Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Updated: June 16, 9:31 AM ET
Johnson: 'I am all about the positive'
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- An optimistic Avery Johnson has taken over as coach of the New Jersey Nets.
Bringing a broad smile to a televised news conference on Tuesday, Johnson brought out all the cliches and boldly predicted that the Nets have the potential to go from the NBA's worst team to the best.
Johnson didn't lay out a time line for turning around a team that won a league-low 12 games last season. He insisted the "sky is the limit" with a couple of young talented players on the roster, the third pick overall in next week's draft and a rich Russian owner who seemingly will spend money during next month's free agent bonanza that might include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
"I am all about the positive," Johnson said after being introduced as the Nets' 16th coach. "I am about hard work. I am about dreaming. I have a big dream right now in my mind in terms of where this franchise can go and where we can take it and I see all the possibilities."
Johnson comes to the Nets with the NBA's best winning percentage as a coach, having posted a 194-70 mark with the Dallas Mavericks in three-plus seasons. He guided the Mavericks to the NBA finals in 2006, but he was fired after a first-round playoff series loss to New Orleans in 2008.
He takes over a team that set an NBA record losing its first 18 games and then threatened the league mark for fewest wins in a season (9), set by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1972-73.
Only a late run prevented the Nets from a season of infamy.
With point guard Devin Harris and center Brook Lopez looking on, Johnson said he made a conscious decision to be optimistic, knowing that if he said the team would only improve marginally next year, it would send the wrong message.
"Where I come from is all about winning and it starts with having a winning mentality," Johnson said. "We have to get rid of the losing stench and losing mentality that we had here last year. We know it is going to take a lot of work and I don't think it's about being overly optimistic. It's about having a positive outlook. The two players who were here needed to see that conviction in my eyes."
Johnson had a sitdown with new Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov during Game 5 of the NBA finals in Boston on Sunday, and he is convinced the billionaire is "all in" on helping the team.
For the past two seasons, Johnson has recharged his batteries and evaluated his coaching career while working as an analyst for ESPN's NBA coverage. While he will make a few tweaks, Johnson was happy with his self evaluation of his days in Dallas, which included a few quarrels with a young Harris before he was traded to the Nets in the Jason Kidd deal.
Harris wanted more responsibility on the floor. Johnson would not let him have it.
"We butted heads, we'll probably still butt heads going forward," said Harris, who called Johnson a player-type coach who can be a bit of a dictator when he does not get the desired results. "But it's all about winning and that's the only thing we both respect."
With a young team, Harris thinks Johnson will be just as tough, demanding discipline and hard work on both ends of the court.
"Obviously I would like to have a little more trust on the sideline," Harris said. "I'm at a different point in my career. I think he has learned a lot from his absence in coaching and I think we will be a good fit."
Lopez said Harris has been very positive about the hiring, which was announced last week.
"I think we are definitely going to try to build a winning culture here, regardless of what happens in the offseason," Lopez said. "From Day 1, we're going to come in believing we can win games."
Nets president and general manager Rod Thorn said Johnson brings the proven ability to work with young players, to teach defense while demanding accountability from every player, regardless of status.