Avery Johnson Runs Cold With Point Guards

HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — Avery Johnson keeps striking out with point guards, the position he loved to play and eventually thrived as a hard-nosed underdog.

The scorecard lists three point guards now that haven’t seen eye-to-eye with the Little General. One got traded away and the next two have played roles in him twice being fired.

On Thursday, the Brooklyn Nets did the deed, just 28 games into Johnson’s third season and little more than a week since struggling Deron Williams openly complained that Johnson’s system wasn’t doing him any favors. Williams pined for the old days in Utah with Jerry Sloan, the same coach with whom he became combative and drove into mid-season retirement two years ago.

Johnson’s trying times with point guards goes back to 2007. In July, three months after Johnson’s 67-win Dallas Mavericks were humiliated in the first round by the Golden State Warriors, Johnson elevated Devin Harris, the fifth overall pick in 2004, to starting point guard and shifted Jason Terry to shooting guard.

Johnson and Harris met up in Las Vegas, where the Mavs’ summer-league team was playing, for an intensive few days on the court, one-on-one. The two had already developed an interesting relationship, sort of like the demanding father and the son who can’t please him no matter what, or the hard-nosed college coach determined to ride his prized pupil until he emotionally cracks.

“Yes, he does push me. Yes, I don’t think that’s ever going to change. Yes, I probably get yelled at the most,” Harris said during a late-night interview back then in Vegas. “But I’ve learned to deal with it. I’ve learned to cope with it, and it’s good.”

Here’s how Johnson viewed their dynamic.

“The problem with him is he was born a point guard and he has a former point guard [as his coach] who has played at all levels and has won at all levels,” Johnson said. “That’s a big problem for him because I see plays before they happen. I see things develop and that’s a big problem for him, me being his coach and having played the position.”

Johnson then explained his shifting strategy with Harris. It’s not without irony.

“The experiment with me trying to make him Jason Kidd, that’s not his game,” Johnson said. “We have an idea now exactly who he is and I think we can maximize him being a certain type of point guard. He has a chance to be in that mold of a [Tony] Parker or even a Kevin Johnson.”

Seven months later, with Dirk Nowitzki weary of Harris’ inability to create open shots for him in Johnson’s iso-heavy offense, the Mavs traded Harris to the New Jersey Nets for Kidd.

Five games in and the Johnson-Kidd relationship went south. Down two points with 34 seconds left in San Antonio, Johnson called timeout and sat Kidd. A frenzied possession ensued and Dallas lost. Johnson said he leaned on players familiar with his system. Kidd would call getting yanked in the clutch “a first” and “maybe the biggest thing that stands out” during his short time with Johnson.

Less than three months later, Mavs owner Mark Cuban fired Johnson before the team plane had made it back from New Orleans where Dallas bowed out of the first round in five games. One reason for change was to bring in a coach and offense better suited for Kidd to orchestrate.

So Williams makes three. He complained of Johnson’s iso-heavy system and pined for Sloan’s pick-and-rolls and the kind of movement in the half court Williams said he grew up playing in high school and then at Illinois.

Some suggest that Williams’ criticisms of Johnson were meant more as praise for Sloan, driven by lingering guilt over his old coach’s surprising resignation (Williams was traded to the Nets two weeks later).

Williams’ comments come with some truth. Johnson is rigid and his offense can be unimaginative. He attempted to bend, saying that some 30 percent of the Nets’ offense was borrowed from what Williams ran under Sloan, yet it didn’t show up in Williams’ suffering shooting percentages.

Williams could have signed with his hometown Mavs and led coach Rick Carlisle‘s “flow” offense, the one Williams’ close friend Kidd captained to the 2011 championship.

But Williams said he liked what was going on in Brooklyn better. Out of excuses, Williams now shoulders the Nets’ burden.

It’s hard to say when Johnson will get his next opportunity. When he does, he’ll have to take a hard look at his offense and even deeper introspection into how he communicates with his point guard.

As Johnson knows, they can be a stubborn and hard-headed lot. But he can’t win without one being an extension of himself.


  1. rthsdfgh says:

    its obvious that d-will cant win a championship without atleast a all star or 3
    and why doesnt deron tell the coach what he likes, when you get paid that much i thought you could say what ever you want but deron is a bitch

  2. Sean says:

    Are they suggesting that D. Will made a mistake and should have gone to the mavs who are a good point guard short of being a competitive team.

