|POINDEXTER ||05-02-2008 06:59 AM |
Avery Johnson Q&A: Former coach opens up
Art Garcia | Mavs.com
Posted: May 1, 2008
Avery Johnson enters his life as the former coach of the Dallas Mavericks proud of what heís accomplished, secure that he handled himself with integrity and ready to move on to the next professional challenge. The man dubbed the ďLittle GeneralĒ years ago didnít hint at what that challenge might be, but expect to see him on the sidelines again.
Dressed in a brown pin-striped suit and yellow open-collared shirt, Johnson met with reporters today in the lobby of his uptown condo building. He talked about the peaks and valleys of the three-plus years of his first head-coaching gig after replacing Don Nelson, and the decision made by owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson to take the franchise in another direction.
First of all, I want to say thank you to all of our players that have played here for me in the last 3 Ĺ years, four including my assistant stint. All of our players that put on a Maverick uniform, they cooperated, they were coachable and we have a lot of great memories here with our players.
I want to thank Mark for taking a shot and a swing on me four years ago as an assistant, to think enough of me to bring me in immediately, he and Nellie, to make me an assistant head coach without any experience. Iíve enjoyed my time here working with Mark. We had a lot of great moments. And we had a lot of fun.
I want to thank every coach I had a chance to coach with and work with. All of them, the coaching staff from this year, previous coaching staffs, we had a lot of great memories. My assistant, Leslie Tracy, whoís been here with me and [director of basketball communications Sarah Melton], and I could go on and on down the list of a lot of tremendous people I had a chance to work with. Thatís what this whole deal is about, relationships.
I also want to thank the fans for their support. We sold out a bunch of games. We had a lot of fun in the AAC. And contrary to some segments, we had a tremendous amount of success here. We can get up every morning and look ourselves in the mirror, every player that played, coach, and also myself. We can look ourselves in the mirror and really be proud of what we took over when we took over this team and the direction we went in. We can feel very proud of what we did, each and every day. Every decision that I had a chance to be a part of, I can really feel good about it.
But now, itís time to move on. There are no hard feelings, thereís no bitterness. Iím a man of integrity and honesty and like I said, I can look at myself in the mirror with every decision I made and feel really proud of it. So again, I want to thank Mark, every player, every coach, everybody I had chance to work with, Donnie. I know it wasnít an easy deal for Donnie to come visit with me yesterday, and Keith Grant, but it had to be done.
Why did it have to be done?
I think in terms of what I came from, a blueprint of what I knew how an organization should be ran from top to bottom. I knew what type of players should be drafted, free agent signings, how the coach should function. I had a really good blueprint with all my successful years down south. And we were able to come here and really make some headway. We were able to change the culture and attitude.
I had a chance to work under a phenomenal coach in coach Nelson. But as coach Nelson said, he felt he couldnít take it any further. And a lot of the players we brought were players at that particular time that I recommended and he thought I should have an opportunity to take them forward. He had lost [Steve] Nash and he couldnít get over that. So again, we had a chance to change the culture and take it. Now itís time for somebody else to take it to the next level and somebody else to work with management and players, and thatís OK. Itís just time for somebody else.
At what point did you realize this might be a reality?
This is a results-driven business and we got the results that we wanted in terms of when we made it to the Finals. Now once you make it to the Finals, one of two teams are going to win, but this organization had never made it there before, so that was a pretty good result. Not the ending result of making it there, but that was a pretty good result. And by the way, that was a pretty good team.
That team and the team that we had the year before that made it to the semifinals when we lost to Phoenix in the second round, those two teams were really deep, special teams, so we got the result we wanted. The next year when we won 67 games, that team significantly, significantly overachieved. We paid the price for it in the playoffs and this yearís team, it was a miracle we made the playoffs. I just think it was time for somebody else to come in, Mark and Donnie felt the same way and thatís why weíre here today.
Do you think you had everything in place here to get it to where you needed to be?
No, not this year. This is a different team. Before we made the trade, we had the best record against the Western Conference and one of the things that I talked to Mark and Donnie about, I said: ĎHey, Iíve got to get a point guard.í Thatís why I wanted to develop Devin Harris. I said Iíve got to get this boy to a point where he can be a scorer first and pass some. We got him to a point, like I told you guys before, we were knocking on the door with this young man making the All-Star team.
He was going to be an 18-and-8 player. I invested a significant amount of time with him and, again, he was injured and a lot of things were happening around the NBA, and like I said, if we can just hold on a little while, weíve got the best record against the West. I think we were second or third in the Western Conference at that point and we were going to play the Western Conference quite a bit after the All-Star break. The team was changed and we never really got back on track.
