Coaching Candidates – Johnson and Casey

So Mike Woodson will not be the Hawks coach next year. Also Phil Jackson, Jon Wooden and my dad will not be coaching the team. But someone will. Early reports courtesy of Mark Bradley and Marc Stein mention Avery Johnson and Dwane Casey.

Avery Johnson

Avery Johnson was a player not too long ago. He won a ring with the Spurs as a player. As a coach, he is best known as the leader of the only 1-seed in NBA history to lose a 7-game series to an 8-seed. He won the 2006 NBA Coach of the Year award after the Mavericks won 66 games. That year he took the Mavs, the 4-seed, to the NBA Finals. They won the first two games then lost four straight. In 2006-07, he led the Mavs to the best record in the NBA and that historic collapse. He was soon fired.

Since his firing, Johnson’s appeared on a lot of ESPN shows to talk about the NBA in his shrill, this-is-what-those-little-dinosaurs-from-Jurassic-Park-would-sound-like, southern Louisiana inflection.

As a coach he was judged as a defensive coach with only passing interest in offense.[1] This was probably clouded by his predecessor’s opposite outlook on basketball, Don Nelson.[2] But it came from somewhere.

So, we have a candidate who has spent the last three years in a studio with a microphone in front of him and no one to answer to, he’s best known for being philosophically similar (defense, defense, DEFENSE!) to the coach we just fired, and his teams threw away huge advantages in the form of series leads and talent in their last two matchups.

However, he gets bonus points for being a serviceable point guard on NBA Courtside with Kobe Bryant.

Dwane Casey

In Casey’s only head coaching stint he went 53-69 with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was hired at the beginning of the 2005-06 season and the team won 33 games that year. The following year, Casey was let go after a 20-20 start to the season.[3] Before that opportunity, Casey was in Seattle working under George Karl and Nate McMillan. He’s spent the last two years as an assistant and perennial finalist for head coaching jobs.

Casey’s got skeletons. When he was an assistant coach with Kentucky in the late 80s, he was put on five years’ probation by the NCAA for allegedly making payments to then-recruit Chris Mills’s father. This instance of indiscretion is over 20 years old and happened at Kentucky, which my experience in SEC sports has taught me isn’t that big a deal.

Barring a coach with sustained success jumping ship,[4] the best the Hawks can hope for is someone who meshes with this team. They need to find a voice that can appease Joe, appeal to Josh and appreciate Al. And it’d help if he could make Marvin Williams look like a top-10 pick.

Casey had moderate success in his one head coaching job. More importantly, he’s had experience with a variety of coaching philosophies, styles and voices. Maybe he can find one that will make this team want to win.


[1] This should sound familiar, very familiar. Although it’s believed that as a former point guard Avery understands the futile frustration of watching one player go one-on-five as Josh Smith stands still at the 3-point line.

[2] Interestingly enough, also the man who was coach of the Golden State Warriors when they became the first 8-seed in NBA history to upset a 1-seed in the first round (Dallas Mavericks, 2007).

[3] That team featured a starting five of Mike James, Ricky Davis, Trenton Hassell, Kevin Garnett and Mark Blount. After Casey was fired, the team went 12-30 and gave up three ppg more over the last 42 than the first 40 games.

[4] Our boat may be undermanned and much smaller, but it still floats, Stan Van.

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