Coaching Candidate Number Four: Avery Johnson

So far this week we have looked at three coaching candidates (Coach K, Tom Thibodeau, and Jeff Van Gundy) and now it is time for me to talk about another pretty solid candidate in Avery Johnson.  Avery Johnson has been out of coaching since the 2008 season, but he is a strong possibility with the Nets this season because he is looking to get back into coaching.  It also helps that our new owner is looking for a head coach with NBA experience.

Johnson was well known for motivating his teams and getting them to preform strongly in the regular season.  So far in his 3+ seasons Coach Johnson has a record that is 62 games over .500 (194-70, good for a 73.5% winning percentage).

After taking over for run-and-gun happy coach Don Nelson, Johnson was able to take over and turn his Mavericks into a very good defensive team.  The lowest his team was ranked in defensive efficiency was in 2005 when they were ranked 11th (they were ranked 24th in 2003-2004):

  • 2005-2006: 11th (105.0 points per 100 possessions)
  • 2006-2007: 5th (103.2 points per 100 possessions)
  • 2007-2008: 9th (106.1 points per 100 possessions)

All of this without sacrificing anything on offense.  His team’s offensive efficiency was in the top 10 each of his three full seasons as head coach of the Mavericks:

  • 2005-2006: 1st (111.8 points per 100 possessions)
  • 2006-2007: 2nd (111.3 points per 100 possessions)
  • 2007-2008: 8th (111.1 points per 100 possessions)

He did all this despite having teams that played slow and deliberate.  The highest pace one of his teams played at was in 2007-2008 when his team had 90.2 possessions per game (that ranked 24th out of 30th teams at the time).  To put it in perspective, the Warriors created 103.0 possessions per game this year.  This tells you that Johnson’s teams were able to execute and get the most out of each and every possessions.

Besides the team styles Avery Johnson is a coach that the players are going to have to respect.  As a player Avery Johnson was solid, but more importantly Johnson was a consummate pro.  Especially coming off of a season where there was a ton of locker room drama (the split between the team early on, Terrence Williams during the middle part, and CDR at the end of the year).  If the Nets hire Avery Johnson, he is going to come in and have all the players respect from day 1, and with a team of young guys coming off of a 12 win season, that is almost as important as the Xs and Os aspect.

Another interesting connection is that he learned how to become a really good coach from Don Nelson while in Dallas.  Now before Don Nelson went crazy and turned into the version of Don Nelson that is in Golden State, Don Nelson was one hell of a basketball coach.  He was also the coach credited with terming and implementing the “point forward”  position and the Nets just so happen to have a player in Terrence Williams that showed flashes of greatness last season producing from the point forward spot.  A bit of a stretch?  Sure, but hey you have to think at some point Don Nelson shared some of his knowledge with Avery.

Now I have two concerns when it comes to Avery Johnson.  The first is Devin Harris.  When Harris was traded from Dallas to New Jersey, Harris and Johnson didn’t part on the greatest of terms.  Hiring a head coach that alienates your point guard probably isn’t a good idea, though reports last week have stated Thorn asked Harris about going after Johnson and Devin gave the OK (usually I don’t like seeing a player involved in a coaching search, but asking Devin about Avery just makes sense).  Speaking about Devin Harris and Avery Johnson, coach Johnson seems to be the only coach who has been able to get Devin to play defense.  The skills are all there as he has the quick feet and quick hands that should make him a great defender.  In New Jersey, I don’t think anyone has ever really held Devin responsible for his poor defense.  Avery Johnson will.

The second concern I have is the playoff record.  Granted a team that only won 12 games shouldn’t be worried about this, but Avery Johnson never really seemed to “get it” in the playoffs.  While he is 62 games over .500 in the regular season, he is 1 game under .500 in the playoffs (23-24 record).  Including is that epic meltdown to the Miami Heat and the loss to the Warriors after coming away from the regular season with the best record in the west.  I think it has to do with adjustments as Johnson was really out-coached by Pat Riley in those finals.

All things considered, I really do think Avery Johnson could be a perfect fit for the New Jersey Nets.  We know he is going to get a look, hopefully it is a long look.