EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — P.J. Carlesimo is out. Let the Brooklyn Nets’ coaching search begin. And that search is expected to include a call to Phil Jackson.
The Nets announced Sunday that they would not be retaining Carlesimo, who went 35-19 during the regular season on an interim basis after replacing Avery Johnson but could not get his team past the first round of the playoffs.
“It was a difficult decision, and we talked about it, but looking at the long-term and the future of this organization, I felt it was best to look elsewhere to try and find the right fit,” general manager Billy King said at the team’s practice facility. “I thanked him, he did a helluva job for us in a difficult situation, but by doing it now, there’s a lot of jobs open — hopefully it gives P.J. a chance and gives us a chance with a lot of candidates out there to explore and that’s what we’ll do in the next couple weeks.”
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King made the decision after speaking with ownership and felt the time was right to move in another direction. The GM said the team’s first-round postseason exit had nothing to do with it, saying “it was more of an evaluation of the whole season.”
There is no timetable for the Nets to replace Carlesimo, King said.
While King said the Nets aren’t necessarily looking for “a high-profile guy, they’re looking for the right guy” — contrary to reports that owner Mikhail Prokhorov is seeking one — the GM said he’s going to call Jackson, an 11-time NBA coaching champion, to gauge his level of interest.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll call him,” King said. “He’s one of the best coaches sitting on the sidelines so you’ve got to reach out.”
It is unknown if Jackson would be willing to return to the bench. He is serving as an adviser with the Detroit Pistons in their search for a head coach. Jackson, who could return to the NBA in a front-office role, recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that “three or four teams” have gauged his interest, though none of them involved coaching.
Other high-profile candidates the Nets could pursue include current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, Stan Van Gundy, Jerry Sloan — who point guard Deron Williams said Sunday he’d “love” to play for again — and Larry Brown, since he used to coach under King when they were both with thePhiladelphia 76ers.
“I won’t rule anybody out at this point in time. We’re gonna look everywhere,” King said. “I guess I’ll rule Coach K [Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski] out. I don’t want the alumni base mad at me.”
Williams said on a team full of veterans, the players would like a coach with experience who runs less isolation plays and more motion sets. King said he’d ask his players for their opinion on who the next coach would be, but noted the final decision would ultimately be his.
Players backed Carlesimo following the team’s 99-93 loss to the Chicago Bulls in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, with many saying they wanted him back.
“I think the news was shocking to all of us,” shooting guard Joe Johnson said.
King, who recently received a multiyear contract extension, has his work cut out for him. Aside from adding a new head coach, he also has to try to improve his roster despite being over the salary cap.
The Nets spent $350 million to upgrade their roster last summer, when they were one of the NBA’s busiest teams.
They re-signed starters Williams, Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace and landed the All-Star Johnson in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks in hopes of being a contender in their first season in Brooklyn after they were longtime losers in New Jersey.
They got back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007, but expectations were higher, with Prokhorov saying in the preseason that he thought the Nets could make the conference finals.
“In one sense, I will say how far we’ve come from last year, infinitely. But we didn’t get as far as we wanted to get,” Carlesimo said Saturday night.
“I think we made enormous progress from where we were last year and what these guys accomplished this year, but to me it’s a hill. You’re always trying to climb up the hill. You go up; you go back. But we thought we could get higher up the hill than we got.”
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor