyalty to the Celtics organization to help them start over? Even if Rondo’s knee injury isn’t as severe as first thought and he’s able to get back on the floor for the start of training camp, the rebuilding in Boston has to start sometime. It might as well be now.

Billy King, Brooklyn Nets

If King could know for sure that Deron Williams will shake off the injuries and inefficiency and return to the All-Star form he showed in Utah, then he’d be more inclined to sit back and put his feet up. Or maybe not in the realm of Mikhail Prokhorov. The Russian billionaire owner is willing to shell out big bucks, but also expects immediate results and does not handle mediocrity well. See Avery Johnson, who was fired with a 14-14 record, a Coach of the Month title pinned to his resume. The Nets will likely try to get Paul Millsap from the Jazz and could be in the running for the popular Josh Smith. Last year’s All-Rookie team member MarShon Brooks is on the block. Would Charlotte’s offer of Ben Gordon for Kris Humphries be enough? The Nets have been so inconsistent that with the possibility of a first-round bounce due to a bad matchup looming, you have to believe King won’t sit still.

Donnie Nelson, Dallas Mavericks

“The Bank of Cuban is open.” That was team owner Mark Cuban’s declaration last month, but what must be determined is in which direction the Mavericks are headed right now. They enter the post-All-Star stretch six games under .500 and 4 1/2 games out of the last playoff spot in the West. If the Mavs decide they’re better off reloading with a fully-recovered Dirk Nowitzki next season, they certainly have a good trade chip in Vince Carter, who’d be a wonderful addition to any playoff contender. He could also bring in future assets for Shawn Marion, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand.

Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets

You put him in this slot just because Morey lives with an itchy trigger finger and might be inclined to make a deal just because he can. But with the James Harden steal under his belt and the free agency hits on Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, the Rockets will probably strike only if it’s a chance at a home run. With the youngest team in the league, a position in the West playoff race and a payroll that could make them big, big players in free agency, next summer is probably when they’ll make their move. But Houston is now big-game hunting for talent to play with Harden. If a chance to scoop up a true All-Star comes their way, Morey won’t hesitate.

Mitch Kupchak, L.A. Lakers

It’s almost obligatory to put the Lakers on any potential trade deadline list, despite Kupchak saying publicly that he’s not at all interested in dealing Dwight Howard or breaking up his All-Star group of underachievers at this point. He can’t trade Pau Gasol as long as the possibility exists that Howard walks as a free agent next summer — which it does. Besides, the Lakers problems are not about needing more players but getting the ones they have to play every night with passion.

Dennis Lindsey, Utah Jazz

Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson? Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap? With the contracts of both of the frontcourt veterans expiring, it was assumed since Day One of this season that the rookie GM Lindsey would have to deal one of them by the deadline, if for no other reason than to make room and more playing time for Derrick Favors. It would seem to make sense, but only if the Jazz can get a bonafide star in return. That’s what the 30-24 team lacks right now. But there is no reason to make a deal just to make a deal. The future is based on a young core of Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. Millsap is the more likely one to go, but maybe only for another expiring contract in return. Salt Lake City is not a desired location for free agents. But as the effects of the new collective bargaining agreement are felt and big names teams try to avoid the increasingly punishing luxury tax, players will want to simply get paid. Don’t expect a panic move here.

Wall’s Return Puts Heat On Wittman


HANG TIME, Texas — The win over the defending champion Heat in the first week of December was an eye opener. Taking down the Thunder in the first week of January was no less impressive.

But if the goal of the Wizards is to provide more than a once-a-month shock to the NBA system, then the season begins tonight.

Point guard John Wall will make his season debut tonight against the Hawks after missing three months due to a stress injury in his left patella. While nobody is expecting to see the player that averaged 16.3 points. 8.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds in his first two seasons, just having the former No. 1 draft pick on the court is finally a lift for the club that is again foundering at the bottom with a 5-28 record, the worst in the league.

Wall is trying to keep a lid on expectations, as he told Michael Lee of the Washington Post:

“I figure the first couple games probably won’t be the best games,” Wall said after practicing for the third consecutive day without complications from his left knee.

“Just go out there and play my game,” he said. “Don’t do too much. I know that’s the main thing I’ve got to do for my first game back. Just let the game come to me and just try to help my team out.”