Should you have traded Devin looking back?
Hereís the thing, that trade that was made, we donít want to bring Devinís name in it or Jason Kidd, Iím not going to give you guys something on Jason Kidd or Devin Harris or Mark or Donnie. The deal was made and at the end of the day, weíre here today. Weíre not slamming anybodyís name through the mud. Whatever happened, I think my name is on record with the organization as what I wanted to do.
Were you reluctant to make the deal as it was unfolding?
Iím on record as what my feelings were and itís over with now. It was something that was tried and it didnít take us anywhere that was close, we were struggling to make the playoffs, so it didnít nearly bring us the rewards that we wanted. But whoís to say that even if it did, if we had gotten to the second round or the third round that this particular move and my situation still wouldnít have been made.Ē
Youíve been such a resilient person throughout your life and your career, why is it you feel so comfortable walking away?
Iím not necessarily cool about this, but what am I supposed to do? My life has to continue. I feel proud about what weíve done here contrary to popular belief. We were a seventh seed this year that was anywhere from a seventh to a ninth seed, could have been a tenth seed with this particular team. We werenít quick. We just didnít have what it takes to compete against some of the teams in the Western Conference.
What it is, is what it is. I think last yearís team significantly overachieved. I really feel proud of what we did with that team. I didnít like us losing in the first round to Golden State, but we accomplished the sixth-best record [in league history] and then what youíre going to have to do four years from now, like Nellie wanted me to take this program to another level, then four years from now youíll sit around and the next guy that comes in, youíll see what theyíve done compared to this tenure and the last tenure.
Nellie talked about the players tuning him out, did that happen to you?
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. When that happens, then sometimes you need a new voice. Itís not that Iím cool with it or Iím not resilient or Iím not disappointed. But this is a part of coaching. Because of that, Iíve said it all the time. Coaches, weíre going to resign or weíre going to get fired. Now, whatever words we try to use, thatís what happens.
When did it happen?
Well, just during the course of some games, I wasnít getting that response. You know, the team that I took over during the time Nellie was out, had his surgery, over those 15-20 games, they really responded well to me. We responded well when we were down 0-2 to the Rockets. I was able to come in and really motivate and teach. Whatever strategies we tried, they really bought into them , even if they were bad strategies. Because Iíve had one in four years. You could see the punch.
And the team that went to the Finals, even though we didnít have the great point guard or we didnít have the great center, we made up for it and we camouflaged it and we worked through it. That team, they had a certain punch. The team that won 67 games, they laid it out on the line. We won about 15 close games that year. If those 15 games had gone a different way, we probably wouldíve won 52 games. But this particular year, this team, especially, you know, in the last quarter of the season, last half of the season, just wasnít responding the way I needed it to.
Did you get everything you wanted out of this team?
Oh yes and more. Yes.
Does the coach here have to be prepared to deal with the owner?
Yes and thereís nothing wrong with that. Iím proud of my working relationship with Mark. Iím proud of it. Weíve had moments behind the scenes where weíve talked about management styles, vision and Iíve learned a whole heck of a lot from Mark. Again, this ... I donít have anything but great things to say. There were 29 other owners in the NBA and nobody else gave me my first shot but him. Did we have some rough periods? Absolutely. Am I proud that we were able to get through those rough periods? Yes, I am.
What was it like to coach Dirk Nowitzki?
Just great. A 7-foot man who can do what he can do on the floor. He is the hardest-working player that Iíve ever coached or worked with, that Iíve seen. Put it like this: Heís the hardest-working player Iíve been around in 20 years. All right? I was always concerned about fatigue with him, especially in the latter part of the season. But he embraced me as being coach. I feel really great because during the time that I was here, he was able to win the MVP.
Iím proud of that. When I go to sleep at night, thatís one of the things I can feel really proud of. And when you win MVP, itís not only for the individual _ itís for the team, for the coaching staff, for the city. When I won Coach of the Year, that wasnít my award. That award was for our coaching staff and our owner and the players and our fans. Itís not an individual award. So I feel great about my time and my working relationship with Dirk.Ē
How are you going to be a better coach?
Iím going to be a little more patient, just again I think I learned that the season is a long season and you canít get 200 things done in the first day of training camp, and I learned that in my tenure here. You learn some different game strategies, again weíd have to take three hours to talk about everything. I feel I am going to be a better coach and because of that, fortunately there will be some great opportunities out there from me.
