NBA Rumors: Breaking Down Latest Buzz Around Nets' Head Coach Hunt

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIDecember 29, 2012

P.J. Carlesimo is the head coach in Brooklyn for now. But the Nets are definitely exploring other viable candidates.
P.J. Carlesimo is the head coach in Brooklyn for now. But the Nets are definitely exploring other viable candidates.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In the aftermath of the Brooklyn Nets firing head coach Avery Johnson on Thursday, the NBA rumor mill is abuzz with plenty of whispers about who might take over the star-studded, struggling squad.

A 3-10 stretch in December sealed Johnson's fate, and P.J. Carlesimo has taken over as the interim head coach. Carlesimo guided the Nets to a 97-81 victory over the lowly Charlotte Bobcats in his debut on Friday.

But Brooklyn's front office is already aggressively pursuing other big-name options, most notably Phil Jackson.

Here is a breakdown of what's been going on in the past 48 hours or so.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that Kelvin Sampson is considered a "significant" candidate for the coaching vacancy:

Nets general manager Billy King is intrigued with Sampson, among other candidates, and is expected to eventually speak with him, sources said.

While King is impressed with Sampson, sources said ownership and the front office have yet to be convinced that it can give a win-now job to a first-time NBA head coach.

ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo indicates that another serious candidate for the job is current ESPN broadcaster and former New York Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy:

The Brooklyn Nets hold Jeff Van Gundy in high regard and consider him a serious candidate behind top target Phil Jackson to fill their head coaching vacancy...

Another league source, however, told that Van Gundy...needs to learn more about Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and the inner workings of the organization before determining his level of interest. The source said Van Gundy...likely would prefer taking over the Nets after the season, not during it.

If the team's top candidate behind Jackson isn't wanting to take over until after the season, it makes the firing of Johnson all the more perplexing.

But come on, if there is any chance for Brooklyn to land an 11-time championship coach in Jackson, Mikhail Prokhorov and Co. are sure to do it. There isn't a better coach for a win-now scenario, because no coach has ever won so frequently.

According to Ken Berger of, Jackson and the Nets could meet soon to discuss the job: interested in exploring the opportunity in Brooklyn. The Nets are interested in sitting down with him, too, as sources told Friday that Brooklyn officials plan to reach out to Jackson to [gauge] his interest and the job.

Prokhorov offered some cryptic commentary to ESPN's Brian Windhorst after Jackson's name was mentioned:

Prokhorov on Nets' coaching situation: "Now P.J. is the head coach and if it becomes necessary, you know who the usual suspects are."

— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) December 29, 2012

For now, the suspects appear to be Sampson, Van Gundy and most prominently, Jackson. However, there are other names on the Nets' alleged wish list that are former head coaches.

Berger's report obviously confirms interest in Jackson as well as Van Gundy, but a couple of other prospects are supposedly on general manager Billy King's radar:

...As Prokhorov arrived in New York Friday...the list of significant candidates that Nets GM Billy King was expected to put on the table consisted essentially of Jackson, former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, former Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan and former Clippers, Blazers, Bucks and Lakers coach Mike Dunleavy.

The fact that Johnson was fired after a 14-14 overall start—and after being named Coach of the Month for October and November—seems like a bit of a knee-jerk reaction.

With a starting lineup featuring Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez, though, the recent skid wasn't good enough. It will be interesting to see how this situation unfolds, but unless Brooklyn lands Jackson, it will be difficult to fully justify Johnson's sudden dismissal.