Wall also doesn’t expect to have a difficult adjustment to playing alongside several new teammates after sitting next to the Wizards coaching staff for nearly every game and observing their tendencies. His teammates have already marveled as his speed and decision-making, which has been sorely missed for a team has started five different point guards this season – A.J. Price, Shaun Livingston, Jordan Crawford, Shelvin Mack and Garrett Temple.

When asked if he felt any external or internal pressures with coming back, Wall quickly responded, “No pressure at all.”
The biggest challenge for him, Wall said, will be “getting my legs underneath me but just working the offense, being the point guard, finding my teammates and knowing guys’ sweet spots is pretty easy to me.”

Without Wall to run the show, the Wizards have been virtually clueless all season, unable to attack defenses and score. In one more season when Washington made significant changes to the lineup — Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, rookie Bradley Beal — they have clearly lacked a leader to pull it all together.

While the medical staff will have Wall operating under a limit on playing minutes as he works his way back into game shape, Wizards coach Randy Wittman says there will be no limits to what he asks of his franchise player in terms of leading his team.

“John is going to have the ball in his hands a lot,” Wittman said. “I don’t want to take any pressure off him. He hasn’t gotten any pressure yet this year. I want him to feel some pressure. John likes pressure.”

Of course, Wittman can only hope that Wall will relieve any pressure on his own situation, which has to be in the crosshairs of a season when Mike Brown, Avery Johnson and Scott Skiles have already been relieved of their head coaching jobs.

If there has been a reason that Wittman has been spared the same fate, it’s because he’s been coaching with one hand tied behind his back without Wall. Now that the Wizards’ main man is back in the lineup, the heat is on and the clock is ticking.

Aldridge Skepticism Starting To Fade

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The early season controversy that swirled around LaMarcus Aldridge and his shot selection has cooled over the last six weeks, to no coincidence, as the Portland Trail Blazers have reversed a rough start into a 14-5 record since Dec. 1.

Terry Stotts imported his “flow” offense from his Dallas assistant days and it requires Aldridge to often begin offensive sets at the elbow, a la Dirk Nowitzki, and to shoot a lot of mid-range jumpers. 

In previous seasons under former Blazers coach Nate McMillan, Aldridge was the primary post man and McMillan ran loads of isolation sets through him, the kind that grinded away at Nowitzki when Avery Johnson called the plays, and eventually led Dallas to trade for point guard Jason Kidd and fire Johnson and hire Rick Carlisle.

J.J. Hickson or Meyers Leonard serve as the primary post man in Stotts’ scheme, giving Aldridge more freedom to roam and and pull his defender out and, yes, take far more shots from outside of the paint, where Aldridge does possess one of the prettier fadeaways.

Still, initially, the result was a drastically lowered shooting percentage and plenty of skepticism.

“In some ways they’re similar, obviously their size, they both have a great touch, they’re unique for their position,” Stotts said earlier this season, comparing Aldridge to Nowitzki. “LaMarcus is a great block player, but if I can get him on the elbow a little bit more — it will probably take time to get him as comfortable as Dirk is up there — but that’s one way, utilizing him in spacing the floor a little bit, not necessarily to the 3-point line, but he’s a good 18- to 20-foot shooter.

“So LaMarcus is his own player and he’s his own man, but I think there are some similarities that we can take advantage of.”

Through 33 games, according to advanced stats, Aldridge has attempted 352 mid-range shots. In 55 games last season, he took 494 and in 81 games in 2010-11, he shot 564. On pace to put up 875 in 82 games this season, it is obviously a steep rise and a significant change to his game that has required time to adjust.

Overall, Aldridge’s shooting percentage continues to rise from the lower 40s of the early season. He’s still at a career-low 46.4 percent (he was at 50 percent or better the last two seasons and never below 48.4 percent), but Aldridge actually is making the mid-range jumper at the same rate he has the last two seasons, right at about 41 percent.  This season, he’s down a few percentage points on shots in the restricted area under the rim and in the paint, contributing to his lower overall shooting percentage.

And, the Blazers just keep winning, their latest conquest being Thursday’s come-from-behind victory over Miami.

With point guard Damian Lillard putting a stranglehold on the Rookie of the Year Award, the Blazers have put together a four-game win streak, including road wins over the Knicks and Grizzlies, to improve to a season-best five games over .500 at 20-15.

