Once Out in Front, Avery Johnson Now Freefalling
After looking to be a lock to take over for his hometown New Orleans Hornets only to fall out of the race in the Bayou, league sources say he's not looking much better in Atlanta. Dallas assistant Dwane Casey and ESPN/ABC analyst Mark Jackson are believed to be the frontrunners there, with Casey appearing to have a legitimate inside track. Jackson has yet to interview, but the Hawks have done extensive background work on him and the internal discussions are believed to be very favorable.
Johnson, meanwhile, is feeling the domino effect of his push for personnel power in New Orleans that has hurt him not only there but in Atlanta. And according to a source with knowledge of Johnson's thinking, the concern would be warranted as he wants a front office role with the Hawks as well.
In a development that is the latest evidence as to why the Hornets' unsettled ownership situation is making their coaching search problematic, sources say the New Orleans Times-Picayune story regarding Johnson's power grab that was published Friday didn't sit well with Hornets owner George Shinn. And while minority owner Gary Chouest, according to sources, is believed to have had Johnson atop his list of candidates and was comfortable giving him a role on the personnel front, he isn't running the show just yet.
His negotiations with Shinn to assume the majority owner role have lagged after they were expected to be finalized by mid-April, with the holdup related in large part to the amount of organizational debt Chouest will take on. In the wake of Johnson's failed candidacy, confirmed reports say Portland assistant Monty Williams and Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau appear to be finalists for the position.
The timing of the New Orleans situation couldn't have been any worse for Johnson, as the news became public on the same day he would eventually meet with Hawks officials. His aggressive approach not only sent the sort of message that might threaten the general managers of the respective teams with which he is still talking -- including Atlanta -- but he can no longer leverage the perception that he is headed for New Orleans with those same teams. Johnson made a similar tactical mistake during his days in Dallas, where his four-season stay ended with his firing in May of 2008 after he had pushed for similar control.
Meanwhile, Casey's case may have been strengthened in the process as he has close ties with former Seattle colleague and Hawks general manager Rick Sund and has limited his intentions to being the team's courtside caller. In that regard, Saturday is a big day for the former Minnesota head coach.
While he has already interviewed once, he will meet with the team's owners for the first time in Chicago and has a chance to confirm the merits of Sund's reference. Jackson, meanwhile, has yet to coordinate his television schedule with that of the Hawks' but should have his first interview scheduled in the near future.
As for other possible landing spots for Johnson, he should still have a shot at the New Jersey job that is also in serious play for Thibodeau. As first reported by FanHouse, Nets general manager Rod Thorn made early contact with Johnson's representatives and is expected to interview him. Thorn is believed to think very highly of Johnson, who would be well-advised to start the discussions by telling him he's not gunning for his job. Because as we're clearly seeing, that approach simply isn't working.
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