If there was a subtext to the Nets’ firing of Avery Johnson two days after Christmas, P. J. Carlesimo had been around long enough to recognize the plot lines sooner than most. He starred in an earlier version of the movie, but long before the classic coach-killing caper became a more spurious whodunit of backdoor maneuvers.
When Carlesimo was a marquee name, the assailant just went for the jugular. The results could be fatal. Those who had longstanding relationships with him worried that his coaching career, N.B.A. or college, would be forever entombed after he was infamously choked and punched by Latrell Sprewell when with the Golden State Warriors early in the 1997-98 season.
His mother, Lucy, wept on the doorstep of her Montclair, N.J., home after a reporter knocked the following day. His close-knit cluster of nine brothers and sisters — two of them lawyers — rallied around him and advised him on how to defend his reputation. Industry friends and colleagues wondered how Carlesimo could survive a spectacle that, however indefensible on Sprewell’s part, saw a player-coach relationship deteriorate to the point of assault.
Yet here is Carlesimo, still living the itinerant pro basketball life, around long enough to be taking control of his fourth N.B.A. team. Even if it is with an interim tag attached to his big toe, while the Nets owner Mikhail D. Prokhorov considers chasing Phil Jackson or some other hot name.