Avery Johnson is, in many cases, a victim of revisionist history. There is no doubt that the most successful seasons in Maverick history came under Avery’s watch, and yet his coaching tenure in Dallas is treated as something of a failure. Johnson’s Mavs never won the title, but to judge a team solely on that criterion ignores the improbability inherent in any title run. In all, the teams Avery coached won a ridiculous number of games in his four seasons with the Mavs, and try as we might, there’s no getting around that.
Still, there are three substantial blemishes on Avery’s coaching resume:
- In 2006, the Mavs squandered a 2-0 lead in the Finals against the Miami Heat. The situation is admittedly a bit more complicated, but that doesn’t change the fact that Johnson’s team walked into the Finals as the best in the league, and left as a stuffed decoration for Dwyane Wade’s wall.
- In 2007, the Mavs won 67 regular season games but failed to adapt against their foil, the Golden State Warriors, in the playoffs. The match-up clearly wasn’t a beneficial one for Dallas, but with Avery as the coach with the more talented players and the more successful team, the Mavs were expected to perform. They didn’t, and plenty of that can be blamed on the players themselves. Still, Johnson’s decision to alter the Mavs’ rotation to match the Warriors’ speed (by way of giving Devean George more minutes, of all things) is too easily picked apart in retrospect.
- Unlike just about every other rookie coach, Avery was pretty much handed a contending roster. When Johnson took over for Don Nelson mid-season in 2004-2005, the Mavs were 42-22. Not too shabby, and even more impressive given that Dallas had traded for a new point guard prior to that season in Jason Terry, and liquidated Antawn Jamison for Jerry Stackhouse and the draft rights to Devin Harris. By the time Avery took control of the team, the life-after-Nash growing pains had mostly subsided, as evidenced by the team’s 16-2 sprint into the playoffs. All of this is to say that Avery has never really made a team successful. He’s either a talented coach or a hell of an opportunist, but without seeing him coach another team with a different roster, we’ll never really know for sure.
The first two will follow Johnson to his grave. No matter what he does to redeem his coaching reputation, the 2006 and 2007 seasons were two blown opportunities in a league that doesn’t afford many. The latter Avery would seem to have a chance to remedy in the 2010-2011 season, as he is set to become the new head coach of the New Jersey Nets.
New Jersey may have the most impressive young nucleus in the league aside from OKC, with Devin Harris and Brook Lopez flanked by Terrence Williams, Courtney Lee, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Yi Jianlian, and the #3 pick in this year’s draft (which will likely be used on either Derrick Favors or DeMarcus Cousins). That said, this is still a team that could only manage 12 wins last season, leaving them a safe distance away from the Mavs that Avery inherited. This is Johnson’s chance to really prove himself as a coach, and though he may never be able to erase the memory of those two painful playoff runs in ’06 and ’07, he can at least remove the asterisk that comes from only coaching the rich.
Avery is confident if not arrogant, resolved if not stubborn, but above all, talented. Even if Johnson’s tenure with the Nets is a disaster, he’s shown that when given a good team, he can push them to their competitive limits…even if his Mavs teams didn’t quite push through to the promised land.