|AVERY JOHNSONRelieved to be fired|
For the first time in more than 20 years, Avery Johnson is not an NBA coach or player. So why is he smiling?
After a very successful but difficult coaching stint in Dallas, Johnson was relieved to be fired May 2. He is now spending more time with his wife and two teenage children in Houston than he has in years. And ESPN announced last Thursday that it has hired the "Little General" as an NBA studio analyst.
"I kind of felt my time was possibly going to be up with Dallas toward the end of my coaching stint," said Johnson. "You start seeing some signs, so I just knew my time would be up. You kind of start losing your smile a little bit. So a guy [at my country club] was recently mentioning that I got my smile back and it's good to see it back on my face.
"[The firing] was tough, but it was necessary. In terms of direction, we weren't going to be on the same page."
Johnson compiled a stellar 194-70 record with the Mavericks from 2004-08. He was Coach of the Year in 2006 after leading Dallas to the Finals, but he received much of the blame after a 2-0 lead was blown and they lost to Miami. He was also the fastest coach to reach 150 wins.
It was no secret that the intense Johnson often butted heads with outspoken owner Mark Cuban. NBA sources say Johnson would have been OK with Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki being dealt to the Lakers for Kobe Bryant or the Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett, but Cuban wasn't. Cuban's hands-on approach and vocal nature toward the referees also were challenging for Johnson to deal with.
According to NBA sources, Johnson would have preferred that the team be kept intact with young point guard Devin Harris last season rather than trading for veteran Jason Kidd. But the trade was made, and the Mavericks went a disappointing 16-13 with Kidd and were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.
"We had a heck of a run," Johnson said. "It's well-documented that we did more in 3 1/2 years than a lot of organizations. It's nothing to be ashamed about. We got after it for 3 1/2 years.
"We had some disappointing moments, but we had moments with win streaks, going to the Finals, MVPs, and guys going to the All-Star team and just selling out night after night and getting into championship talk.
"The organization had never really been in real championship talk. And obviously, there is a price to pay if you don't win it all or you don't make it to the Finals. But it was just exciting to be a part of that, and I'll be forever grateful for the organization for giving me that opportunity."
Cuban recently said several players wanted to be traded if Johnson returned.
"I have zero response," Johnson said. "People can say whatever they want to say. But we'll let the audience, the fans, and the future be the judge of things that people say.
"But Mark was very good to me, not only as a player for the Mavericks but also as an assistant and a head coach. Nobody could have ever known what Avery Johnson could do as a coach if Mark Cuban never gave me a chance."
While Johnson talked to the Knicks about their coaching opening, he took his name out of the hat and touted Mike D'Antoni as a great selection. The top NBA coaching prospect available now said he prefers to spend the entire season with ESPN. And with more family time, it's easy to understand why Johnson is smiling again.
"In some ways it was tough, but in other ways this is a great situation for me right now," Johnson said. "I got a 10th-grade daughter and a seventh-grade son. You have your moments where you miss [coaching]. But being able to be in my kids' life and have a presence in their life all year long now, I don't know if I'll have a chance to do this again."
Doc Rivers's record on opening night as an NBA head coach.
"Even a trash can gets a steak every once in a while."
LeBron James, after Celtics second-year guard Gabe Pruitt nailed a 3-pointer in a preseason game last Tuesday.
A sample of the average size, age, and experience of NBA players over the past 20 seasons:
Not long for Indiana: Guard Jamaal Tinsley is still on the Pacers' roster, but only technically. An NBA source said the franchise has been continuing conversations with several teams in hopes of trading him, though there isn't anything imminent. Primarily because of off-court issues, Pacers president Larry Bird has committed to the major challenge of moving the veteran, who has three years and about $21 million remaining on his contract. If Tinsley is traded, he will join a list of ex-Pacers gone in large part because of off-court issues that includes Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, David Harrison, and Shawne Williams. "It's in limbo," said Bird. "But what we are trying to do is do what's best for us and Jamaal. I like Jamaal as a person, always have. But it's just time for us to go in a different direction, that's what we are trying to do."
Big men on campus: A Western Conference scouting executive recently gave the Globe his top five American college stars to keep an eye on this season: Oklahoma sophomore forward Blake Griffin, Arizona State sophomore guard James Harden, Gonzaga sophomore forward Austin Daye (son of ex-Celtic Darren Daye), Connecticut junior center Hasheem Thabeet, and Louisville junior forward Earl Clark. Asked about Thabeet, the executive said, "He has a feel for the game. He has to keep playing basketball. He's young to the game. Teams will covet his athleticism, size, and shot blocking. But he hasn't played a lot of basketball. He's more athletic than you imagine. He moves a little bit like Andrew Bynum does." The executive also said the top international prospect is DKV Joven guard Ricky Rubio, who made a name for himself playing for Spain in the Olympics.
Sharp shooter: Hey, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo is trying to beat you out for best-dressed Celtic. Rondo has recently become a clothing fanatic and enlisted the help of renowned stylist Rachel Johnson to dress him for the Gentlemen's Ball, a charity event hosted by GQ magazine in New York last Wednesday night. Johnson has dressed the likes of Cavaliers star LeBron James, actor- Jamie Foxx, rapper/producer Pharrell, singers Gwen Stefani and Cassie, and model/actress Veronica Webb. Rondo wore a gray Ralph Lauren suit with a purple-and-white striped shirt, purple tie, and purple handkerchief. An NBA source said the publisher of GQ and the presidents of Izod and Calvin Klein all gave Rondo high praise for his choice of clothing.
A little nicked up: Although he may only play in the preseason finale, expect Knicks veteran swingman Allan Houston to make the roster after battling knee injuries that have kept him off the court since the 2004-05 season. He has been sidelined of late with a right quadriceps injury, but his knees feel fine, and the Knicks seem to be patient with him. "Al played the whole camp," said swingman Quentin Richardson. "He just hurt his quad right after camp. Al's been great. Everyone knows he's one of the best shooters ever. With the health in his [knees], he was moving pretty fine before he hurt his quad. I was surprised. I didn't expect him to be here." Knicks rookie forward Danilo Gallinari, who has a sore lower back. hopes to practice in about two weeks and expects to miss at least the first three regular-season games. He was hurt during summer camp.
Sit this one out: Considering that Kevin Garnett is a self-proclaimed "night owl," it wasn't hard for him to stay up to the early hours of the morning to watch the US team play en route to winning a gold medal in the Olympics. But Garnett, who won a gold at Sydney in 2000, doesn't regret turning down an opportunity to play in Beijing. "It's important for other guys to have this experience," Garnett said. "That's where I was coming from. It's hard on your body. I didn't have limited minutes. We had to do what we had to do to win. When you're in competition and you're going, you're not thinking about, 'Man, I got a season coming.' You're thinking about hooping. It is what it is and you're going hard. We had guys like GP [Gary Payton], J-Kidd [Jason Kidd], they were real, real vocal about how we had to go about this. I was feeling that."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at email@example.com