EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — When it came time for Rod Thorn to make a decision on the next coach for the NBA's worst team, the New Jersey Nets president and general manager went with his gut.
Call it an impulse.
Former Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson had wowed him in a recent interview, and there was no way Thorn was going to let him slip away with so many NBA coaching positions still open.
"Thinking long and hard about it, I just felt that Avery was a good fit for us," Thorn said in a conference call on Thursday. "I felt if we were going to go down the path to try to sign Avery, we better get moving because there were other teams with interest and my feeling was I didn't want to lose him if he were really interested in doing it, and I decided to act."
The Nets announced on Thursday that they had reached an agreement in principle with Johnson, with the notice coming less than 24 hours after Johnson text messaged The Associated Press that he was going to become the team's coach.
Thorn refused to disclose details on the multiyear contract, but he said it should be signed in "a reasonable period of time."
A current ESPN analyst who coached Dallas for three-plus seasons, Johnson had a 194-70 regular-season coaching record and a 23-24 mark in the playoffs. He guided the Mavericks to the NBA finals in 2006, and was fired after a first-round playoff series loss to New Orleans in 2008.
Thorn was impressed with Johnson from the start, noting that he has been successful both as a player and head coach, and possessed all of the characteristics needed to turn the Nets around — knowledge, passion and leadership.
Johnson was outstanding in his interview, Thorn said. He knew a lot about the Nets, the plusses and minuses of each player and had a defensive philosophy that the team certainly lacked last season.
"I was also impressed with his attention to detail, the plan that he had for practices, for shootarounds," Thorn said. "This was a very prepared individual and I just felt he would be a good fit for what we need to do."
Months before the interview, Thorn said he had spoken about Johnson with Nets point guard Devin Harris, who had played for Johnson with the Mavericks before coming to New Jersey in the Jason Kidd deal.
Harris, who become an All Star with the Nets, had his disagreements with Johnson in Dallas. But he also gave Thorn an interesting take on the coach. He said Johnson was a good coach who helped him get better. He was also a coach who held everyone accountable.
"I think that if you are firm but fair and also if you treat people with a modicum of respect, you tend to get respect," said Thorn, who refused to say whether he had signed a new contract yet. "I think in Avery, our players will read about his record and what he has done as a member of a championship team and they will be receptive to his message."
New Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov called the hiring the first step toward turning the team that posted the worst record (12-70) in franchise history last season.
"His leadership qualities, knowledge of the game and ability to motivate are all talents we will be calling upon as we move forward," Prokhorov said. "This is the beginning of what I hope will be many more exciting announcements to come before the start of the season."
Johnson led the Mavericks to the postseason in each of his seasons as a head coach. He has the highest coaching winning percentage in NBA history and set the record for reaching the 150-win plateau the fastest (191 games). In 2005-06, Johnson led the Mavericks to their first ever appearance in the NBA finals en route to earning NBA Coach of the Year honors.
"The future of the team is bright and I am excited to be a part of that future," Johnson said. "We want to play tough, hard-nosed defense and we are going to move the ball on offense. It's all going to begin with training camp where we will start building a foundation for the future."
Besides Harris, the Nets have a young talented center in Brook Lopez, two guards with tons of potential, Terrence Williams and Courtney Lee. New Jersey also has the third pick in this month's draft.
Johnson should also benefit working with Prokhorov. The Russian billionaire has said he will open his wallet in free agency, and the Nets have more than $23 million to spend on a talent pool that might include LeBron James.
Johnson began the 2004-05 season as an assistant coach with Dallas after retiring as a player on Oct. 28, 2004. In 16 NBA seasons, he averaged 8.4 points, 5.5 assists, 1.7 rebounds and 25.3 minutes played in 1,054 career games with seven teams.
His on-court leadership helped guide the San Antonio Spurs to an NBA championship in 1999.