Is Avery Johnson the Right Coach for the Brooklyn Nets?
Let's get to it, and just answer the question.
Then, no...now, YES.
When Avery Johnson began as a head coach, his grinding style and militant moniker (The Little General) did not add up to a good long-term fit for this superstar-driven NBA.
One of Johnson's best basketball attributes is his keen attention to the sport and to the world around him. He learns from life. He adapts.
And he's developed patience as a head coach:
This is my second coaching stop. I'm a little bit of a different person in some ways. It's not about me, it's about the team. If they're happy, they're gonna function well, they're gonna run through a wall for you. -Avery Johnson
Johnson was pained by his Mavericks' collapse in the 2006 Finals. Losing in the very next postseason to an eight seed was humiliating...especially since his Mavericks mentor Don Nelson completely outcoached him. It was humbling to be blown out of Dallas despite owning one of the highest winning percentages in coaching history.
Then came the real hurt. No one was calling to offer him a job.
Oklahoma City was getting a team, but they passed on Johnson. The coaching carousel spun for a season, the offseason came, and another year went by. Johnson used his cartoonish, scratchy voice with the media instead of on the sideline.
More than two years later the Nets hired Johnson, but that didn't mean the humbling had come to an end. The second stint was a long way from Dallas where Avery inherited a championship-caliber roster. In New Jersey, Johnson took control of a sinking ship, one that featured Devin Harris (whom Avery had helped trade away from Dallas for Jason Kidd).
Talk about awkward.
Most coaches are asked to keep their players from killing each other, to keep their players coming to the games on time and to get into the playoffs and see what happens. A few good ones rise above, and the rest of the coaches all get fired sooner or later.
Johnson was asked to do more. For the last two seasons, he's been charged with keeping interest alive in New Jersey, while planning for Brooklyn. He's been asked to sign off on trading away Devin Harris again, and then he's been instructed to keep Deron Williams happy at all costs. Johnson's been told to be flexible during Dwight Howard trade talks, and he's been tasked with building the brand in Brooklyn (while being sensitive to the existing fan base in Jersey).
If anyone can survive all those subplots, they've mastered the art of patience. And Avery Johnson is now a mature, patient NBA head coach.
Can he deal with fickle NBA superstars, when they're happy AND when they get disgruntled? He's done it with D-Will for a season and a half. Williams even came out of his New Jersey funk by re-signing and inviting Avery to his exclusive 28th birthday party.
Can he coach OFFENSE? This is Avery's biggest question mark, but he's smart about learning from assistant coaches and paying attention to what's working around the league. He wore out Dirk in Dallas, but Avery also had a hand in toughening Nowitzki into an NBA MVP.
The Nets were frustrating to watch last season because they'd stand around and wait for D-Will to do something, but he was their only player opponents feared. Factor in just a little bit more luck with health, and no Brooklyn Nets lineup will ever look as bleak as last year's New Jersey train wreck. Johnson's strength is defense and transition, but he'll get this team to fill it up.
Can Avery Johnson WIN? He has a ring from his playing days, and don't forget, it was his shot over the Knicks that clinched a crown for the San Antonio Twin Towers back in '99. His head coach winning percentage is .583...astonishing when you realize the Nets didn't sniff 25 wins either of his seasons in Jersey.
Not only does Avery Johnson win in the regular season, he showed he can take players to new heights in the postseason. During the 2006 run to the Finals, the Mavs at last overcame Tim Duncan and the Spurs, winning Game 7 in San Antonio. That was grit. Avery teaches playoff toughness.
Patience will pay off for Avery Johnson, now that he's made it to Brooklyn. He deserves another shot at coaching a good team and Deron Williams deserves a coach who can handle today's NBA. Williams has paid his dues from all the talk about him getting Jerry Sloan fired in Utah—he's shown loyalty and faith in this plan, even though getting shipped to New Jersey in his prime wasn't D-Will's first choice.
Even Phil Jackson coming out of retirement wouldn't be a better fit right now. This is all about a young, energetic coach building a basketball future in Brooklyn.
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