When the New Jersey Nets hired Avery Johnson earlier this week, it came with quite a few backhanded compliments. “Great regular season coach.” “Lot of potential.” “Fiery guy.”
All of these purposefully ignore the elephant in the room to make it seem bigger than it is. Johnson’s teams had terrible playoff results. The discussion of the inordinate amount of things that had to go wrong for Johnson’s teams to succumb in the post-season is a topic for another day. The fact is that Johnson had tremendous success, has the respect of the players, and comes very highly recommended.
How recommended? Ask four time NBA champion head coach Gregg Popovich, who knew long ago that Johnson was destined for the clipboard when his playing days were done.
In an in-depth piece with the New Jersey Star Ledger’s Dave D’Allessandro
, Popovich relates his relationship with “The Little General” dating back to 1991. He talks about Johnson joining the Warriors after Pop recommended him to head coach Don Nelson, and most telling, the progression of Johnson, even as a player, towards the bench. It is stunning, not only for the fact that Gregg Popovich, the Gregg Popovich, actually speaks more than a dozen words about a subject, but also because of how glowing he is in his review. The meat of it? From the Ledger:
“He’s got a special mind — you’re going to see it in New Jersey,
even if they’re going to be young,” Popovich said of Johnson. “He taught
himself what it takes to be successful in the league, and since then
he’s taught others. He’ll get a defensive mentality established with the
group. He’ll get Devin (Harris) in attack mode. He’ll adjust regardless
of what personnel they get there.
“You know I hate
superlatives, and how people exaggerate. I mean, the only ‘geniuses’ I
know are people who do medical research. So I don’t want to overstate
this, but Avery has a brilliant basketball mind. I knew it way back
when, and I know it now.”
So that’s nice to have on your resume. “Hall of Fame coach thinks I’m awesome.”
There are sure to be questions about Johnson, and he faces an uphill climb. The Nets weren’t nearly as bad roster-wise as their record indicated last season, and they have a high amount of potential to jump right back into things, depending on how the draft and free agency goes, but it was still a wretched team. But then, Johnson has seen his fair share of challenges throughout his career and has managed to turn in brilliant performances consistently.
Just ask Popovich.
Last season, DeMarcus Cousins received zero MVP votes (the same as every year of his career). Even though he averaged 24.1 points, and 12.7 rebounds a game, which was enough to get him his first All-Star berth, MVP is another thing entirely. Only players on winning teams tend to draw the attention of MVP voters.
This season, can Cousins — arguably the best center in the game — get in the conversation?
He thinks it’s more than just that, he told Kevin Ding at Bleacher Report.
The topic is the 2015-16 NBA MVP award and whether it could be reachable for DeMarcus Cousins.
“Reachable, man?” Cousins told Bleacher Report, his voice rising high. “It’s mine to grab.”
As noted above, the only way Cousins gets into the conversation — fair or not — is if the Kings are in the playoffs (at the very least). He understands that.
“It’s going to take a full team effort,” Cousins said. “I’ll try to play at a high level and bring my team along with me.”
Vlade Divac built a Kings’ team designed to start winning now — as you would expect from a team a year away from moving into a new arena they need to fill. Owner Vivek Ranadive is not about selling hope anymore, he wants to sell wins.
I think Cousins can help provide that.
I’m less sold on the cast around him being able to help.
After a bumpy season where the he fought with Suns coaches, then a summer where he and his twin Marcus felt they were blindsided by a trade, Markieff Morris has been plenty vocal about his unhappiness in Phoenix. To the point it has cost him some serious cash.
So what should we expect from Markieff Morris’ upcoming season?
Relative calm, I tell Jenna Corrado of NBCSports in this latest edition of PBT Extra previewing the NBA season.
The reasons are twofold. First, he has to realize the Suns aren’t trading him anyway (especially not while he publicly demands a trade, lowering his trade value). Second, can you imagine how new locker room leader Tyson Chandler is going to react to that? Chandler was brought in to fill a leadership void in the locker room, and you can bet he will make his displeasure at such team-disrupting antics known.
Still not sure if that’s enough to get the Suns to the playoffs.