- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
- 0 Shares
It's fun to fantasize about how the idea of the Brooklyn Nets, even more than the talent on the roster, is just funky enough to grab Phil Jackson's attention. Well, that and Mikhail Prokhorov's money.
Jackson is the NBA's ultimate hipster genius, and he could ride back into New York's coolest borough and tweak the Knicks, who supposedly couldn't be bothered to even make a phone call to Jackson when Mike D'Antoni quit. He could walk out of the Barclays Center office and catch all the cool music and dance at BAM just next door. He could sip lattes at an outdoor cafe on Smith Street while reading a good book, head over to Junior's just down Flatbush Avenue for a slice of cheesecake after games, and venture into Manhattan to give speeches on Rumi or Kierkegaard at the 92nd St Y on his days off.
The Nets could finally rise after all and make good on Prokhorov's decree that this team should go to the Eastern Conference finals -- now. And Phil, like Joe Torre before him, would get that one last big payday he seems to be trolling for as much as another gig, at age 67. No show pony likes staying in the barn.
But the best reason to dismiss that initial denial that Jackson's agent put out Thursday after the Nets abruptly fired Avery Johnson and floated that they want Phil is this: Jackson and Prokhorov need each other.
This isn't merely a question of want.
If you haven't noticed, the Nets have always been waiting for somebody lately and striking out. But getting Jackson would finally be a coup for the big-talking, wild-spending Prokhorov after landing only Deron Williams and Joe Johnson when all the musical chairs were done and so many bigger NBA stars -- LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, even a B-lister like Chris Bosh -- switched teams in the past few years and chose to be somewhere else.
You think the Nets wouldn't rather have hitched their wagon to Chris Paul, too, rather than Williams? Especially after the way Williams revived his dormant rep as a coach killer last week when he blamed Johnson's offense for how badly he's played this year?
Now look where Jackson finds himself, too. He didn't get the last two marquee jobs that came open despite his 11 titles. Both the Lakers and Knicks were willing to roll without him when his price tag and spasms of ego, power demands and pre-conditions became too great.
But Prokhorov is unlikely to care about any of that. He wants what he wants. And he wants it now.
His appraisal of the Eastern Conference isn't all wrong. It really is a wide-open race between Miami and everyone chasing them.
It's Prokhorov's view of the talent the Nets have that's overblown.
It was necessary (not just sporting) of Prokhorov to throw out $330 million in future contracts this offseason as the Nets moved into the Barclays Center. He needed to make a splash right away, not next season. But what did it really guarantee Brooklyn? Nothing.
The Nets still don't have the sort of talent to be a sure thing, a juggernaut, or a perfectly constructed team no matter how high Prokhorov demands that the bar be set. And right now, Williams is the only player among all those marquee stars who switched teams who is not behaving or playing like a cornerstone star. (Dwight Howard gets a pass because of his back surgery.) Williams looks like a high-maintenance guy who pouts and makes excuses, not a leader who puts a team on his back and says let's go.
But Jackson could fix the Nets. They're not a title contender. But he could get them playing better than they have been because nearly every player they have is, to borrow Williams' term, a "system" player. And Jackson -- Big Chief Triangle -- is the ultimate system coach.
They'd be good for each other.
See, the Nets were always going to have to be greater than the sum of their parts to be successful, whether the head coach is Johnson or somebody else. It was clear Prokhorov had misgivings about Johnson because he refused to extend his contract beyond this season. And Johnson -- a demanding man -- was right Thursday when he said that being a lame duck helped undermine his authority at least a bit when the team's 11-4 start dissolved into a 14-14 record by the time Prokhorov fired him with Charlotte, the league's biggest cupcake, awaiting them Friday night.
But Johnson undercut himself with some of the decisions he made as well.
The locker room was splintering. And Johnson also made it easier for Prokhorov to fire him by how he reacted when Williams griped, and the team didn't pull out of its nosedive even after Brook Lopez came back from his foot injury. Johnson behaved like a man who didn't know how to fix it. He kept changing the starting lineup. He said he'd scrap 40 percent of the offense. Players only bitched some more.
Too little attention has been paid to the fact that Gerald Wallace's extraordinarily blunt rant about the Nets' selfishness after Wednesday's loss to Milwaukee was far worse than anything Williams said the week before.
Now Johnson's assistant P.J. Carlesimo moves up to interim coach. The Nets are again waiting for somebody new to come walking through the door and save them.
Except this time -- unlike all the other times -- it should actually happen.
What's so hard about uttering a little word like "yes" when two guys need each other as much as Jackson and Prokhorov do?