The Nets fired Avery Johnson on Thursday, and most signs are pointing at Phil Jackson as his replacement. It has been reported that the Zen Master would "for sure" consider the job, and he stands out as the Nets' top target, though P.J. Carlesimo will take over as the interim coach. Stan Van Gundy came out and said he's not interested, but the fact that he'd publicly comment on the matter seems to show that he's at least in the mix. Jackson's salary expectations are insatiable, but this is when it literally pays off to have a billionaire owner in Mikhail Prokhorov.
After the D'Antoni shocker in L.A. I am hesitant to prognosticate about who will get the job, let alone how that will affect players on the Nets, but generally speaking it should be a good thing for fantasy owners. Brooklyn is loaded with talent, including three guys capable of averaging around 20 points per game (Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson), yet they are in the bottom third of the league in points per game. Only four teams average fewer shot attempts per game (79.6) and only the Hornets play at a slower pace. The Nets are also 29th in fastbreak points (8.9, fewer than every team but Toronto), and 19th in field goal percentage (43.8 percent), so they're not generating many easy buckets. They have also lost 10 of 13 games in December to fall to .500 this season, an unacceptable situation for a supposed playoff contender.
The sluggish offensive stats are due largely to Avery Johnson's unimaginative schemes, but there are a ton of contributing factors. Half the roster is brand new, for instance. Also, Brook Lopez is returning from a lost season and has already dealt with injuries, Avery has consistently played Jerry Stackhouse (who has admittedly been solid for an 18-year veteran) ahead of MarShon Brooks, and the Nets' two All-Star guards are hovering around career-low percentages from the field, due in part to the unimaginative offense, which brings us to Deron Williams' public criticism.
Superstars have all the leverage in the NBA due to economic realities, the outsized importance of star players, and the way the CBA is structured. To wit, D-Will signed a five-year contract worth $99 million this summer, while Avery was in the final year of his three-year contract. Nets GM Billy King explicitly denied that D-Will was the "deciding factor" in the firing, and Williams himself rejected the notion outright, but his decision to publicly question the Nets' offense, while praising the system he left behind in Utah, certainly set the ball in motion. It's also hard to take Williams' protestations seriously after his power play in Utah, which may have ousted the venerable Jerry Sloan, not to mention the fact that Williams has his own propaganda-like website complete with a personal beat writer.
The takeaway is that whatever coach is hired will have a transparent mandate to build an offense toward D-Will's strengths, which should only help his value (Williams, by the way, is expected to play on Friday despite his bruised wrist). The transition probably won't hurt Joe Johnson either, as JJ is one of the aforementioned struggling All-Stars -- he's still getting a healthy 15.1 shots per game but he's making just 42.1 percent of them, his lowest mark since the 2002-03 season with Phoenix. Kris Humphries' outlook also brightens considerably, as Avery had recently resorted to benching him in favor of a small lineup with Gerald Wallace at PF (a position Crash has repeatedly said he prefers not to play). On a side note, Hump is expected to return from his abdominal injury on Friday. I would buy-low on D-Will, if possible, and maybe even Johnson depending how cheaply you can get him. I'd consider scooping up Kris Humphries off the waiver wire, too, if you have a struggling player you can cut for a speculative addition -- he's a trade candidate, so the Nets may want to showcase him, and his annual $12 million salary is a pretty compelling reason for a new coach to scrape him off the bench. Owners in deeper leagues should also keep a close watch on Andray Blatche (to see how his role changes) and MarShon Brooks (in case he assumes a reliable share of bench minutes).
Moving on from the Nets' situation, here are some quick news blasts before recapping Thursday's two games:
- Raymond Felton will miss 4-6 weeks with his injured pinkie finger, though he won't need surgery. I can't offer a blanket "keep or cut" recommendation, as it comes down the particulars of your league, but generally speaking I wouldn't keep him on my bench for a month or longer. Jason Kidd remains a must-start option, Pablo Prigioni could surface with temporary value in deep leagues, and I imagine J.R. Smith will also have plenty of playmaking opportunities.
- Dwyane Wade has been suspended one game for intentionally kicking Ramon Sessions in the crotch on Wednesday -- Wade won't play on Friday, which is a kick to the crotch for fantasy owners.
- Pau Gasol has plantar faciitis in his right foot, but he's probable for Friday's game vs. the Blazers. Hopefully he can play through the injury by managing his minutes, but this is another question mark for his rest-of-season outlook.
- Tyreke Evans won't play on Friday. He is "hoping" play on Sunday...but if not he'll seek a second opinion in L.A., and his owners can't be comforted by the fact that he's already had multiple MRIs and is considering the need for a second opinion. I could be overreacting, but he's missed 11 of Sacramento's last 14 games and his owners may want to float out trade offers to see what he's still worth -- I'm not recommending a fire sale, just a due-diligence survey of your options.
- Eric Gordon expects to make his season debut on Saturday, and he doesn't expect any setbacks with his balky knee. He seems confident that his rehab has fully addressed the causes of the injury, and I wouldn't be surprised if he starts putting up huge numbers before long.
- Goran Dragic took a hard fall on Wednesday and went home with bruises on his hip, back and wrist, but he expects to play on Friday.
- Wesley Matthews is questionable to play on Friday due to his lingering hip injury. He's aggravated it a few times already and I can't imagine the Blazers risking another setback if he's less than 100 percent, but we probably won't know his status until game-time.
- Nikola Pekovic left Wednesday's game due to illness but he practiced fully on Thursday and expects to play on Saturday.
- Brandon Roy (knee) could rejoin the Wolves' rotation on Saturday.
- Rodney Stuckey has a sprained left ankle, which leaves him questionable for Friday's game vs. the Heat.
- John Wall (knee) continues to work out with the Wizards and is targeting a January return, though he's not yet going through any contract drills.
- Hedo Turkoglu (hand) is traveling with the Magic, but he's not expected to play on Friday.
- Eric Bledsoe is playing through a hip injury which has drastically reduced his effectiveness in the past few weeks.
- Kyle Lowry is expected to return from his triceps injury on Friday.
There's much more news of lesser consequence, but that's why we have our comprehensive Injury Report.
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