Thursday afternoon, the Brooklyn Nets fired Avery Johnson after the he posted a 14-14 record as the Nets’ head coach this season. Some viewed the move as a bit of a shock given that Johnson was named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for guiding the Nets to a 11-4 record just a few weeks prior before their recent 3-11 tailspin, but firing Johnson was the right decision for the Nets.
Johnson is a good coach. He’s not a great coach, but Johnson is good enough to get the job done in most situations. But NBA basketball is about more than just x’s and o’s. It’s a business. And unfortunately, the newly minted Brooklyn Nets wasn’t the type of situation where Johnson would have succeeded.
The Nets giving Johnson the keys to a revamped roster is similar to giving a mediocre Nascar driver the keys a high-powered sports car. The pieces of the car may be superior, but you can only go so far with an average driver behind the wheel. This is what happened with Avery Johnson in Brooklyn.
The Nets moved into a new arena with new ownership, new uniforms and lofty expectations. Brooklyn had given Deron Williams and Brook Lopez costly contract extensions, as well as traded a small village worth of players for Joe Johnson, another all-star with a massive contract attached. Many analysts and mainstream outlets were prematurely picking the Nets to be among the elite teams of the Eastern Conference. Avery Johnson never stood a chance.
Add to the equation that Avery Johnson was in the final year of his contract, a 46-102 record with the Nets heading into the 2012-13 season, and Nets prized possession Deron Williams publicly questioning Johnson’s offense, and the writing was on the wall for an early dismissal if the Nets didn’t remain hot throughout the season. A fast start is the only thing that kept Avery around this long.
The Nets also need to win big to remain as profitable as possible. Brooklyn put so much into promoting their revamped roster, logo, hip partial owner Jay-Z and becoming the new “trendy” NBA team that they couldn’t afford to be just a .500 team, regardless of if that’s not too far from what they really are at this point. A similar situation went down with the Los Angeles Lakers and Mike Brown. When a team puts so much effort into re-tooling the roster with little results, the coach becomes the fall guy, whether it’s fair or not.
Professional sports in major media markets is as much about on the court performance as it is about marketing. Johnson and his coaching style didn’t fit the Nets’ current persona. The only thing that would have saved his job was winning, and Johnson didn’t do enough of it to remain as the Nets’ head coach.