Avery Johnson's Brooklyn Nets, losers of nine of 10, needed a spark strong enough to light up Rockefeller Center's Christmas tree. So "The Little General" slapped life into his starting lineup by slapping Kris Humphries, being paid $12 million a year, to the bench for the foreseeable future.
The unveiling of a new starting five had Gerald Wallace at power forward and Keith Bogans at the three. The Nets responded with a crisp effort in defeating the Philadelphia 76ers, 95-92. Wallace finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but Brooklyn's Backcourt reaped the most benefits. Joe Johnson scored a team-high 22 points and Deron Williams delivered nine of his 16 points in the final five minutes.
And it came at the expense of Humphries. It was a player and people management decision Johnson had no choice but to make in an effort to get the 14-12 Nets winning again.
"You know (Humphries) wasn't thrilled," Johnson told reporters. "But I did explain to him where I was and what I saw on the court. He's been here with us, with me since (I was hired as a head coach). I really respect him and I really do like him. He's worked hard. You know, I've gone to bat for him in a lot of different situations. Since Day 1. I just think that it's a tough situation for him, so it wasn't like he was jumping up and giving me a hug and was really excited about it. But I just told him, this is the way we've got to go and we'll see where we go from here.
Refreshed after a three-day break between games, the Nets snapped a three-game losing streak before a sellout crowd at Barclays Center with a small and fast lineup that blitzed the Sixers with an 18-0 run in the first quarter and a 17-9 run in the fourth, all with Wallace at power forward. The isolation-heavy offense that had Williams grumbling and Johnson's seat getting fireplace warm was few and far between. Even Bogans flourished under the new system, scoring a season-high 13 points in 35 minutes.
"It helped us. You saw the way Gerald ignited the break for us. Basically over 60 percent of the league is playing this way (with a small lineup)," Johnson said. "We've had spacing issues, we've had a lot of issues where we went back and looked at our offense over the first 25 games. No matter who they started at four, Gerald was going to start at four."
As for Humphries, he'll have a year-and-a-half on his contract by January 15, when he's eligible to be traded with rumors sure to be a hot topic in Brooklyn. Time will tell exactly how limited Humphries' minutes will be, if he even gets on the court, but if one game is any indication, the Hump better get comfortable, and perhaps prepare to relocate.
"We had some great looks today, and the new offense that he did put in, it was almost 100 percent [successful],'' said Joe Johnson. "We got a couple of back doors, a couple of easy layups, a couple of wide-open jump shots. It gives us a variety of options, and when the ball is moving like that, it's hard to guard teams."
Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC