Johnson proud of tenure, 'working relationship' with Cuban Print
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Thursday, 01 May 2008 14:06
NBA Headline News

 DALLAS (AP) - Don Nelson's departure from the Dallas Mavericks was so messy that, more than three years later, he's still fighting Mark Cuban for money he insists he's owed.
So the day after being fired as Nelson's successor, Avery Johnson wanted to make one thing perfectly clear.
``A month from now, or a year from now, I don't want to have a public spat. There's really no need for that now,'' Johnson said. ``Did we have some rough periods? Absolutely. Am I proud that we were able to get through those rough periods? Yes, I am.''
At his farewell news conference Thursday, Johnson was complimentary of his boss for the past 3 1/2 years, saying he'll always appreciate Cuban for giving him his first coaching job. The setting was another reminder of how Cuban treated Johnson; it was at the Ritz-Carlton building that Johnson called home while in Dallas, with a jet service shuttling him to Houston, where his wife and kids lived in the family's permanent residence.
Of course, it's easy for Johnson to be graceful because he'll be paid much of the $12 million to $14 million left on his contract and because he knows he'll be an NBA coach again, perhaps as soon as next season.
The Mavericks need a coach, too. And with Cuban now 2-for-2 on butting heads with his coaches, and his combativeness with the league office and referees so well-documented, whoever takes the job will certainly know what they are getting into.
Johnson's advice: ``They're going to have to have a clear understanding on exactly how things work and function when they get here.''
Cuban has never run a coaching search, which adds to the intrigue and mystery surrounding this vacancy.
Considering that Dirk Nowitzki will soon be 30 and Jason Kidd already is 35, he's likely to go with experience. He'll probably want someone who runs an up-tempo offense that will get the most out of Kidd. Nowitzki is all for that, although he said Wednesday he wants more than lip service paid to defense. Players could use an easygoing leader after Johnson's disciplinarian style.
Phoenix's Mike D'Antoni and Washington's Eddie Jordan might meet those criteria, but have other NBA jobs. Rick Carlisle and Jeff Van Gundy are ex-coaches Cuban might consider. He also has Paul Westphal already on the payroll.
Cuban hasn't met with local reporters to discuss the firing or eventual hiring. In an e-mail to The Associated Press on Thursday, he wrote, ``Nothing new today.''
Johnson is believed to be a candidate for openings in Chicago and New York. Should D'Antoni or Jordan leave, those teams might consider Johnson, too.
He said Thursday he's talked to other teams. However, when asked if that means he wants to coach next season, he kept his leverage by saying, ``Not necessarily.''
Johnson said he has heard from other coaches in the league, even ``from coaches that never spoke to me.''
He also heard from Nellie, although he wouldn't reveal their conversation.
``You don't want to know,'' Johnson said, laughing.
Johnson's mentor, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, said Thursday he was ``sad and happy'' about the firing.
Asked to describe the happy part, Popovich said: ``I'll just leave it at that. I mean, Avery is one of the finest coaches in the league. And he knows what he's doing, he's committed, he's a working fool, he loves it. And any team would be lucky to have him and somebody will have him. So, in a lot of ways I think he's going to be better for it.''
Johnson talked Thursday about the ``blueprint'' he learned in San Antonio and implemented in Dallas.
In his first full season, the Mavericks reached the NBA finals, but blew a 2-0 lead and lost to Miami. They came back the next season and won 67 games, only to lose in the first round to the Nelson-coached Warriors.
``That team significantly, significantly overachieved,'' Johnson said. ``We paid the price for it in the playoffs.''
This past season, Dallas was 35-18 in February, yet many in the organization felt they weren't good enough. So a package of players, headed by young point guard Devin Harris, was sent to New Jersey for Kidd. The Mavs went 17-17 the rest of the way, counting a first-round flop against New Orleans.
Johnson didn't get the best out of Kidd, but before that he'd been frustrated by Harris, having taken the play-calling away from him early this season. Before Harris, Johnson squabbled with Jason Terry when he was running the offense.
Now, Johnson has nothing but fond things to say about Harris, even referring to him as ``my son'' in a radio interview Wednesday.
``We were knocking on the door with this young man making the All-Star team. He was going to be an 18 (points) and eight (assists) player,'' Johnson said. ``I invested a significant amount of time with him.''
Does Johnson regret the trade? He didn't say that. But he sure hinted at it, noting that Dallas had the best record against the West at the time.
``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,'' Johnson said. ``The team was changed and we never really got back on track. ...
``(The trade) didn't nearly bring was the rewards that we wanted. But who's 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 wouldn't have been made?''
 

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