Avery Johnson is a smart man. Of course, you can be awfully smart when you’re not desperate.
Johnson is having his cake and eating it, too. He’s the fired Dallas Mavericks basketball coach who’s still drawing cool millions from Mark Cuban — in addition to gabbing into a microphone as an NBA analyst for ESPN. And he’s not doing that for free, either.
Johnson hosted Pistons President Joe Dumars — Sunday, it was reported — at Johnson’s home in Houston. The two met for nearly four hours, reports say.
Dumars flew to Houston firmly expecting to return to Detroit with Johnson signed, sealed, and delivered as his next basketball coach — Joe’s sixth since taking over the front office in 2000.
Once, that would have happened, without question.
Dumars would have flown to Houston to talk to someone like Johnson — an experienced, highly-regarded coach — and indeed Joe would have returned to Detroit having gotten his man. A press conference would have been called, perhaps the next day. Another go-round with a coach would have begun, the clock already ticking loudly on the new guy’s time with the Pistons.
Johnson is no dummy.
He knows that Dumars no longer deals from strength when it comes to hiring coaches.
The Pistons job isn’t an unattractive one, necessarily, but it’s no longer one that you drop whatever you’re doing and follow Dumars to Detroit, as if he’s a pied piper.
The sticking point between Johnson and the Pistons, we’re told — and it makes sense — was that Avery wanted no less than a four-year commitment from Dumars, at something around $4 million a year.
The Pistons were only willing to offer two years plus an option for a third.
Johnson was intrigued by the Pistons, but not enough to budge on his demand for four years.
He got himself into a staring contest with Dumars and this time, Joe blinked.
So Dumars flew back to Detroit, still coach-less.
Johnson knew that Dumars and the Pistons needed him a whole lot more than Johnson needed the Pistons.
So do others in the coaching fraternity.
Doug Collins was Dumars’ No. 1 choice. Collins coached Dumars in Detroit, and has made it known that he’s itching to get back into coaching. Dumars wanted Collins; Collins wanted the Pistons.
Then Doug came to his senses and looked at all the notches on Dumars’ belt and decided that maybe he didn’t want the Pistons so bad after all.
Dumars, sources say, is close to hiring Cleveland Cavaliers assistant John Kuester as his sixth coach — with the two-year/option deal that Johnson rejected, and at a considerably lower price, it’s presumed.
Kuester will be, if my math is right, Dumars’ third choice. They say Kuester gives Dumars a comfort factor because of his one season in Detroit as Larry Brown’s assistant (the year the Pistons happened to win the NBA championship), and his being an offensive guru of sorts for Mike Brown and the Cavs, which include one LeBron James.
Funny how those traits weren’t enough to make him the first choice.
First Collins (top), then Johnson (above) turned Dumars down, each having their own reservations
Former football coach Bum Phillips used to say of the job insecurity of his profession, “If they want to fire you, they’ll come up with a reason. He’s too mean, he’s too nice.”
Same thing with hires.
To steal from Bum, if you want to hire a third choice bad enough, you’ll come up with a reason to do so.
But just because John Kuester isn’t even sloppy seconds, doesn’t mean he’ll be a bad hire.
Dumars had a rough year personally. In March, he lost longtime owner Bill Davidson, who was like a father to him after Joe’s dad passed away in 1990. Davidson passed away rather suddenly, despite his being in poor health.
Then, in May, Joe’s old coach, Chuck Daly, died from cancer. In about two months, Dumars lost two influential men in his life.
But Daly, a Hall of Fame coach, was hardly the Pistons’ first choice back in 1983, when he was hired.
Jack McCloskey, the GM, let me in on a secret, when I interviewed him in 1989, shortly after the Pistons won their first of two straight titles.
John Kuester, even as a third choice, is one up on Daly.
McCloskey told me that, after firing Scotty Robertson, he offered the job to two high profile guys — just like Dumars did last week. The two men were the iconic Dr. Jack Ramsay and the former Lakers coach, Jack McKinney. Both coaches said thanks but no thanks. Then a third man, who McCloskey didn’t identify, turned him down, too.
Daly was the Pistons’ fourth choice in 1983. A former Cleveland coach, too, to boot.
But the facts are these: Dumars doesn’t have himself the same shiny job to dangle in front of potential coaching candidates as he once had. And he no longer negotiates from a position of strength.
Doug Collins and Avery Johnson both read that, crystal clear.
And John Kuester just wants a crack at a head coaching job.
If Dumars could ever use some of fourth choice Chuck Daly’s magic, even posthumously, now’s the time.