NEW YORK (AP) — Mikhail Prokhorov said Friday he decided to fire Avery Johnson last week, but now wants patience with interim coach P.J. Carlesimo.
A day after dismissing Johnson after just 28 games, Prokhorov said he won't rush into a coaching search, insisting he wants Carlesimo to have a chance to lead the Brooklyn Nets out of their slump.
The Russian billionaire cut short a vacation to British Columbia to travel to New York, where he plans to meet Saturday with Carlesimo. But even with big names such as Phil Jackson potentially available and Prokhorov vowing to spend whatever it takes to build a championship team, he said repeatedly that Carlesimo was the head coach.
Prokhorov did say that if the Nets do look for a new coach, he would be personally involved. He wouldn't discuss anyone by name, even joking he had never heard of Jackson, the 11-time champion coach.
"Now P.J. is the head coach and if it becomes necessary, you know who the usual suspects are," Prokhorov told reporters at halftime of the Nets' 97-81 victory over Charlotte.
Johnson led the Nets to an 11-4 start, winning Eastern Conference coach of the month honors for November. But they were just 3-10 in December before Friday, had been blown out of their previous two games, and Prokhorov said the Nets were lacking team spirit.
Still, deciding Johnson would be fired last week means Prokhorov had made up his mind even before the lackluster Christmas performance at home against Boston that preceded a rout Wednesday in Milwaukee.
"I think we have very talented players but they are capable of much more than what we have seen in the recent weeks," Prokhorov said. "I respect Avery and really I wish him well, but sometimes chemistry just isn't right. It happens.
"I think the main question is why we were unable to bounce back and to play like champions," he added.
Prokhorov added around $300 million in payroll this summer and has set the expectations high, saying he believes the Nets can reach the Eastern Conference finals. Though it's believed he wouldn't back away from paying top dollar for a coach, he left open the possibility that he may already have the guy he wants.
"P.J. is the head coach and just I think we have a lot of trust in him and really I want him to lead the team," Prokhorov said.
The Nets played with energy under Carlesimo after forward Gerald Wallace had criticized the team following Wednesday's 108-93 loss in Milwaukee in Johnson's last game.
"To me, it's kind of frustrating and sad because that's the first time in my career that a coach's been let go in the middle of the season like that," Wallace said. "But I understand the business part of it. We move on and obviously regardless of who's sitting at the head of the chair, we know what we got to do as players."