Avery Johnson is good on TV and good at motivating people. (As a player, he was known as the Little General.) He’s from New Orleans, and Saints coach Sean Payton has had Johnson address his team. Indeed, when the Saints beat the Falcons in September 2006 in the first post-Katrina game in the Superdome, Johnson accepted the game ball on behalf of the people of New Orleans.
That said … I’m not sure Avery Johnson is the coach for the Hawks.
ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is reporting that Johnson will be granted the first interview in the Hawks’ coaching search. (As reported in this space yesterday, Dallas assistant Dwane Casey will also be interviewed.) And that’s understandable: Johnson is a big name, and he’s an obvious man to see.
But here’s what sticks with me about Avery Johnson: He presided over two of the greatest flops in NBA history. His Mavericks lost the 2006 finals after leading 2-0 in games and by 13 points with six minutes left in Game 3. The team that undid Dallas, the Miami Heat, consisted of a young Dwyane Wade and a old Shaquille O’Neal and little else.
The next spring Dallas became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8 seed in a best-of-seven Round 1 series, falling to a Golden State team that had won 25 fewer regular-season games. The next year the Mavs, the No. 7 seed this time, were eliminated in Round 1 by, of all teams, the New Orleans Hornets. Johnson was fired afterward and hasn’t coached since.
If you’re the Hawks and you’ve just dumped a guy who got you past Round 1 two years running, is a coach known mostly for playoff failure a real upgrade? If the idea is to find a coach capable of taking the Hawks higher, is Avery Johnson the correct response?
I know what you’re saying: “Bradley, how many NBA titles has Casey, the guy you’ve championed, won?” And the answer is none. As a head coach, Casey hasn’t made the playoffs. (Then again, he worked only one full season in Minnesota before getting dumped by Kevin McHale.)
Dwane Casey doesn’t have one-tenth the name recognition as Avery Johnson, and he’s not as dynamic a person. That, I submit, is not a negative. The NBA season is long. The greatest motivation comes not from inspired speeches but in playing for a coach in whom the players believe. I think Casey can be that coach here. I’m not sure about the Little General.