Brooklyn Nets' Evans, Lopez and Williams wait during time out in their game with Chicago Bulls in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of their NBA Eastern Conference Quarterfinals basketball playoff series in New York

The coach is gone, now what moves must Nets make this offseason?


P.J. Carlesimo wasn’t really the problem in Brooklyn. But he wasn’t really the answer, either.

Brooklyn goes into the summer looking for a new coach and that hire is huge because it’s questionable how much the roster can be changed from last season’s 49-win, fourth in the East squad.

That’s the challenge for the Nets this summer — between the coach and roster tweaks they need to ad variety to their offensive game and they need to get some accountability at the defensive end.

For coaches they are looking first at big names — Phil Jackson said no so expect names like Larry Brown, the Van Gundy brothers (though that seems unlikely), Brian Shaw and maybe others. What the Nets need is a creative coach who can push the right buttons, not just the biggest name — they had conversations with Tom Thibodeau last coaching search but didn’t want to hire an assistant, they wanted a name for the marquee. Thibodeau just coached the Nets into the ground in the first round of the playoffs.

That coach has to come in and put in a system that gives Deron Williams freedom and also gets Brook Lopez the ball on the move and in spots where he can be effective. Part of that would be to up the tempo — the Nets played at the third slowest pace in the league last season. With guys like Williams and the mobile Lopez — not to mention MarShon Brooks and others — the Nets should get more easy buckets in transition than they do.

The coach would be helped by adding some versatility to the roster. But that’s where things get tricky — the Nets have $85 million in salary on the books for next season already. While owner Mikhail Prokhorov may be fine with the luxury tax hit, the contracts they have and the restrictions on deals because they are taxpayers will make Billy King’s job hard. They have one free agent they want to bring back in Andray Blatche, but he says he wants minutes to go with his money and the Nets may not have enough of the minutes part (although money always wins that battle).

As for trades, the options are limited. The Nets are not going to trade Williams and Lopez, those guys are set.

They’d be willing to trade Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace but that will be very hard — Johnson has the worst contract in the NBA with three years, $70 million remaining after this season; Wallace has three years, $33 million and just had a dramatic drop in productivity at age 30. We’ve seen in recent years no deal is untradeable, but these come close and they would not get much quality back in return for them.

Kris Humphries has one year, $12 million left and that seems more likely to get shopped around, but there’s not going to be a lot of demand for his services. Maybe he can packaged with Brooks or Mirza Teletovic to get a better deal. Maybe. But any deal is going to be tough to come by because of the trade restrictions on them (as a tax payer) and because they don’t have assets other teams are all that interested in.

Any deal needs to focus on someone at the four spot — when Wallace and Reggie Evans were paired the Nets were easy to defend because neither of them were a real threat to score. But Carlesimo paired them a lot. What the Nets need is more versatility, a guy who can provide different looks other teams have to defend. Humphries and Evans were not those guys, they were they guys you willingly helped off of.

The biggest problem for the Nets is that pretty much what you see is what you’re going to get with the roster. They aren’t making big moves.

Which is why the coaching hire here is key — they need a coach that can elevate the roster they have, because that is the roster they are largely stuck with (for a couple of years). If the Nets want to climb out of the middle of the Eastern Conference pack it’s going to take a good hire as coach and some clever work by Billy King. He overpaid to get a roster together that could win in the new building in Brooklyn, but now the Nets are that roster and things will not be easy.

51 Questions: Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

Michael Malone
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

One incident sums up how bad things had gotten in Denver under the Brian Shaw regime — breaking a fourth-quarter huddle in the final game of February, Nuggets players chanted “1-2-3-six weeks!”

The players didn’t like the coach, some of them didn’t like each other, and with six weeks and 24 games left in the season they had checked out. The young players (and some of the veterans) partied so much Shaw canceled shootarounds because guys couldn’t roll in for them in the morning. Shaw had lost the team long before when he’d tried to fit square pegs into the triangle holes of his offense, and it spiraled out of control from there. The culture in Denver was broken.

Mike Malone was brought in to repair that culture.