They’re doing it primarily with a starting five that all averages double-digit scoring and with little help from arguably the lightest bench in the league.

Aldridge is on an All-Star pace once again, leading the Blazers in scoring at 20.6 points a game, about a one-point dropoff from the past two seasons, and is second in rebounding at 8.6.

Portland’s schedule isn’t terribly unmanageable moving through January, but things get trickier starting tonight with another road game at Golden State followed by Oklahoma City at home and Denver on the road. Two games against the Clippers come later this month.

For now, skepticism has cooled as Aldridge and the Blazers have grown more comfortable in Stotts’ system.

Nets Still Have A Lot Of Work To Do


HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Who’s the only undefeated NBA team in 2013?

It’s the Brooklyn Nets, who are 4-0 in January and 6-1 under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo.

As it looks more and more like the Nets won’t be hiring a new coach any time soon, it’s looking more and more like Carlesimo deserves an extended stay on the bench anyway.

Five of the Nets’ six wins have come against teams — Charlotte, Cleveland, Washington, Sacramento and Philadelphia — with a combined record of 51-126. But their 17-point win in Oklahoma City pretty much legitimizes the run under Carlesimo.

The run has been mostly fueled by offense. The Nets have scored 109.5 points per 100 possessions under Carlesimo, the league’s second-best mark in the time he’s been coach.

Nets efficiency, 2012-13

Coach W L Pace Rank OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Johnson 14 14 90.3 29 102.9 11 104.0 21 -1.1 16
Carlesimo 6 1 91.1 23 109.5 2 102.6 13 +6.9 5

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

There’s been a slight uptick in pace, a change that was needed and seems to be helping the offense. But it’s not like the Nets are flourishing on the break. They’re averaging 9.0 fast break points per game under Carlesimo after averaging 8.9 under Johnson.

They’ve had a bigger increase in second-chance points (14.1 to 15.9) because they’ve rebounded better. Increased minutes for Reggie Evans has played a part, but so has a more aggressive Brook Lopez. The center had an offensive rebounding percentage of 9.5 percent (2.4 offensive boards per game) under Johnson, but has pushed that up to 15.2 percent (3.3 offensive boards per game).

An additional offensive board per game isn’t a huge increase, but the little things can mean a lot, especially when they add up. In addition to rebounding better, the Nets are also getting to the rim a little more, getting to the line a little more and shooting a little better from the perimeter.

The improved shooting has come from the starting backcourt. Joe Johnson and Deron Williams have combined to take 2/3 of their shots from outside the paint this season. That’s not a good ratio, but both have improved dramatically from outside the paint under Carlesimo.

Joe Johnson shooting from outside the paint

Johnson 109 286 38.1% 67.6% 47.9%
Carlesimo 32 73 43.8% 73.7% 54.8%

EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

Deron Williams shooting from outside the paint

Johnson 80 252 31.7% 66.8% 40.5%
Carlesimo 25 59 42.4% 64.8% 54.2%

Williams’ career effective field goal percentage from outside the paint (47.4 percent) is right in the middle of the two marks above. So an improvement had to come at some point. Johnson’s career mark (46.8 percent) is much more in line with what he was shooting under Avery Johnson.

The good news is that the Nets are actually playing well with Williams on the floor. When they were 14-14, he was a minus-37 and they were much better defensively when he was on the bench. Under Carlesimo, the Nets are a plus-55 with Williams on the floor and are actually better defensively with him on the floor.

And here’s the issue with the Nets’ defensive improvement. They have rebounded a little better under Carlesimo and they’ve forced an extra 0.4 turnovers per 100 possessions. But they’ve also allowed their opponents to shoot better and get to the line more.

So how are they allowing 1.4 fewer points per 100 possessions? Well, their opponents are shooting just 68 percent from the free throw line against the Nets under Carlesimo after shooting 75 percent (the league average) against the Johnson-coached Nets.

Another concern from the Nets is the increased turnovers they’re committing. They’ve committed 16.4 under Carlesimo, the fourth-highest rate in the league in the two weeks he’s been coached.

Things are going well right now and with all the offensive talent the Nets have, they should be a top-five team on that end. But some of the ways the Nets are improving aren’t so sustainable, and more answers must be found on both ends of the floor.

