Nets’ Johnson: Russia hockey crash ‘devastating’

New Jersey Nets coach Avery Johnson was in Russia when a
Kontinental Hockey League team’s chartered jet crashed, killing 44
people.

The tragedy hit close to home for the NBA coach and former
player.

”I was there and it was a devastating thing,” Johnson said.
”It was very emotional, considering we were so close to where the
crash happened. We fly so much as athletes and coaches and fly on
different aircrafts. We don’t know the maintenance of the planes;
we don’t know the pilots. With all the travel we do, to see a plane
like that go down and so many lives were lost, not too far from
Moscow, was devastating.”

Johnson was visiting the country to play in a charity basketball
game with team owner Mikhail Prokhorov. He was back at work
Tuesday, doing his best while facing the unknown called the NBA
lockout.

”Right now, we’re just doing planning and hoping that we’ll
have a group to teach and coach,” Johnson said to reporters at the
team’s practice facility. ”We’d like to be doing the things we
like to do, which is teaching and coaching. With the situation
we’re in right now, it’s unpredictable.”

So it’s hard to predict whether the Nets can earn a playoff spot
whenever a season starts.

”I think that should be the goal, but right now, we don’t know
what we’re dealing with,” Johnson said. ”Once we do know, then it
should be more of a realistic goal.”

Johnson said his staff might include former Portland, Golden
State and Seattle/Oklahoma City coach P.J. Carlesimo, who was once
a highly successful coach at nearby Seton Hall.

Johnson was visiting Russia for the third time to play in the
charity game with Prokhorov, the first time Johnson said he played
competitively ”in years.” He fed his boss with a pass that led to
a 3-point play.

”I seriously can’t remember the last time,” said Johnson, who
retired in 2004 after a 15-year NBA career.

Johnson also conducted some clinics for young players and a
seminar for fellow coaches.

”One of the things we talked about was the need to improve in
our international program,” Johnson said. ”We’re trying to
establish our international brand. It was good to go back to help
with learning the culture in Russia. They’re really passionate
about basketball there. Had I not been there before, I don’t know
if it would have helped develop the relationship I have with
Mikhail.”