Trial week for P.J. Carlesimo, under the icy glare of Prokhorov
This is a big week for the Nets and their coach, P.J. Carlesimo.
Wednesday night, the defending-champion Miami Heat visit the Barclays Center. The Nets have never beaten LeBron James, before or after he went to the Heat.
But the Nets haven't been this good since LeBron was a rookie. The team has now won 11 games in two separate months, something the team has never previously done. (The two 11-win months were sandwiched around a poor December which led to the firing of previous coach Avery Johnson.)
At 27-18, the Nets are just 1.5 games out of the Atlantic Division lead, and only three games behind the Heat. The matchup against the Heat is shaping up to be the most competitive one between these two teams in years.
Apparently Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is in town to watch and evaluate Carlesimo, who is officially an interim coach. General manager Billy King hinted at the possibility that the owner will be making some determination about Carlesimo's future.
“I don’t know if a decision is going to made, but I think what we’ll do is sit there and talk about the job he’s done and where we are as a team," King said. "But I don’t think there’s a specific timetable where we will go forward and make any other further announcements. We’re just going to continue to evaluate the situation.”
In theory, it would be hard for the Nets to perform poorly enough on Wednesday, and then on Friday against the Chicago Bulls, to prompt Prokhorov to make an immediate change. Carlesimo's Nets have gone 13-4 after he took over a 14-14 team for Avery Johnson late last month. Under Carlesimo, the Nets have posted wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Knicks, while continuing an early-season trend of crushing the league's lesser teams.
But Prokhorov is impatient and very rich. Which is why in reality, Carlesimo, even with wins over the Heat and Bulls, can't preclude the possibility that the owner will turn around and get a Phil Jackson, or even a Jeff Van Gundy, to replace him.
Prokhorov reportedly planned to fire the last coach, Johnson, even before the Nets started to struggle on the court. That doesn't mean Carlesimo is going anywhere immediately.
But he's only going to be able to keep his job by convincing Prokhorov he can deliver a championship fast. A win over Miami might not do that. It won't hurt, though.
A loss, on the other hand, could reinforce Prokhorov's belief that for all the progress made under Carlesimo this month, the Nets need someone bigger to help them get to the very top.