He is the son of an old football coach and big-city character named Pete Carlesimo and has been a coach himself for 40 years of his life and is 63 years old and has a wife and two children, ages 7 and 10, living across the country in Seattle because he and his wife fell in love with the city, the neighborhood, the schools and the life they were building there.
But he is a coach. He has always loved the life, even when he has been bounced around by it. His last best shot to be a head coach in the NBA was supposed to be with the Thunder. He had coached the team as the Supersonics the year before, and then the team left Seattle, started out 1-12 in the 2008-09 season, and P.J. was gone and Scott Brooks replaced him.
He went to Toronto after that as an assistant. Because he still loved the life. Then he was with the Nets, and the Nets’ season was crashing after a promising start, and Avery Johnson, who hired him, was gone, and P.J. was back in play, more than two decades after he should have won a national championship at Seton Hall, nearly five years from what was supposed to be his third and last head coaching job in the NBA.
“If I was ever going to get an opportunity (as a head coach), it was going to be because of the Nets,” he was saying Friday afternoon from Memphis before the Grizzlies banged around the Nets the way they banged around the Knicks earlier in the season. “I was thinking that if we had a couple of really good years in Brooklyn, got to the playoffs, did well and a job opened up, maybe somebody would say, ‘Hey, look at how they turned things around with the Nets.’ ”
Carlesimo laughed then. “Having said that,” he said. “I actually doubted very much that I would get another opportunity.”
But Billy King, the Nets’ general manager, had turned over an awful lot of his roster between last season and this one, between Jersey and Brooklyn, and his owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, had given him the money to do that. And when the Nets were 14-14, Johnson got himself fired and P.J. took over and the Nets started making their run at the Knicks.