EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Avery Johnson officially took over his second team today and probably sounded more optimistic running a team that lost 70 times this past season than he did when he was given the Mavericks job in 2005. And that that had won 52 games the season before.
Johnson did what he was supposed to do and what the Nets needed him to do when he took the podium today for his introductory press conference. He helped breathe life into a team that was essentially dead this past season.
Johnson made people laugh, spoke about the short- and long-term goals of the Nets and more than anything provided hope that the team is in good hands.
The truth is, the Nets are in good hands.
Billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov wants to build a dynasty and he has the cash to do it. Team president Rod Thorn has overseen the best seasons – and worst one, too – in Nets’ NBA annals and today they welcomed the coach with the best winning percentage in league history who is neither afraid nor concerned about his career record taking a hit.
"I am going to work morning, noon and night to win the big trophy," Johnson said.
“I’m about dreaming,” he added. “I have a big dream in my mind in terms of where this franchise can go and where we can take it. I see all of the possibilities. But it’s going to require a lot of discipline, details and determination in making the right decisions. And Rod, behind the scenes, he’s going to make great decisions getting me the type of players that we need for this program.”
Discipline, details and determination are three things the Nets lacked this past season. Here’s another D-word – direction. Johnson will provide all of that. But we’re getting one-letter ahead of ourselves.
Johnson, who threw plenty of Ds out there, said he has a lot of C-words that go with being a good coach. They are Care, having a strong Character, being an effective Communicator, having Class, being Competitive and keeping his Composure. Johnson admits in Dallas, “There are times I didn’t do a good job of that.”
But Johnson has a second chance and a second chance with Devin Harris.
They worked together in Dallas and worked well together when you consider they had two seasons of at least 60 wins and went to the NBA Finals. But Johnson, a former point guard, was hard on Harris, didn’t give him the freedom he thought he deserved.
Harris said today that Johnson “can be a bit of a dictator,” but it’s because “he’s all about results and winning. And at the end of the day that’s what we all like.”
Johnson promised he would relax a little bit, but the fact that Harris and Brook Lopez were in attendance for the press conference says plenty about what they think of the hire and that they want to be coached. They didn’t get much of that this past season.
“The worst thing a player wants is no direction,” Johnson said. “He wants to be held accountable. He wants to have a coach that really cares about him.”
Johnson may tone it down a bit after being away from the game for two years and working for ESPN, but the Nets don’t want him to change entirely. It’s not what they need either.
Harris needs to be controlled a little more, but probably not as much as he was in Dallas. They need to find a happy medium. Both are a little older and have a better understanding of what it takes to be successful.
Johnson is going to stress defense, starting at the top. He expects his players to guard the dribble. If they don’t, Johnson will get on them and rightfully so. Johnson is going to stress rebounding and he wants the ball to move on offense.
It may not sound much different than any coach, but it is different here because it’s a new face, a new voice, a new teaching style and different demands and expectations than what the Nets had under Lawrence Frank and Kiki Vandeweghe.
This was the first huge step the Nets needed to take this offseason and there are many more to come.
There’s next week’s draft where if the Nets don’t make any moves will pick third, 27th and 31st. And then there’s free agency where the Nets have $26 million to spend and some engaging if not dynamic personalities in Prokhorov, Thorn and Johnson to pitch playing for this team.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” Johnson said. “But the sky’s the limit.”
From 12-70, the only way to go is up. The Nets started moving in that direction today and if Johnson’s dreams come true they will keep climbing.
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Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)