Blogtable: It’s Tough Being A Coach

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

Week 11: Kevin Garnett is … | Encouraging signs for Lakers? | Next coach to go

Mike Brown, Avery Johnson, now Scott Skiles: Next? Please explain.

Steve Aschburner: Maybe we should note the specifics of those situations, with Mike Brown‘s firing a panic move, Johnson’s pink slip driven by unrealistic expectations of his bosses and Skiles’ departure a mutal thing set up by his lame-duck contract status. Then again, maybe those are distinctions without differences. Coaches topple every season and someone surely is next. Hate bandying about a fellow’s job security but I wonder how patient the Maloofs will be with Keith Smart in Sacramento (with DeMarcus Cousins as an X-factor in this dynamic). I also wonder how much improvement John Wall really will bring in Washington – without a big bump, Randy Wittman could be getting cross-eyed looks too. Guess I’m going with one of the former Hoosiers not named Mike Woodson.

Fran Blinebury: The obvious choice would seem to be Randy Wittman as the Wizards wallow at the bottom of the standings, but it’s happening without John Wall.  So here’s a wild thought.  If the Lakers continue going completely over the cliff, how long can they keep selling Mike D’Antoni as the answer?

Jeff Caplan: I’m not going with probably the most obvious name, Washington’s Randy Wittman, because of all the injuries. I think he’s used like 15 different starting point guards already. And, hey, he’s worked wins over Miami and Oklahoma City. Let him get John Wall in there and see if they can catch a spark. In the East, of the teams in the playoff mix, Milwaukee and Brooklyn have already done the deed. The teams out of the playoff mix have relatively new coaches. And then there’s Byron Scott in Cleveland, who in my estimation is running neck-and-neck with Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry in the West.

Scott Howard-Cooper: I guess we’re not saying Vinny Del Negro anymore. In that case, Randy Wittman. Once John Wall returns, possibly by the end of the week, the Wizards need to show considerable improvement. It’s one thing to be on 12-win pace with a beat-up roster, but quite another if this path continues for much longer.

Sekou Smith: Plenty of coaches should be worried now that guys whose teams are playing .500 or better are getting their walking papers. Judging a coach based solely on his team’s record, however, seems like a thing of the past. There’s so much more involved these days, what with all of the advanced metrics involved in the game today. It takes a very particular set of circumstances for a franchise to make a coaching change. We could pick on Alvin Gentry in Phoenix or even Randy Wittman in Washington, guys who have been in place for a while now and still haven’t been able to guide their teams out of the basement of their respective conferences. Skiles going was a bit of a surprise. But Brown and Johnson came into the season with more pressure on them than any other pair of coaches in the league. The expectations for both teams were enormous. So you knew if they struggled or failed to measure up to those expectations, there was a chance they could get popped. Beyond those obvious situations, however, there aren’t any glaring candidates for the coaching hot seat right now.

Report: No Comeback For Phil Jackson

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Any dreams Brooklyn Nets fans had of Phil Jackson taking over this season were essentially dashed by the Zen Master himself tonight, per a report.

In fact, Jackson wasn’t even more emphatic about his coaching future, insisting that he will not coach again:

“I have no intention of ever coaching again,” Jackson told in a brief statement.

He offered no elaboration, nor any details of how hard — if at all — the Brooklyn Nets had pushed to bring him in as the permanent replacement for Avery Johnson, who was fired last month.

But he also did not use the word “retired,” and his use of the word “intention” will be seen by many as a hedge. Moreover, the quote was similar to what Jackson said when he left the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011.

Jackson was the one and only long-term coaching target of the Nets, who are now expected to keep P.J. Carlesimo in the job for the remainder of the regular season. The team is 5-1 since Carlesimo took over, losing only to the San Antonio Spurs.

So while Jackson’s “intention” is to never coach again, he could always change his mind at the conclusion of this season. For now, things should remain peaceful around the Zen Master for the remainder of winter and spring.

Jackson comment to SheridanHoops was his first public statement of the season, and the hedge therein will undoubtedly lead others to contact him in the future. The scuttlebutt around the league Tuesday was that Jackson was in demand and another team — other than Brooklyn, and other than the Lakers — had recently inquired about Jackson’s availability.