Is Dirk more of a Michael Jordan/Tim Duncan or Scottie Pippen/David Robinson?
More than anything heís great at being Dirk. He is a player thatís very coachable, heís a player thatís an MVP, perennial all-star. He leads in a different way than some of the guys that you mentioned, but I think at the end of the day he needs some help. Any great player needs help.
You look at whatís happening with the Lakers. Kobe, as great as Kobe is, theyíve gotten in the position theyíre in now because Bynum got better, I know he got injured, now Gasol is there, post-Shaq. So again, I think any great player needs help. In Dirkís situation, he needs some young guys or maybe another veteran player thatís still in the prime of their career that can really get out there and really give him the type of support he needs.
Is there a shelf life to a coach in this organization?
Well, no, first of all, we [Johnson and Nelson] are in a little bit different situations because hopefully in my situation with Mark a month from now or a year from now, I donít want to have a public spat. Thereís really no need for that now. If somebody else wants to go engage in something like that I donít want to be a part of it so itís a little bit different situation. I just think Mark has the opportunity now to really look at a lot of different candidates. Theyíre going to have to have a clear understanding on exactly how things work and function when they get here.
What kind of coach is right?
Markís going to have to make that decision. I think heís going to have somebody in mind for what style of coach he wants. Heís going to have to make that decision. I think thereís a lot of work to be done. Mark and Donnie realize that and they have to take a long look at this roster and thereís some holes that are going to have to be filled.
Are you amazed youíre at this point after being in the Finals two years ago?
Well it was going to happen at some point, whether it was five years down the line or yesterday. I think if the facts, if you really get all the facts, if you look at what it takes. Iíll give you a little Basketball 101 on what it takes to win a championship. If you really look at what it takes to win a championship, look at all the champions.
They win championships because they have a superstar. We have one here in Dirk. You got to have really strong, strong play at the center position, and you got to have, in this day and age, a speedy quick point guard or a guard that will dribble drive and get that ball to the free throw line. And you have to have depth on the bench, experience on your coaching staff, and we feel that with what we had to work with, if you compare rosters, we have nothing to be ashamed of.
And thatís what I was trying to say all the years. If you look at what we had to work with. We went to the finals with Jason Terry and Jason Terry did a heck of a job for me. I donít know if Iím still coaching a year later or two years later had Jason Terry not did what he did in the playoffs for us. We feel proud overall of what we did with what we had to work with. And thatís why now leaving, weíre not leaving with our heads low.
Have you been in contact with other teams looking for head coaches?
So do you want to coach next season?
Do you feel Josh Howardís recent behavior let you down?
Iím not here to talk about that. I think when the situation happened last week, I think I used the word, I think I used poor judgment and poor timing. That was a disappointing situation. Itís just one that I hope he can get himself together as he moves forward because I think heís a terrific player. And his future, if he goes to that next level, on and off the floor, I think the future is bright for him.
Did the team lose respect for Josh?
I have never been in a locker room as a player with that type of situation. I can only imagine if I were. I donít know if it was positive vibes, but thatís a situation I feel strongly about because Iím really close to Josh and I hope he really gets his game going to that next level and gets himself together because heís a talented young man. But again this window closes on you pretty quickly as a player with the wrong move.
Was everyone buying into the same blueprint as the season progressed?
When youíre drafting players, when youíre signing free agents or making trades, whatever youíre doing, everybody I think has to be on the same page. The coach has to always have the support, even if you disagree, behind the scenes of management. I would say overall this with Donnie, Mark and myself, what weíve done here, we can feel proud of it. And whatever differences, whatever you know this guy want this guy, this guy want to do this or do that, I think whatever what was done behind the scenes, we were able to work it out and thatís what itís all about.
So if you voiced an objection, was it heard?
Absolutely. Without a shadow of a doubt. I wasnít a coach without some sort of a voice. But youíve got to understand. This was my first coaching stint. I havenít had eight coaching jobs with eight different teams. Iím not in Popovichís situation or Pat Riley, who both gave me two great phone calls. Iíve gotten calls actually from coaches that never spoke to me. Itís amazing what happens when youíre relieved of duties. Again, for someone who came in here at 39 and-a-half or 40 years old, and take over a ball club from a Hall of Fame coach and a city thatís one of the major cities in the entire world, itís pretty good.
Did you hear from Nellie?
What did he say?
You donít want to know.
Stand-up guy and great coach. I look forward to seeing what he does next.