Posts Tagged ‘Avery Johnson’

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.

Avery Johnson Runs Cold With Point Guards

HANGTIME SOUTHWEST – Avery Johnson keeps striking out with point guards, the position he loved to play and eventually thrived as a hard-nosed underdog.

The scorecard lists three point guards now that haven’t seen eye-to-eye with the Little General. One got traded away and the next two have played roles in him twice being fired.

On Thursday, the Brooklyn Nets did the deed, just 28 games into Johnson’s third season and little more than a week since struggling Deron Williams openly complained that Johnson’s system wasn’t doing him any favors. Williams pined for the old days in Utah with Jerry Sloan, the same coach with whom he became combative and drove into mid-season retirement two years ago.

Johnson’s trying times with point guards goes back to 2007. In July, three months after Johnson’s 67-win Dallas Mavericks were humiliated in the first round by the Golden State Warriors, Johnson elevated Devin Harris, the fifth overall pick in 2004, to starting point guard and shifted Jason Terry to shooting guard.

Johnson and Harris met up in Las Vegas, where the Mavs’ summer-league team was playing, for an intensive few days on the court, one-on-one. The two had already developed an interesting relationship, sort of like the demanding father and the son who can’t please him no matter what, or the hard-nosed college coach determined to ride his prized pupil until he emotionally cracks.

“Yes, he does push me. Yes, I don’t think that’s ever going to change. Yes, I probably get yelled at the most,” Harris said during a late-night interview back then in Vegas. “But I’ve learned to deal with it. I’ve learned to cope with it, and it’s good.”

Here’s how Johnson viewed their dynamic.

“The problem with him is he was born a point guard and he has a former point guard [as his coach] who has played at all levels and has won at all levels,” Johnson said. “That’s a big problem for him because I see plays before they happen. I see things develop and that’s a big problem for him, me being his coach and having played the position.”

Johnson then explained his shifting strategy with Harris. It’s not without irony.

“The experiment with me trying to make him Jason Kidd, that’s not his game,” Johnson said. “We have an idea now exactly who he is and I think we can maximize him being a certain type of point guard. He has a chance to be in that mold of a [Tony] Parker or even a Kevin Johnson.”

Seven months later, with Dirk Nowitzki weary of Harris’ inability to create open shots for him in Johnson’s iso-heavy offense, the Mavs traded Harris to the New Jersey Nets for Kidd.

Five games in and the Johnson-Kidd relationship went south. Down two points with 34 seconds left in San Antonio, Johnson called timeout and sat Kidd. A frenzied possession ensued and Dallas lost. Johnson said he leaned on players familiar with his system. Kidd would call getting yanked in the clutch “a first” and “maybe the biggest thing that stands out” during his short time with Johnson.

Less than three months later, Mavs owner Mark Cuban fired Johnson before the team plane had made it back from New Orleans where Dallas bowed out of the first round in five games. One reason for change was to bring in a coach and offense better suited for Kidd to orchestrate.

So Williams makes three. He complained of Johnson’s iso-heavy system and pined for Sloan’s pick-and-rolls and the kind of movement in the half court Williams said he grew up playing in high school and then at Illinois.

Some suggest that Williams’ criticisms of Johnson were meant more as praise for Sloan, driven by lingering guilt over his old coach’s surprising resignation (Williams was traded to the Nets two weeks later).

Williams’ comments come with some truth. Johnson is rigid and his offense can be unimaginative. He attempted to bend, saying that some 30 percent of the Nets’ offense was borrowed from what Williams ran under Sloan, yet it didn’t show up in Williams’ suffering shooting percentages.

Williams could have signed with his hometown Mavs and led coach Rick Carlisle‘s “flow” offense, the one Williams’ close friend Kidd captained to the 2011 championship.

But Williams said he liked what was going on in Brooklyn better. Out of excuses, Williams now shoulders the Nets’ burden.

It’s hard to say when Johnson will get his next opportunity. When he does, he’ll have to take a hard look at his offense and even deeper introspection into how he communicates with his point guard.

As Johnson knows, they can be a stubborn and hard-headed lot. But he can’t win without one being an extension of himself.

Nets Fire Avery Johnson

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – On Dec. 3, Avery Johnson was named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month. On Dec. 27, Johnson was fired as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets.

In 24 days, everything fell apart for Johnson and the Nets, who are now 3-10 in December after an ugly loss in Milwaukee on Tuesday. They’ve lost five of their last six games and stand at 14-14, just a half game from being a Lottery team.

Of late, they’ve been awful defensively and not nearly as good offensively as they should be with all of their high-priced talent.

Nets efficiency

Month W L OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Oct.-November 11 4 104.6 7 100.0 11 +4.6 8
December 3 10 101.0 18 108.6 28 -7.6 26

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

Deron Williams, of course, has played well below All-Star level. He is shooting career lows from both the field and from 3-point range, and the Nets’ defense has been at its worst with Williams on the floor. And now, Williams has his hand in two coaching departures in less than two years.

