By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Jul 4 2009 11:46AM
Joe Dumars is headed to Texas to try to woo Avery Johnson back to the sidelines, a source told NBA.com. The Pistons president is meeting with the former Mavericks coach for the first time Sunday at Johnson's home in the Houston area to discuss the opening.
Johnson isn't necessarily looking to return to the bench this season and, according to the source, has to be convinced that Detroit makes sense on multiple levels before going forward. Dumars' mission is as much a recruitment as it is an outright offer.
Detroit has been without a coach since Dumars fired Michael Curry on June 30 after just one season on the job. Johnson, with two years left of compensation after being dismissed by Dallas owner Mark Cuban on April 20, 2008, spent last season as an analyst for ESPN.
Johnson, 44, is in the enviable position of waiting for the right opportunity before returning to coaching. The Pistons job could be it if several conditions are met beyond contract terms. As much as finances will play into the deal, the Johnson camp is looking for a true partnership with management/ownership.
Input on personnel is one of the keys. Assembly of the roster in Dallas was largely influenced by Cuban -- a fact Johnson understood as a first-time head coach. Johnson would want more of a say in putting together a team going forward, which is a responsibility many of the top coaches in the league enjoy.
The agreements with Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva at the beginning of free agency demonstrate Dumars' aggressiveness in rebuilding the Pistons. Detroit has been one of the NBA's most successful teams this decade, reaching at least the Eastern Conference finals every season from 2003-08.
But the Pistons took a step back this season. The early-season trade of longtime fan favorite and floor general Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson fizzled, and Detroit limped into the Playoffs with a 39-43 record as the eighth seed. Cleveland swept the Pistons in the first round.
Even after the huge splash in free agency, Dumars' work is hardly done. Decisions likely have to be made about the future of Richard Hamilton and possibly Tayshaun Prince. With the addition of Gordon in a backcourt that includes Rodney Stuckey, Hamilton and Prince could be valuable trade assets in acquiring a high-end frontcourt piece. Detroit is prepared to lose both big men Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess in free agency, along with Iverson.
Johnson's track record, despite his unceremonious end in Dallas, is a positive when selling Detroit fans on the future. The "Little General" led Dallas to its only trip to The Finals in 2006 and the league's best record (67-15) during 2006-07. Johnson owns a career record of 194-70 (.730) and is the fastest coach in league history to 50, 100 and 150 career wins. He is 23-24 in the postseason.
Dumars would likely have to offer a multiyear deal (four to five years) at about $5 million annually to entice Johnson. A contract of that size would demonstrate a commitment in the coach, a luxury Curry didn't have. Dumars is hiring his sixth coach in 10 years running the franchise.
Other potential candidates include Cleveland assistant John Kuester and Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau. Doug Collins withdrew from consideration earlier this week.
Curry was let go amid concerns he lost the locker room during his one season on the job. Johnson has dealt with the Cuban-driven perception that a player mutiny led to his ouster in Dallas. The Mavericks lost in the first round in each of Johnson's last two seasons.
Johnson is in no rush to leave ESPN and is willing to survey the coaching market next year if a deal with Dumars doesn't fall into place. Dumars has said he wants to have a coach in place before the Pistons leave for Summer League next week.
If you have a question or comment for Art Garcia, send him an email.
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