(AP) - The Dallas Mavericks fired coach Avery Johnson on Wednesday, the first of what's likely to be many offseason moves after the league's highest payroll produced a second straight first-round knockout from the playoffs.
Johnson out as Dallas coach
Avery Johnson Avery Johnson took over as Dallas coach in 2005 after Don Nelson stepped down. Despite a string of stellar regular-season efforts, it has not translated to much playoff success.
Johnson leaves with an impressive résumé after three-plus seasons, but Mavs owner Mark Cuban couldn't tolerate a bottom line of being 3-12 in the playoffs since blowing a 2-0 lead in the 2006 NBA finals.
The Mavericks followed that disappointment by the embarrassment of being ousted by Golden State in the opening round last season in one of the biggest upsets in league history. They were just dumped in five games by Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets. Dallas didn't win a single road game against the Heat, Warriors or Hornets, an 0-9 skid that was too much to overcome.
The final slate on Johnson's tenure: 194-70 in the regular season, 23-24 in the playoffs.
A championship-winning point guard for San Antonio during his long career, Johnson became Dallas' coach-in-waiting when he joined Don Nelson's staff before the 2004-05 season. He only had to wait a few months. Nellie stepped aside in March 2005 and "The Little General" took over.
The Mavs went 16-2 the rest of that season and won a playoff series. Then, in his first full season, Dallas went to the NBA finals for the first time and he was the league's coach of the year.
After squandering their title shot, Johnson and the Mavs bounced back by winning 67 games, matching the fifth-most in league history " only to waste it with the opening-round playoff loss to, of all people, Nelson and the Warriors.
Critics said Johnson was outcoached by Miami's Pat Riley in the finals, then by Nellie. Johnson gave critics ammunition with moves such as switching hotels during the finals to get away from distractions and by changing his starting lineup for Game 1 against Golden State even though his team was the overwhelming favorite.
More fodder came in the final months of this season, when he benched newly acquired Jason Kidd for the final 35 seconds of a game against rival San Antonio. A few weeks later, Johnson and Cuban had a shouting match in the coach's office following a home loss to the Lakers.
Dallas was 16-13 after Kidd arrived " 17-17 counting the playoffs. They were 35-18 before giving up young point guard Devin Harris and a package of players and picks for the veteran superstar.
Johnson's rift with his club was apparent in the Hornets series. Down 2-0, he said to blame him, adding it was his fault they were missing layups, free throws and defensive assignments. The next day, Josh Howard went on local radio to talk about how much he and other NBA players enjoy marijuana. Then, after losing Game 4, Johnson canceled an off-day practice only to discover that players ended up putting themselves through a workout without him.
He may not be unemployed very long. The New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls are among the teams needing coaches and both might want a young, proven coach who preaches defense and discipline.
Who will Cuban hire next?
It's hard to guess because he's never really hired anyone, inheriting Nelson when he bought the team, then he and Nellie agreeing to groom Johnson.
Paul Westphal was on Johnson's staff, and Del Harris remains on the payroll as a consultant. Jeff Van Gundy and Rick Carlisle are other experienced coaches who could be interested, if Cuban is.
Whoever takes over will get a roster of expensive, aging players.
Dirk Nowitzki is still in his prime, but he turns 30 this summer. Jason Kidd is 35 and likely will be back since his $21 million contract is at the player's option. It's the only year left on his contract and he knows he won't get more than that on the open market.
For better or worse, the rest of the starting lineup is signed, too. That includes Howard, the only player under contract who is in his 20s. He turned 28 Monday " and his presence at a birthday party held Sunday night after the Game 4 loss to New Orleans reportedly prompted Johnson to cancel the off-day practice that ended up being rescheduled by players.
Also under contracts that make them tough to trade: Erick Dampier ($11.5 million), Jason Terry ($9.1 million) and Jerry Stackhouse ($7 million).
Eddie Jones, who will be 37 next season, is likely to exercise a $2 million player option.
Dallas also has a team option on Brandon Bass, who at this point is their most promising youngster.
The Mavericks don't have a first-round pick, having traded it to New Jersey in the Kidd deal.
Dampier's presence will be a reminder of the Johnson era. He played with Dampier in Golden State and urged Cuban to sign him, vowing he could get the most out of the big man known mostly as an underachiever. Dampier averaged 6.1 points and 7.5 rebounds over 24.4 minutes per game this season. He's signed through 2011.