Avery Johnson does not like the word dictator.
"I prefer being called a leader or teacher," the Nets' new coach said Tuesday when asked about his coaching style. "But then again, I would prefer to be labeled a dictator than to have someone call me a country club coach."
No one who has ever played for Johnson will call him a country club coach, according to Devin Harris. The Nets point guard admitted to having a number of clashes with Harris when they were with the Mavericks. Yet, Harris cut his vacation short to be on hand when the Nets held a news conference to welcome their new coach.
"We butted heads, and we'll probably still butt heads going forward," Harris said. "But it's all about winning and that's the only thing we respect."
There's not much to respect about the 12-win season the Nets just completed. Yet Johnson said he doesn't see any reason why this team can't make a quick turnaround. The Nets are poised to be a major player in the free-agent market and have two first-round picks in the upcoming draft. "The sky's the limit," Johnson said. "We can go from worst to first."
Johnson, whose career winning percentage of .735 (194-70) is the highest in the history of the NBA, has made a career out of defying odds.
As a player, Johnson was discarded five times in six years before landing in San Antonio, where Knicks fans probably will remember him most for hitting the series-clinching jumper in Game 5 of the 1999 NBA Finals. Then, a little more than a year after his playing career ended, he stunned almost everyone around the league by leading Dallas to the 2006 NBA Finals in his first full season with the team.
Johnson was fired after a first-round playoff series loss to New Orleans in 2008. He spent the past two seasons as a television analyst.
Nets president Rod Thorn said he believes the young Nets team will benefit from Johnson's style. "What I wanted is someone who is going to bring accountability to the team," Thorn said. "I think Avery will do that."
Harris, who was a backup on the team that Johnson took to the Finals, called Johnson a dictator Tuesday but said he realizes now just how much he learned from him. "Discipline is a big part of what we need," Harris said. "Defensively, making sure we do the right things, things we need to focus on. When I say dictator, yeah, he likes things his way but he's not my way or the highway."