DALLAS -- The names Isiah Thomas and Rick Pitino have been linked with NBA coaching jobs in recent days, which can only mean that Tiger Woods, Michael Jackson's doctor and John Edwards must not be available.
The question of which former NBA coach is considered more loathsome -- Zeke or the Little Rick-tator -- isn't really germane to this discussion. Analyzing which attempt at drumming up one more shot at an NBA job was more pathetic? That's pointless, too. What's important to note is that working the back channels is a favorite activity of both Isiah and Pitino these days, given that they're no longer permitted to roam the front channels.
|Don't expect Rick Pitino to join former Louisville star Terrence Williams in Jersey anytime soon. (Getty Images)|
In Isiah's case, he's coaching Florida International, for goodness sake, so beggars can't be choosers. Anyway, it's a moot point because the Clippers didn't want him last spring, and they don't want him now. For Pitino, you may be wondering why coaching the Nets -- the abysmal, catastrophic, 4-48 Nets, who played to a blizzard-and-badness-induced crowd of 1,016 Wednesday night in the Meadowlands -- would be anything close to a desirable NBA job.
Allow me to explain.
If you want to become good in the NBA, you have to become really, really bad first. The Nets are doing that at an historic clip, as they're on pace to at least match the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers' record for futility. Nine-and-73, here they come.
Sometimes, you become bad by accident or through your own ineptitude. In the Nets' case, it was by design. Gone are high-priced stars Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. By my math, the Nets are one small deal away from having enough cap space to sign two max free agents come July. All major hurdles have been cleared for their move to a new Brooklyn arena in 2011 or 2012, positioning this nomadic franchise in the league's biggest and most important market -- a direct threat to the Knicks' decades-long monopoly. NBA owners are expected to approve the sale of the team to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov by the end of this season, a move that will end the decades of bumbling, penny-pinching ownership.
But that's not all. By being so bad -- epically bad -- the Nets will have the best shot at the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft. It's no guarantee, but if the pingpong balls fall their way, the Nets would have dibs on John Wall, whose impact on his team could be LeBron-like. New Jersey also possesses Dallas' unprotected No. 1 pick in 2010 from the Kidd trade, and they'll have a deep-pocketed, flamboyant owner who will spare no expense to make himself the most important person in the NBA who doesn't have an office on Fifth Avenue or possess the initials "DJS."
Coaching the Nets over the next five years or so will not be a good NBA job; it will be a great one. That is why Pitino, or anybody else with an outsized ego and the wanderlust to match, would want it.
But there are other, far more important issues to be dealt with in New Jersey and Brooklyn than Pitino's desperate attempt to arrange his escape plan from Louisville, where he's been dogged by a sex scandal and is overshadowed by rival Kentucky and its equally egomaniacal coach, John Calipari. The irony here is that both Pitino and Calipari were disastrous as NBA coaches. But neither coached a team with the kind of opportunity that stands before the Nets.
Nets president Rod Thorn, currently more concerned with whether he'll still have a job once Prokhorov takes over, professed no knowledge of any Pitino maneuverings when I spoke with him on Thursday. That doesn't mean the maneuverings didn't happen, just that Thorn was strategically left out of the loop.
Pitino and Thorn have been close for years, so it would be too obvious for Pitino's operatives to use him as a way to float Slick Rick's latest trial balloon. It hardly matters anyway, because the balloon, despite Pitino's denials, already is in flight.
"I'm good friends with Rick and have been for long time," Thorn said. "He's never reached out to me and I've never reached out to him about this. He's never indicated to me that he's unhappy where he is or has any intentions of coming back to the NBA."
Asked if this were merely a case of Pitino's people calling an end-around to get his name out there, Thorn offered his trademark, folksy cackle.
"I've certainly never heard about it, and I never had any conversations with him about it," Thorn said. "If he had approached one of our owners, or somebody on his behalf had approached one of our owners, I'm sure they'd say something to me about it."
Not necessarily, if for no other reason than Pitino landing on his feet with one of the very best NBA jobs available would be incomprehensible. Just don't confuse Pitino's predicament with that of the Nets. The team from Brooklyn, by way of East Rutherford, Newark and locales long forgotten in the NBA landscape, is in far better shape than the desperate man who wants to coach it.