By ADRIANO TORRES
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — P.J. Carlesimo hadn’t even coached his first game with the Brooklyn Nets and already names such as Phil Jackson were floating around.
Carlesimo was appointed interim coach Thursday when the Nets fired Avery Johnson, and general manager Billy King said he hoped Carlesimo would have the job for a while.
But the Nets also put out a statement saying a search for a new head coach would begin immediately, making it unclear how long Carlesimo would be sticking around.
The man who could clear it up is owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who is expected to attend the Nets’ game against Charlotte on Friday night.
If the Russian billionaire wants to spend big on a new coach, he could make a sales pitch to Jackson, the retired 11-time champion whom the Los Angeles Lakers considered turning back to before hiring Mike D’Antoni.
King dodged a question Thursday about a report that the Nets planned to reach out to Jackson, whom ESPN.com reported was the Nets’ top candidate.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” point guard Deron Williams said about the Jackson reports following the Nets’ morning shootaround at their practice facility. “Right now, you know, P.J. is our coach. This caught me off guard, so I have no clue.”
The backcourt duo of Williams and Joe Johnson was supposed to be the Nets’ strength after the Nets put $300 million into the roster this summer as they prepared to move from New Jersey to their new home in Brooklyn.
The Nets won 11 of their first 15 games and Avery Johnson was the Eastern Conference coach of the month for November. But a right foot injury to center Brook Lopez that was supposed to have him out for just a pair of games ended up becoming seven games. Brooklyn lost five straight in that stretch and hasn’t recovered, going 3-10 in December.
Joe Johnson, who’s averaging 16.9 points and has played well below his expectations, was surprised and shocked to hear of Avery Johnson’s dismissal. The guard said the players and not Avery Johnson were the root of the Nets’ recent struggles.
“It’s been a tale of two different months. One month we play pretty good and the next it’s not so good,” Johnson said.
“Us as players really have to look ourselves in the mirror and really have each other’s backs. I don’t think we’ve been having fun for some time,” he added. “I don’t think it was the coach. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I got P.J.’s back 100 percent and I think he’s a great coach.”
Joe Johnson was in Atlanta when New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson was fired at the end of the 2009-10 season and hasn’t given any thought to Jackson coaching the Nets.
“It’s crazy. It’s show and tell. You never know if things are going to work out the way that they’re planned,” Johnson said. “I don’t have a preference. I’m rolling with P.J. right now.”
Carlesimo, who last coached the Oklahoma City Thunder, wasn’t too enthused with how he landed his latest job.
“Obviously, it’s the worst day to become a head coach. It’s clearly not an ideal situation,” Carlesimo said. “But it’s the way of the NBA.”
Carlesimo — no matter how long he has the job — won’t have much time to make changes to a team that has relied on too much 1-on-1 play and whose offensive system was questioned by Williams before he apologized to Avery Johnson.
Practice time will be scarce, but Carlesimo did say that the coaching staff will look to make things simple and that they are “going to tweak some things”.
“The problem we have, the challenge we have short-term is that we have six games in nine days and we’re not going to make wholesale changes for sure,” Carlesimo said.