Avery Johnson: Thanks, But No Thanks

At the surface, it seems like a no-brainer to hire a coach that has:

1. Been to an NBA Finals

2. Has a coaching record like this (thanks, basketball-reference.com)

 

Season Age Lg Tm G W L W-L% W > .500 Finish G Plyf W Plyf L Plyf W-L% Plyf Notes
2004-05 39 NBA DAL 18 16 2 .889 7.0 2 13 6 7 .462
2005-06 40 NBA DAL 82 60 22 .732 19.0 2 23 14 9 .609 WC Champions
2006-07 41 NBA DAL 82 67 15 .817 26.0 1 6 2 4 .333
2007-08 42 NBA DAL 82 51 31 .622 10.0 4 5 1 4 .200
Career NBA 264 194 70 .735 62.0 47 23 24 .489

 

So why don't I want Avery on the bench?

What happens when a coach leaves their place of work is that, over time, the time spent there becomes more about numbers and less about why that franchise parted ways with that coach to begin with.

Let's take a look again at the numbers in the table above. You see:

A. (.735) winning percentage.

B. Western Conference Champs in his first full season.

C. At least (50) wins each of his (3) full seasons at the helm. 

You look at these and say, wow, where do I sign? But shouldn't there also be a 'hey, wait a minute...what happened that a team parted ways with someone with this much success on the court'?

Look again at the Mavs Moneyball article at the point of Avery and Dallas separating. Read some of that and tell me who that sounds like. Some parts that caught my eye:

After the Denver loss, the first thing he did was strip Devin Harris of his freedom to run the offense. Fast breaks and offensive sets built off of transition were removed, as Johnson slowed the game down so that he could call plays and run the offense.

Denver also was the moment when Johnson gave up on working to improve his bench and grow players into the rotation. He dramatically lowered the minutes of Barea, who had averaged 11.3 minutes per game in November but saw his minutes drop to 7 minutes per game in December and 4 minutes per game in January. Dasagana Diop, who averaged 23 minutes per game in November, found himself riding the pine and averaging 12 minutes per game in December. Even Brandon Bass, who showed real flashes of excellence, saw his minutes cut by over 4 a game from November to December.

Avery Johnson lost his perspective on the team, what it needed to do, what HE needed to do, and, perhaps most importantly, the value of listening to advice from others. His response was extreme, and it reverted the Mavericks back to the team that lost in the first round of the playoffs the previous season: A one-dimensional iso-focused offensive team that was eminently beatable in a series. Even worse, it was clear as the season wore on that Avery's reversion to his system adversely affected his players, which affected their effort, especially on the defensive end.

Make no mistake about it: Avery Johnson is a very good defensive coach, but if the players don't have their heart into it, you see what I outlined above. After Denver, Johnson's moves demoralized the team. Even if they didn't say it, you could see it in their performance on the court.

Certainly we can't blame one game for Johnson giving up on all of the important tasks that he had to tackle coming into the season, but the game was absolutely a turning point. It was after this game that Johnson gave up on all those important initiatives and adjustments that the team needed to move ahead. After twenty games of chaos and a debacle against Denver, Johnson retreated to what he was comfortable with: His system. His offense. His rotations. His plays. His way.

 

Didn't we just have a coach who was like this? A grind it out, set in his ways coach who shrinks the bench? Is this simplifying things too much? 

Avery Johnson v. Mike Woodson...in the end you could make the case that Avery's wild regular season success in Dallas was based on a roster and depth that Mike Woodson could only dream about in Atlanta. Would Avery be more successful than Woodson with a lesser roster, no depth, and most importantly, no solid long term solution at the point guard position?

My answer is that, based on track record, you can't be sure. And the commitment to Avery financially would have to be such (4 million per according to reports) that management would definitely give him time despite any immediate results. More seasons of grind-it-out, low possessions basketball and a shallow roster with only a couple of plus defensive players doesn't make me warm and fuzzy about the future.

in the end, after looking beyond the win-loss table and the actual style and reasons around Avery Johnson's departure from Dallas, I have to say that while he is obviously a solid coach, I would cast my gaze onto someone who provides a break from what the Hawks just let go. 

During the last offseason Rick Sund ignored the weaknesses the Hawks showed on the court and doubled-down on what the Hawks were by acquiring Jamal Crawford and resigning the rest of the Hawks current free agent roster. 

I hope that, this time, Sund doesn't ignore what the Hawks need from a head coach and simply double-down by bringing in a better version of Mike Woodson.

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