Jackson’s had a busy season for a guy who has no intention of coaching again. First he was courted and passed over for the vacant coaching job with his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers. They chose Mike D’Antoni instead.

But as Chris Sheridan points out, the rumblings surrounding the recently engaged (to longtime girlfriend and Lakers executive Jeanie Buss) Jackson have him returning in a front office capacity if he does return to the NBA at all.

With his coaching legacy already set in stone, there is really nothing left for Jackson to prove in that realm. The only basketball frontier he has left to explore and conquer is working in the front office, which remains a very real possibility.

Nets Look To Williams To Push The Pace

BROOKLYN — It’s hard to take much out of 48 minutes against a team that has now lost 17 straight games, so no grand conclusions will be drawn from the Brooklyn Nets’ 97-81 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday, their first game after the dismissal of head coach Avery Johnson.

Interim coach P.J. Carlesimo did his job, the players did theirs, and the Nets avoided the embarrassment of losing to an awful, awful team on their home floor. If the Nets’ didn’t win by double figures, there would really be something to talk about.

Until the third string allowed a 27-point, fourth-quarter lead to whittle down to 12, the Nets’ offense looked sharper than it had all December. But such a performance should be expected against the worst defense in the league, no matter who the coach is.

There were no real changes to the system and only a minor change to the rotation. There was a subtle difference in the Nets’ approach, however. Instead of walking the ball up the floor, Deron Williams looked to get it across the mid-court line as quickly as possible, even off made baskets. And that led to a more fluid and free-flowing offense.

The Nets ranked 29th in pace before Friday’s game, averaging a hair over 90 possessions per 48 minutes. Their offense was slow and deliberate, and they were too often taking too long to get to any kind of offensive action that could generate an double-team or an open shot.

All the isolations that Williams had issues with were ran were more out of necessity – in situations where the shot clock was running out and there were no other options – than design.

Even when the Nets ran Jerry Sloan’s “flex” offense that Johnson implemented to placate Williams after his pro-Sloan comments last week, it sometimes took too long before Williams could get the ball in position to make a play.

The Nets do have the personnel that can succeed at a slower pace. Brook Lopez can do work in the post and Joe Johnson can flourish in isolations or in the post as well. And really, this team is never going to play anything like the Houston Rockets.

But they can certainly play faster than they have thus far. And that can only make things easier on their offense.

So, in taking over for Johnson, Carlesimo told his team to get the ball up the floor quickly and keep the ball moving. In the brief time he had to work with them in the wake of Johnson’s dismissal, it was about all he could do to change things up. But it was a needed change and it worked … against the Bobcats.

“We would prefer to push the ball, because Deron is so good pushing it and creating,” Carlesimo said before his Nets coaching debut. “We’d like to push it and get it to Brook [Lopez] down low. We’d like to push it and get it ahead to Joe [Johnson] or [Gerald Wallace] or our other players.”

If the Nets are to turn around their season and get back to a top-four standing in the Eastern Conference, improvement has to start with Williams. Friday’s win was just one game, but Williams was indeed the key to an encouraging performance.

With the point guard pushing the tempo and aggressively looking for his shot, the Nets scored 33 points in the first quarter, their second-highest mark of the season. By halftime, Williams had 17 points himself, the most he’s had by halftime since last March.

“I just think I need to be aggressive,” Williams said afterward, “because I’m not playing well right now and I’m being too passive. And I don’t think that’s good for my team.”

In terms of possession count, Friday’s game wasn’t played at a much faster pace than a typical Nets game. But that was somewhat a product of the 24 possession-extending offensive rebounds that the two teams combined to grab. And it was clear that the Nets were getting into their offense a lot quicker than usual.

“We got a lot of easy baskets today,” Williams said. “The ball was moving today. It wasn’t one of those games like in the past where it was somebody’s turn and then somebody else’s turn. It was kind of moving out there.”

It wasn’t exactly a breakthrough performance (have we mentioned the Nets were playing the Bobcats?), but it was a step forward, for both the team and its star.

“He made his shots, which is great,” Carlesimo said of Williams. “But I thought he pushed it for us. He got us up the floor. He got us into things.

“I thought he played an excellent game. He really did.”

“This was one game, and a game we figured we should win,” Williams added. “We have to come ready to play tomorrow. That will be the test.”

