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In this job, there's no such thing as security

James Posey helps the officials by signaling traveling from the bench on Atlanta's tumbling Al Horford. The officials agreed. James Posey helps the officials by signaling traveling from the bench on Atlanta's tumbling Al Horford. The officials agreed. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Peter May
Globe Staff / May 1, 2008

Raise your hand if you had Mike Woodson coaching further in the 2007-08 season than Pat Riley or Avery Johnson. Or had Woodson even employed in the same line of work while the other two are not.

Johnson was good enough to be coach of the year in 2006 and get the Mavericks to 67 wins in 2006-07 and 51 wins this season - and he still walked the plank yesterday, paying the price for a second straight first-round flameout in the playoffs.

He joins five others who were similarly cashiered at some point this season (or, in Riley's case, took the stairs up to the office with a view). Mike D'Antoni, the coach of the year in 2005, may soon join them, as Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum is reporting he won't be back (McCallum did a book with the Suns a couple years ago; in other words, he should know). All D'Antoni did was win 55 games this season, but the Suns, like the Mavericks, were first-round casualties with a big payroll and bigger expectations.

Johnson's dismissal hit hard in Boston because Doc Rivers considers the former Dallas coach to be one of his closest friends. They talked yesterday and while Rivers preferred to keep the conversation contents private, he did say, "He's disappointed. But it's our league.

"It's what we do."

Rivers, much to the dismay of many in the blogosphere, may be as safe as anyone - or anyone not named Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, or Jerry Sloan. Only two other coaches in the East, Lawrence Frank of the Nets and Eddie Jordan of the Wizards, have been at their current jobs longer than Rivers.

Woodson, the coach of the Hawks, was in general manager Billy Knight's crosshairs after the team acquired Mike Bibby over All-Star Weekend. But ownership wouldn't pull the trigger. (Knight's job status is another story.) Woodson said his contract is up this summer and he has no idea what the future holds.

"I think coaches work just as hard and sometimes we don't always get the credit that's due," Woodson said. "I feel for guys like Avery. I think Avery has done a great job in Dallas. He's a good enough coach to land on his feet and he'll end up in the league coaching somewhere. He's been great for our league. You wish him well and hope for the best for him."

The crime for Johnson was pretty obvious: For the third straight year, the Mavericks went down hard in the playoffs. You can make a case that despite everything that has happened since, the team has never really recovered from blowing a 2-0 lead to Miami in the 2006 Finals (and a 13-point, fourth -quarter lead in Game 3), then losing four straight. The Mavericks' playoff record after taking that 2-0 lead is a dismal 3-12, including a ridiculous 0-9 on the road.

Johnson was a sterling 194-70 in the regular season, but a not-so-sterling 23-24 in the playoffs. That is not going to cut it for a win-now guy like Mark Cuban, who pulled the plug less than 24 hours after the Mavericks had been ousted, in five games, by the New Orleans Hornets.

Asked what it all meant, Rivers said, "It means we better win. That's the profession. I understand that. I always have and I always will. It's a tough profession and it's getting tougher. But I still love it and Avery still loves it and whoever else gets fired, I guarantee you, will sign on again. It's always going to be that way. It's always easier to change one than to change the direction."

Riley has already turned things over to Erik Spoelstra in Miami - after saying before the season that he was committed to three more years of coaching. He lasted one (and it was a bad one). Milwaukee (Scott Skiles for Larry Krystkowiak) and Charlotte (Larry Brown for Sam Vincent) each hired veterans to replace one-and-doners. The Knicks and Bulls are still coach hunting.

Johnson is the first Western Conference coach to get whacked, although D'Antoni might not be far behind, and there's always going to be questions about George Karl and the underperforming, lavishly compensated Denver Nuggets.

"It's our business," Rivers said. "We see it here. You lose two games, you're a dunce, everybody hates you. You win two games, you're a genius. Well, not a genius . . . It's about wanting to win now. There's nothing wrong with that part of it. We all do."

But wanting to win and actually doing it can be tricky. Johnson is the latest to find that out.

Peter May can be reached at pmay@globe.com.

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