EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- P.J. Carlesimo believes the Brooklyn Nets have already found the permanent replacement for their head-coaching position: himself.
“I think I am,” Carlesimo replied to ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian O’Connor when asked if he believed he was the best man for the job long-term. “Any coach is going to believe he’s the best one. I believe I’m the best one for the job, and it would be foolish for me not to believe that.”
Since being named interim head coach following the dismissal of Avery Johnson, Carlesimo has led the Nets to a 6-1 record, the best start for a Nets head coach since Lawrence Frank (7-0) in 2003-04.
While the Nets will likely elect to pursue big names such as top targets Phil Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy and Stan Van Gundy in the offseason, one league source familiar with the team’s thinking told ESPNNewYork.com that team management has been impressed with the connection Carlesimo has made with his players, and the coach will “almost certainly” make it to the end of the season. The source said the Nets believe Carlesimo has reduced the pressure on some players by allowing them to play through mistakes, something Johnson was far less willing to do.
“P.J.’s done a very good job, and this team has already been through a lot of change,” the source said. “It’s like switching offensive coordinators all the time on a quarterback. There’s only so many times you can do it.”
Still, Carlesimo understands his title is anything but permanent at this juncture.
“It’s reality, and Michael [Mikhail Prokhorov] as the owner and Billy [King] as the GM have got to figure out who is the best guy going forward,” Carlesimo told O’Connor. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity that Avery gave me by bringing me here [as an assistant], and now I get to audition.
“... I can’t control Phil and Jeff and Stan and whoever else is out there, they’re all really good coaches. But we’re here and our guys right now are playing their a--es off, and hopefully that continues.”
The Nets are averaging 102.9 points per game under Carlesimo, 8.4 points per game more than their season average through the first 28 games under Johnson (94.5). They are also shooting better from the field (46.6 percent, up from 43.8).
Asked if Carlesimo would be a great fit long-term, point guard Deron Williams responded, “I mean, he’s been great for us so far. And I think all the guys responded well to him, I think all the guys like him. He’s done a great job coaching us.”
The Nets (20-15) went just 14-14 under Johnson but have been thriving since Carlesimo took over the reins. They have won four straight games heading into Friday night’s matchup with the Phoenix Suns at Barclays Center.
“Our system hasn’t changed much, our defensive principles haven’t really changed much,” Williams said. “It’s just how we practice and how we prepare is just a different style.”
Carlesimo coached at Seton Hall from 1982-94 -- leading the Pirates all the way to national championship game in 1989.
“The way he yells and stuff could be considered that,” Williams replied when asked if Carlesimo reminds him of a prototypical “college coach.” “Yeah, he gets after it. He’s yelling all practice, all game. But I think guys respect it because he’s a straight shooter.”
Carlesimo also has a great sense of humor.
“Yeah, he’s pretty hilarious,” Williams said. “That’s what makes it funny. When he’s yelling, it’s still funny.”
At the same time, Williams said, he’s still able to absorb his coach’s criticism while laughing.
“Yeah, we try not to laugh right there,” Williams joked, “but he does a great job of balancing it. It’s not like he’s just screaming all the time. He’s doing a good job of teaching us as well. Sometimes he yells to get his point across. That’s when you know he’s serious.”
Williams and his veteran teammates are comfortable playing for a veteran head coach like Carlesimo.
“I think that’s what’s great about it. We lost a head coach, but then we gained another one,” Williams said. “He’s coached a lot of teams in this league as a head coach. Like I said, he’s doing a great job.”