Well, not really. On Saturday, the Nets play the Cleveland Cavaliers, the only team in the league that ranks in the bottom five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. After that though, they visit San Antonio on Monday and Oklahoma City on Wednesday.

Though those teams will test the Nets’ regressing defense more than their regressing offense, it’s all tied together, because it’s easier to push the ball up the floor when you’re not taking it out of the basket.


John Schuhmann is a staff writer for Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

Nets Need To Hold Williams Accountable

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — There is nothing to indicate that Deron Williams had direct input on Avery Johnson‘s dismissal on Thursday. In their press conferences on Thursday afternoon, both Johnson and Nets general manager Billy King said that the blame can’t be pinned on Williams. And King added that no players were consulted before the decision was made.

Considering his comments last week regarding Johnson’s offense though, the timing of all this only adds to Williams’ coach-killing reputation. First, Jerry Sloan resigns shortly after an argument with Williams in Utah, and now Johnson is fired shortly after Williams pines for Sloan’s offense.

But let’s just put Williams’ relationship with his coach(es) aside for now, and focus on what he has done on the floor.

The numbers, both simple and advanced, tell the story. Williams has shot less than 40 percent from the field and less than 30 percent from 3-point range this season. Defensively, the Nets have been much worse with Williams on the floor than they’ve been with him on the bench.

Nets efficiency with Williams on and off the floor

On/off floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Williams on 996 103.3 106.7 -3.4 -37
Williams off 362 102.0 96.3 +5.7 +41
Total 1,359 102.9 104.0 -1.1 +4

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

When you’re the star of the team, they can’t be better without you. But that’s been the story with Williams and the Nets this season. So while the Nets hope to improve in the coaching department, they also have to wonder about the $99 million investment they made in their point guard.

Williams has been saddled with various injuries throughout his time with the Nets, starting with a right wrist problem that has clearly affected his ability to make shots. But beyond his shooting numbers, there has been a lack of leadership, both in New Jersey and in Brooklyn.

Over the last few weeks, despite all the talent on their roster, the Nets have failed to respond to adversity. And that’s on Williams as much as it is on Johnson. True stars should be able to put their teams on their backs when times get tough. But Williams has really had just one star performance this season, those 14 brilliant dimes he dished out in the Nets’ only win over the Knicks.

The Nets have players with more experience than Williams, and he’s not the only guy on the roster getting paid like a superstar. But this roster was built around him. Keeping him in a Nets uniform was the reason King traded for both Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson. He’s the two-time Olympian and he’s supposed to be the franchise player.

Being a franchise player is about more than just points, assists and defense. It’s about intangibles, both on the floor and in the locker room. It’s also about the words that come out of your mouth, both off the record and on it.

Publicly expressing doubt about what the coach is doing is a no-no, especially when you’re not living up to your end of the bargain with your play on the floor. No matter what his intentions were, Williams’ comments last week just made it harder for Johnson to do his job. The coach tried to placate his star by incorporating some of Sloan’s offense into the Nets’ system, and Williams tried to soften his quotes later on, but there was no erasing what was originally said.

Though Johnson always had Williams’ support prior to this season, there were signs that Williams wasn’t a great locker room leader when the Nets went 22-44 in their final season in New Jersey. Still, the team had no choice to re-sign their point guard and try to build a contender around him, because the alternative would have been uglier than anything that is going on right now.

With Johnson gone, the Nets have to find a new coach. More important, they have to hold Williams accountable for both his play and his leadership.

When Johnson was asked about the next potential coach for the Nets, he had a very pointed response.

“I just know when the coach comes in, he’s going to have to be able to do it his way,” Johnson said. “Hold everybody accountable, coach true to his style. That’s the way it’s going to have to be.”

Johnson, we know, comes from the School of Pop, where Tim Duncan is treated the same as the 15th guy on the roster. Why Johnson wasn’t able to do the same in Brooklyn isn’t clear, but what is clear is that the Nets’ need their biggest star to step up and take responsibility for leading them out of the hole they’re in.

While the Nets have minimal salary flexibility going forward, they don’t lack talent. And while they need to evaluate the roster, rotation, offense and defense, what they need most is a happy, motivated and productive point guard who can make the most of that talent currently in uniform.

