SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak was disappointed that the Brooklyn Nets fired Avery Johnson on Thursday. Krystkowiak was one of Johnson’s assistants in 2010-11 when the NBA franchise was located in New Jersey and gearing up for this season’s move to the $1 billion Barclays Center in New York.
“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around,” Krystkowiak said. “I was part of it when ‘Hey, we’re going to get to Brooklyn in two years.’ It was a lot of building and we took our lumps.”
The Nets went 24-58 that season, followed by a 22-44 mark in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign. The franchise’s Brooklyn era began with an 11-4 record and earned Johnson Eastern Conference Coach of the Month accolades for October/November. Then came a slide, though, that left the Nets at 14-14 — prompting owner Mikhail Prokhorov to fire Johnson.
“He laid a lot of blood, sweat and tears on the line,” said Krystkowiak, who considers Johnson a really passionate and intelligent coach. “(He) kind of got the squad to where they were competitive and wasn’t able to maybe reap some of the benefits of that.”
Prokhorov pumped $330 million into roster upgrades this season and the struggles that followed the team’s strong start, obviously, didn’t sit well. The Nets have the NBA’s second-highest payroll.
“You’ve got an owner that’s got some expectations to get some stuff done,” Krystkowiak said, noting that Johnson summed things up at a press conference following his dismissal. “If an owner has the money to bring the next guy in and thinks you’re not the answer, that’s their prerogative.”
That, however, doesn’t reflect how Krystkowiak feels about Johnson.
“He’s solid,” Krystkowiak said. “There’s no reason he should be thinking he didn’t do a great job.”
In text messages he exchanged with Johnson on Friday, Krystkowiak noted that his former boss is one of the best coaches he’s been around and is going to be a great friend forever.
“He’ll land on his feet and bounce back,” Krystkowiak added. “But it’s a tough deal, a tough shake.”
Johnson was 60-116 in his tenure with the Nets.