  3. Tom says:

    D. Will’s got the skills to be a superstar but just got held back so far this season, Avery’s just a bad coach (seriously iso-heavy is dumb) who can’t let go of his ego when dealing with his PG’s.

  4. Hugues says:

    Avery getting fired has more to do with the losing than D-will’s comments.

  5. Masterchef says:

    This was a bad move instead of firing Avery they should be looking a Deron saying we paid you 125 million and you need to pay like we paid you that. I don’t understand what they want with this roster!!! You really expect to win a championship with Brooke Lopez in your starting line up?

  6. Ted says:

    You never win in an iso-heavy offense. I don’t know why Avery hasn’t learned anything from Coach Pop’s motion offense.

  7. Ike says:

    devin harris…where is he and what has he done…
    deron even mispronounces his own name…
    avery will learn from this…i think the guy can coach…but sometimes you have to let go of the reins…maybe try it with a defensive minded roster…too many one sided players gettingbig minutes and no stops…including deron, not to mention joe johnson and Blatche, Billy spent too much money on score first ball players. IMO

    • EZfoRPREZ says:

      ^^did you forget what harris did when he was part of the nets? I recall him dropping 40 points in 4 straight games. And a couple buzzer beaters. Dont play Harris like that if you dont watch him play. DONT TELL ME…your a fan of Lin or something? lol.

  8. yankee says:

    I don’t think it was D-Will who got him fired. May seem that way, but I think the team owner got tired of seeing his well-paid team on the losing path again. His patience must have run out.

  9. shakur says:

    its pretty obvious that johnson system does not fit a point guard who is good

  10. poor guy says:

    What a tough job as a coach in NBA!!! you got fired just as 20s games. i always have sympathy for people who lost their job! POOR!
    D-will is so overrated!!!!!pay 98 ml and what did he bring to the team?????????????????????

    • Richard(vince carter fan) says:

      hay!!! man D-will is not over rated , both d-will and joe Johnson in a way is underated.
      wihen melo came to the knicks and struggle people call melo over rated too. just because some one struggle dosent mean there over rated …………………..did you see VC???

    • drob50 says:

      D-will isn’t overrated. I still believe he is the best point guard in the NBA but you need a point heavy system for a good PG to thrive. Phil Jackson never had a nominate PG cos the triangle doesn’t need a dominate PG (yes I know Jordan & Kobe negated the need). D-Will is every bit as good as J-Kidd, whilst he lacks the polish of CP3 his size gives him the advantage. Parker struggles against D-Will but dominates when playing on CP3 so D-will is end to end a little better. I’m a spurs fan and hate to see the little general lose his job like this again, he did a fine job with the Mavs but relationships are everything. Yelling and demanding works for Pop but he Robinson and timmy that always fell in line, also nobody plays for the spurs that won’t fit and be molded. Johnson didn’t have the luxury, so you have to first be molded to then mold. Work with what you have. Lakers are suffering the same problem.

      • No way says:

        DWill is not the best PG in the league, and he’s showing it now. The system is no excuse for the drop in his FG%, which has fallen oiff a cliff.

        Best PG would be DRose or maybe CP3.

  11. CARLO says:

    D-Wil should be playing in And-One Mixtape!

  12. TrueNBAFan says:

    I get so tired of NBA.com spreading lies. D-Will was NOT the cause for Sloan’s retirement. D-Will has said that, Jerry Sloan has said that, KOC has said that… how many more people who actually knew what happened have to tell you it wasn’t D-Will’s fault before you idiots at nba.com learn -.-.

    • Cam says:

      maybe you are just more gullible then the rest of us. If you think d-will had nothing to do with it because of some public spinning then you need to take off the blinders and take a look at reality.

  13. Well....... Now What? says:

    I didn’t think Brooklyn was doing bad ( 7th in east / 14–14 record)

    ATL, Chicago, and Milwaukee are just better then anyone predicted

  14. Troyerz says:

    Are we forgetting D-Will in all this? Here he goes again, imposing his Will on another system at the cost of his head Coach! When will he stop! and just play within a system? The guy is good but sometimes I wonder…

    And I’m still a bit stunned at the news of the firing of Avery. Listening to him in a very recent interview, with all his high praises for Williams, it seemed like he and Deron were getting along just fine..? I’m such a fool (someone warned me: never to believe what I hear in the news -but I didn’t listen).

  15. devin harris says:

    article should be derron williams coach killer