Avery Johnson: ‘Rebuilding was the right move’ for Celtics
|10.23.13 at 4:10 pm ET|
Johnson, who coached the Nets for 2½ seasons and was dismissed shortly after the Celtics trounced Brooklyn last Christmas, will be adding a very distinct voice to the ESPN airwaves this season, sharing his insight every Wednesday on “NBA Countdown.”
In a one-on-one interview with WEEI.com, Johnson shared his thoughts on the state of the Celtics, as well as the Nets’ decision to go all-in.
‘This is a totally different year for the Celtics,’ Johnson said. ‘A lot of the pieces that were there last year, those guys are pretty much in the twilight and near the end of their careers. They still had a lot of great basketball in them and can carry a team during the regular season, but that was an aging team.’
Johnson, known as the ‘Little General’ during his playing career, believes the Celtics were never the same after Ray Allen‘s departure to Miami as a free agent last offseason.
‘The loss of Ray Allen was too much,’ Johnson said. ‘They never really were able to fill his shoes in terms of the great work he did on the court for the Celtics over the years during their championship runs.’
Similar to the beginning of his run with the Nets, a team that only won 24 games in 2011, Johnson sees a team in Boston with an uncertain future.
‘This was a team that needed to change,’ Johnson said. ‘Obviously we didn’t know the change would occur with Doc Rivers not being a part of it, but everything’s changed. Now the Celtics have a lot of pieces they’re still trying to figure out. They’re still working on how they’re going to play defensively and offensively, and where they’re going, not only now, but in the future.’
In addition to winning an NBA title during his 16-year playing career, Johnson also enjoyed great success as coach of the Mavericks. The Mavs captured their first ever Western Conference championship during the 2006 season with Johnson at the helm, and won 143 of his first 182 regular-season games (an outrageous 79 percent) as coach. The humble Johnson still credits his former coaches for helping prepare him to coach in the NBA.
‘When you play for so many great coaches,’ said Johnson, ‘ones like Rudy Tomjanovich, Larry Brown, Don Nelson, Bernie Bickerstaff and the great Gregg Popovich, you pick up some tremendous tools you can utilize to go along with your own personality and what you believe in.’
Johnson said Danny Ainge made the correct decision to rebuild.
‘I think rebuilding was the right move,’ said Johnson. ‘You’ve got to strike when the iron is hot. Especially with the rich history of the Celtics, a team that’s used to winning, if you’re playing in Boston and you’re an average team, that’s not good enough. It was either going to be, ‘How can we add some free agents to Paul Pierce, [Kevin] Garnett, Jason Terry and [Rajon] Rondo? Can we add one really big free agent?’ They weren’t going to be able to do that because guys like Dwight Howard and Chris Paul signed elsewhere, so the next best thing was rebuild and get as much value as you can for your star players. I’d like to commend Danny because I think it was the right move.’
Despite crediting Ainge for acquiring multiple assets in his quest to rebuild, Johnson admitted he is disappointed to see Pierce wear another jersey.
‘I was always rooting for Pierce to retire as a Celtic,’ Johnson said. ‘Guys like Pierce, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, I’ve rooted for those guys to retire and play for only one team. I was always rooting that Pierce would be able to wear one uniform.’
The 48-year-old Johnson wouldn’t rule out a potential return to the NBA, but he is very excited about his opportunity to coach on the air with ESPN. It’s his second stint with the network, as he served as an analyst for two seasons before returning to the bench with the Nets in 2010.
‘I get a chance to bring viewers behind the scenes,’ Johnson said. ‘I played, so I can talk about what players are thinking. I coached, so I can talk about coaching strategies and what a coach was trying to accomplish in a particular situation, and I can talk about a management standpoint because, with my coaching stints, both ownership groups allowed me to work hand-in-hand with the GMs. I’ll be able to give a lot of different insight to our viewers.’
For a preseason prediction, Johnson said to look no further than LeBron James‘ Heat. He did warn that the Nets, even in the face of enormous pressure, will be extremely dangerous.
‘Adding Kevin Garnett and Pierce is going to do so much for them,’ Johnson said. ‘Not just on the floor during games, but also on the practice court. When you look at a guy like Garnett, he’s been so great defensively that his commitment to defense fuels his teams. KG’s commitment to defense and passing has always been a breath of fresh air. I heard he has one of the best offseason workout programs that you’ll ever see. He’s really passionate about the game.
‘In terms of focus, attention, and detail, it’s the perfect storm for [Nets coach] Jason Kidd. He’s coming in with such a talented team and an owner that really wants to spend money and win at all costs. And they have some depth with Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry coming off the bench. It’s just a matter of getting their chemistry together. This is a make-or-break season with the Nets. People are not going to care whether they’re injured or healthy, all that will matter is what they do in the playoffs.’