Ironically, Williams pined for the offense he ran under Jerry Sloan just last week. Johnson added some of Sloan’s offense in practice this past weekend, but the move obviously came too late.

Johnson doesn’t deserve all the blame, however. After Wednesday’s loss in Milwaukee, Gerald Wallace sounded off, as documented by Tim Bontemps of the New York Post

“We’re a way better team than what our record is,” Gerald Wallace said. “I’m [bleeping ticked] off about us losing, and especially the way we’re losing.”

“It’s mind-boggling that we’re in the situation we’re in,” Wallace said. “As good of a team as we are, as good as started off … you saw the potential we had as a team, and the talent we have as a team. And yet, still, instead of team, it’s more of ‘I.’ ”

“Confidence is our problem now,” he said. “I think that’s our main problem. Guys have got too much confidence in themselves and are not trusting in the team.

“Our main thing is we’ve got to get back to a team concept, all for one. Offensively and defensively, when we move the ball, we execute, we take care of the ball, we make the extra pass. … We’ve got to do everything as a team instead of relying on one guy to do this and one guy to do that.”

“Anybody can talk, but we’ve got to go out and execute that out on the court, and right now we’re really not doing that,” Wallace said. “We play a good half or we play a great quarter, and then we go back to playing selfish ball offensively and defensively, and that’s not getting us anywhere.”

P.J. Carlesimo (204-296 as a head coach), who was Johnson’s lead assistant, will take over on an interim basis. The Nets might reach out to Phil Jackson, but probably don’t have what it takes (the proper geography and championship-readiness) to coax Big Chief Triangle out of L.A. Either way, they should already be talking to Stan Van Gundy, who has proven that he can coach both ends of the floor at a high level.

Can Blatche Make Good On New Basketball Life With Brooklyn?

HANGTIME SOUTHWEST – Andray Blatche can be a baaaaaad man. By both interpretations of the vernacular.

His talent (if not always his effort) is undeniably positive, a big man with a handle so supple he makes guys half his size envious. And, man, does he have moves. Like Sunday night when he sized up Sixers center Spencer Hawes a step inside the arc and with one dribble to the right put Hawes on his heels, veered into the paint, launched himself to the rim while levitating the basketball on the upturned fingertips of his right hand only to flip his wrist at the last moment and throw it down.

His behavior, however, is equally as undeniably negative. Confounding, maddening, a chain of self-inflicted screw-ups, senseless altercations, childish decision-making and outright selfishness.

Google “Andray Blatche” and “trouble.” Before you can finish typing “trouble,” “trouble again” pops up.

There are hard-headed players who enter the league too young, too ill-equipped to handle the sudden wealth and freewheeling lifestyle, or are simply too stubborn, and never materialize. Phoenix’s Michael Beasley is well down that road and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins may be, too.

For some, the light bulb eventually comes on. For others, it never does. Blatche, in his first season with the Brooklyn Nets, is standing at that career crossroads. And why not hope for a so-far feel-good story to continue that way on Christmas, when Blatche, granted new life in the league, and his recently wobbly Nets play host to the Boston Celtics (Noon ET, ESPN)?

“I’m wiser, definitely wiser,” Blatche said last week during a telephone interview. “Just more open-minded today. Back then I didn’t have my priorities straight.”

Blatche is averaging 11.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 49.8 percent shooting in 21.0 minutes as a valued reserve. His per-36 numbers have soared to career-best levels of 19.8 points and 10.3 rebounds.

But, there’s also been signs that Blatche still doesn’t get it. After the Nets’ home opener, Blatche ran out of gas and thought it’d be a good idea to share his misadventure via Twitter. While an empty tank is no a crime, it’s not exactly a sign of staying on top of things. Putting it on Twitter didn’t do much to enhance his reputation.

A few weeks later, as his old Washington Wizards were in midst of a long losing streak to start the season, Blatche ribbed the club that drafted him and signed him to an extension in interviews and on Twitter. He said the Wizards, who drafted him in the second round and signed him to an extension despite numerous red flags, didn’t support him and “they tried to end me.”

So the ending to this story, happy or sad, is far from told.

“It was a reality check,” Blatche said. “I almost lost something that I love doing, so you can say it was a wake-up call.”

Blatche isn’t talking about the Wizards surrendering by using the amnesty clause to rid themselves of Blatche, even with all that talent to still to be mined and with $23 million over three seasons still to be paid.

“There was no doubt in my mind that [being amnestied] was going to happen,” Blatche said. “So it was more of just getting myself ready for the next stage of whatever was going to happen.”

Only nothing happened. Blatche’s phone didn’t ring. July, August, nothing.

“Oh yeah,” Blatche said. “During the summer, I didn’t get no phone calls.” (more…)