Williams certainly has the ability to turn things around, both individually and for his team. But there’s no other way to put it than to say that he’s been a disappointment since arriving from Utah 22 months ago. And whether or not there’s blood on his hands in the wake of Johnson’s dismissal, there are certainly stains on his reputation as a franchise player.

Who’s Sitting On A Hot Seat Now?

HANG TIME, Texas — Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.

In the NBA that familiar line from the holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” has a different twist.

Every time the bell rings a head coach gets his walking papers and a handful of others start looking over their shoulders.

It’s a tenuous life.

Of course, this season has already been quite unusual with Mike Brown fired by the Lakers after just five games. But now that the schedule has reached the one-third mark and claimed Avery Johnson, it’s time to look at some others down around the bottom of the standings.

Randy Wittman, Wizards (3-23) — No, he hasn’t had John Wall all season. Yes, he’s had to play at times without Nene and Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal. But the Wizards are the only group in Washington that makes Congress look competent by comparison. After a recent 100-68 thumping by the almost-as-hapless Pistons, even Wittman seemed to have enough. “That was an embarrassment, and I apologize to our ownership and to our fans,” he said. “I especially apologize to anyone who watched that entire game. I would have turned it off after the first five minutes.” It would seem to be a matter of when, not if.

Monty Williams, Hornets (6-22) — It’s hard to see the Hornets turning right around and cutting Williams loose just months after giving him a four-year contract extension. There has been the matter of Eric Gordon’s injury and the fact that No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis was on the shelf for 13 games. But there are rumblings in New Orleans about his constantly changing rotations and collapse of his defense, which ranks 29th.

Byron Scott, Cavaliers (7-23)
— The Cavs are likely headed to their third straight trip to the lottery under Scott, but that doesn’t mean that he’s headed to the exit. The key to his previous success at New Jersey and New Orleans was having a top-notch point guard and Scott has an excellent relationship with maybe the next great thing in Kyrie Irving. This was always a long, heavy lift from the moment LeBron James bolted and that has not changed.

Mike Dunlap, Bobcats (7-21)
— What a difference a month makes. After beating the Wizards on Nov. 24, the Bobcats were 7-5, had matched their win total from last season and their rookie coach was getting praised. Now 16 straight losses later, Dunlap is preaching patience with his young core of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Byron Mullens and Jeffery Taylor. He has earned that. A dozen of Charlotte’s 21 losses have come by 10 points or less, a dramatic change from the historically horrible last season when the Bobcats were rolled in one-third of their games by 20 points or more.

Lawrence Frank, Pistons (9-22)
— Frank insists that his Pistons are a better team than they were a year ago. The record — identical then and now — does not back that up. He says that his club now is more competitive, but just doesn’t know how to finish games. Some of the players have grumbled that there is also a failure of coach to make the right calls and adjustments when games get late. When push comes to shove, it’s the coach that gets nudged out the door.

Dwane Casey, Raptors (9-20)— Another one of those seasons when the Raptors were supposed to turn things around and make a push for the playoffs in the lesser Eastern Conference has gone south. Injuries to Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry and Linas Kleiza. Amir Johnson gets suspended for throwing his mouthguard at a referee. G.M. Bryan Colangelo says the talent is there, but the Raptors lack focus and attention to detail. The Raps’ offense is mediocre (ranked 17th) and their defense just bad (27th). Even in Canada during the winter, that all puts Casey on thin ice.

Keith Smart, Kings (9-19) — Smart got the job to replace Paul Westphal specifically because of what was perceived as an ability to work with the mercurial DeMarcus Cousins. So he turned Cousins loose last season, let him do just about anything he pleased and got enough results to earn a contract extension. Now that Cousins has abused his free-rein relationship with his coach and another season is sinking fast, it would be easy to just blame Smart, which the Kings eventually will do. But this is a bad team with a knucklehead as its centerpiece and ownership that can’t tell you where they’ll be playing in two years.

Alvin Gentry, Suns (11-18) — It was at the end of a seven-game losing streak when Suns owner Robert Sarver told that Gentry’s job was safe. “We’ve got confidence in our coaching staff and we’re not considering making changes,” he said. Of course, that usually means start packing your bags. It was all about starting over in this first season post-Nash in the desert. He’s changed lineups more than his ties and the result is usually the same. Gentry is a good bet to last out the season, but it’s probably going to take a big finishing kick to return next year.