The Jeff Van Gundy disciple has shown he can do that before. Malone was starting to build something in Sacramento (they started last season 9-6 before DeMarcus Cousins got sick), where he was asked to repair a franchise culture that by the end of the Maloof era was something akin to the Lord of the Flies. Malone also turned out to be the one coach who had gotten through to Cousins. Even with his defensive mindset and Cousins in the paint, Malone had the Kings playing at the eighth-fastest pace in the league in pace, but the Kings’ owner wanted to play faster (and maybe didn’t want to miss out on the chance to hire George Karl), so Malone got sacked.

The question becomes, is Malone alone going to turn things around in Denver and bring them back to relevance?

Not alone, and not just in one season, but he will get them on the right track.

The first step to show management was behind Malone was the trading of Ty Lawson. No doubt when focused Lawson is a quality point guard (as Houston likely benefits from this season), but he was part of the problem in the end in Denver, to the point of picking up two DUIs in six months (he checked into a rehab facility after the second one). He had mentally checked out and his example was an issue the Nuggets needed to change.

That turns the keys for the offense over to rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who impressed a lot of people at Summer League after bailing on SMU to play in China last season. But he’s still a rookie with a long way to go — as the 15 turnovers in his first two preseason games attest. Things that worked in China and Summer League don’t fly against an NBA defense.

With Mudiay at the point and a team that plays half its games at high altitude, Monroe wants to take advantage of that and get out and run. Expect the Nuggets to get back to their traditional up-tempo games, but with some things Malone loves to run (such as the Rick Adelman corner action).

But for Malone, all things — including good transition basketball — starts with defense. You have to get stops and steals to run well, and the Nuggets were 26th in the league in defensive rating last season (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). In the first two Nuggets preseason games, that was the Nuggets focus (with mixed results).

Malone’s challenge starts with getting Kenneth Faried to buy in and play as hard on defense as he does on offense — something Faried has never done. Faried has been a defensive minus since he entered the NBA and that becomes one of Malone’s first major projects (even if it’s just to boost Faried’s trade value). Faried, who clashed with Shaw over his role, has said he’s felt energized under Malone, now the coach just has to steer that energy to the defensive end of the court.

Malone will be searching for the right center to put next to Faried, and I expect that will mean a lot of Jusuf Nurkic (who is young and shows it at times). But also expect to see some small-ball lineups with Faried at the five. Something like Mudiay, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Faried. A lineup with some athleticism and shooting that could put up points, but would they get any stops? If Gary Harris slots in for Foye, does that help the defense (Harris is guy Nuggets fans may see more and more of as the season goes on).

The roster is a work in progress, and if you were to bet on the Nuggets doing one thing this season, it should be making trades. Things are going to change.

There are nice pieces on the Nuggets, but not enough of them and with some real questions about how it all fits together. This is not a playoff team this season, not in the West.

But it’s a team that Malone could have playing a lot better late in the season than at the beginning, once some of those questions start to be answered, and the young players gain experience. That should be the goal in Denver. Begin to change the culture, get buy-in on the system, get guys playing hard again rather than dreaming of Cancun vacations by February. Change can be incremental, but Malone will start the change.

Then in a couple of years, you’ve got the team you want.

Well, so long as the Nuggets ownership doesn’t get impatient and decide it needs to change directions again.

Another Pelicans center down: Omer Asik out three weeks

Omer Asik, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
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The Pelicans will have to play Anthony Davis at center now.

With backup center Alexis Ajinca already sidelined, starting center Omer Asik suffered his own injury.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that center Omer Asik is expected to miss the next three weeks with a right calf strain. The injury occurred during Wednesday’s practice.

If that three-week timeline is firm, Asik would miss two regular season games – at Warriors and at Trail Blazers.

Davis figured to be the most natural fit at center in Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo scheme. What happens if the Pelicans excel with him there and then stumble once Asik and Ajinca return? Because New Orleans had Bird Rights for Asik and Ajinca, re-signing them made some sense. And once they’re re-signed, Gentry must find a role for them. But that could get harder if it becomes obvious the team is best with Davis at center.

As long as Asik and Ajinca are out, Kendrick Perkins probably moves into the rotation. Jeff Adrien could also see minutes at center. Suddenly, Adrien, on an unguaranteed contract, has a much better chance of making the regular-season roster. Ryan Anderson probably plays more at power forward, too, with Davis logging more time at center.