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."
On Thursday, general manager Billy King dodged a question 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 team's strength after the Nets revamped the roster this summer as they prepared to move from New Jersey to their new home in Brooklyn.
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 current New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson was fired as coach of the Hawks 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.
AP freelance writer Adriano Torres in East Rutherford, N.J., contributed to this report.