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Star-Telegram.com

Dallas Mavericks part ways with Avery after playoff loss

Posted Thursday, May. 01, 2008

By JEFF CAPLAN

jcaplan@star-telegram.com

DALLAS -- For the first time in eight years as owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban will likely step outside the organization to find its next head coach.

Avery Johnson, two seasons removed from guiding the Mavericks to the franchise's first NBA Finals as the league's Coach of the Year, and the Mavs have parted ways.

About 12 hours after the Mavs lost their first-round series in five games to the New Orleans Hornets -- their second consecutive one-and-done postseason -- Cuban and Johnson, two headstrong personalities who occasionally clashed, agreed -- apparently mutually -- on a separation. The team termed it "relieving him of his duties."

Johnson compiled a 194-70 regular-season record, but was 23-24 in the playoffs, including 3-12 in the Mavs' last 15 playoff games.

Johnson, whose hard-line defensive approach seemed to be a perfect match for the offensive-minded Mavs, soared to significant highs in short order: the 2006 NBA Finals, fastest coach in history to 50, 100 and 150 wins, a franchise-best 67 wins. He also endured monumental lows: the collapse in the Finals, last season's flop to Golden State and, after trading young players and draft picks for Jason Kidd, the hugely disappointing 17-17 record and another first-round ouster.

Dirk Nowitzki, a proponent of the trade, deemed the season "another wasted year."

Johnson met Wednesday morning at his condominium with president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, who called the decision to split "excruciating." Cuban joined via cellphone from Chicago.

"In our business, it's always the coach. You can't fire 15 players, so that's what it's always going to end up," Nowitzki said. "Was it time for a change? I guess. This franchise, we owe him a lot, and unfortunately it's just one of those situations where everybody's got to move on."

Johnson left for Houston to tend to a family emergency and wasn't available for comment, although he did talk on the afternoon Galloway & Co. radio show, saying he was thankful to have coached the Mavs. He will meet with area media this morning.

"More than anything, I knew that after this year we were probably going to be going in a different direction," Johnson said on the show. "It's just something that probably needed to be done. There's no animosity, no bitterness, nothing. We all still really care about each other, but it was just time to go in another direction."

Cuban thanked Johnson for his efforts in a statement. Johnson might be back to work before long. Chicago and New York have openings and Johnson remains regarded as a bright, young coach rooted in defense.

In an e-mail, Cuban did not offer details of his preferred direction for a new coach. One engaged in a free-flowing offensive style would seem a logical fit for Kidd, who enters the final season of his contract charged with reviving the Mavs' title hopes.

"It's not at the point of pulling the plug on this," Kidd said. "We have a chance to be very successful, so I look forward to the challenge next year."

While Kidd never complained, it became apparent that he wasn't flourishing in Johnson's isolation-based offense, even after Johnson initiated changes to cater to the point guard. Kidd said his biggest obstacle was having too many offensive weapons to turn to, yet some frustration seemed evident.

"I can't speak for him, but what player wouldn't be frustrated if you're not able to do what you've been able to do your whole career?" said Antoine Wright, Kidd's teammate the past three seasons.

"We probably could have opened it up a little more, had a little more free flow, let Jason create and not just make him a weak-side, spot-up shooter," Nowitzki said. "But Avery had us believing in the system and that's the way he thought we could be the most efficient."

Cuban inherited Don Nelson when he bought the team in 2000 and he promoted Johnson, Nelson's hand-picked successor, when Nelson quit with 18 games left in the 2004-05 season.

Cuban's first hire is a critical one, considering the Mavs' roster is aging, starting with Kidd. Nowitzki provided the job description for the Mavs' next coach:

"Open up the offense, have a lot more running, but still a guy who knows how to coach defense."

Cuban is on the clock.

WHO'S OUT THERE?

Paul Westphal: He guided the Suns to the NBA Finals in 1993 and is currently on the Mavs' staff, but he hasn't been an NBA head coach since 2000.

Jeff Van Gundy: The Knicks reached the NBA finals in 1999 under Van Gundy, and he also coached the Rockets. He's known for defense and a methodical offense.

Rick Carlisle: He had stints coaching the Pistons and Pacers, but also may be too much like Johnson with his controlled, unimaginative offense.

Mike D'Antoni: The Suns' coach might soon be available, and his free-wheeling style would help Jason Kidd's production. The downside: He's not known for attention to detail.

THE HITS AND MISSES OF THE AVERY JOHNSON MAVERICKS ERA

HITS

Named coach of the Mavericks on March 19, 2005; finished the regular season 16-2.

Guided the Mavs to the conference semifinals in his first playoff run.

Helped lead the Mavs to a 60-22 record in his first full season.

Named NBA Coach of the Year for the 2005-06 season.

Led the Mavs to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Guided Dallas to a 67-15 record in the 2006-07 season, tied for the sixth-best mark in NBA history.

Coached the Western Conference team in the 2006 All-Star Game

Posted a 194-70 regular-season record (a .735 percentage).

MISSES

Six minutes from a 3-0 series lead in the NBA Finals, the Mavs collapsed and lost four games in a row to the Maimi Heat.

Upset by Golden State in the first round of the 2007 playoffs; the Warriors became the first eighth seed in NBA history to win a best-of-seven first-round series.

Guided the Mavs to the seventh seed in this year's playoffs, where they were ousted by the Hornets in five games.

Posted a 23-24 playoff record, ending with nine consecutive road losses and 12 losses in the Mavs' last 15 playoff games.

A FEW OF THE BIGGEST CRITICISMS OF AVERY JOHNSON

Struggled to coach point guards

Darrell Armstrong, Marquis Daniels, Anthony Johnson, Jason Terry, Devin Harris, J.J. Barea, Tyronn Lue and Jason Kidd each played minutes at point guard during Avery Johnson's short tenure and struggled to find consistent success.

Authoritarian micromanager

Johnson's seemingly inflexible offense and insistence on calling plays stifled the team's production at crucial times. His style also might have stunted the growth and damaged the confidence of promising young players such as Devin Harris, DeSagana Diop and Josh Howard.

Fondness for veterans

Johnson has always had an affinity for players who have been through the fire, and he often showed little tolerance for youthful mistakes. The longer his tenure ran, the more he favored older players as the Mavs' roster took on a, shall we say, vintage feel.

X's and O's

The perception -- no matter how truthful it is -- is that Johnson was outcoached by Pat Riley, Don Nelson and Byron Scott as the Mavs flamed out during the postseason. That might be the case, but is there really any shame in losing to some of the NBA's coaching elite?

-- Joe Garza

"There is no animosity, bitterness or nothing. We just needed to go in a different direction."

- Avery Johnson

"Maybe I would have given Devin [Harris] the ball a little bit earlier, maybe started developing him a little earlier."

- Johnson, on what he would do differently

"I have high praise for every player who stepped on the court for the Mavericks. ... It is just time for a new voice."

- Johnson

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