The Dallas Mavericks fired coach Avery Johnson yesterday, the first of what is likely to be many offseason moves after the team with the league's highest payroll again flopped in the first round of the playoffs.
Johnson leaves with an impressive resume after three-plus seasons, but Mavericks owner Mark Cuban couldn't tolerate two straight years of first-round exits -- or the fact that Dallas has gone 3-12 in the playoffs since blowing a 2-0 lead in the 2006 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.
The Mavericks followed that 2006 disappointment with the embarrassment of being ousted by the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors in the opening round last season in one of the biggest upsets in league history. And they were just eliminated in five games by Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets.
"This is something that needed to happen," Johnson said. "There's no animosity or bitterness. We all still really care about each other, but it was time to go in a different direction. ... We didn't win the championship, but if you look at the whole body of work that we put together over the last 3 1/2 years ... we'll put it up against anybody."
Dallas didn't win a road game against the Heat, Warriors or Hornets, an 0-9 skid that was too much to overcome.
The final mark during Johnson's tenure: 194-70 in the regular season, 23-24 in the playoffs.
"It is never easy to relieve a coach of his duties, especially one of Avery's caliber," Cuban said in a statement. "He is a talented coach, and I want to thank him for his efforts over the last four years and what he has done for this franchise."
A championship-winning point guard for the San Antonio Spurs during his long career, Johnson became Dallas' coach-in-waiting when he joined Don Nelson's staff before the 2004-05 season. He had to wait only a few months. Nelson stepped aside in March 2005 and "The Little General" took over.
The Mavs went 16-2 the rest of that season and won a playoff series. Then, in his first full season, Dallas went to the NBA Finals for the first time and he was named the league's Coach of the Year.
After squandering their title shot, Johnson and the Mavs bounced back by winning 67 games, matching the fifth most in league history -- only to waste it with the opening-round playoff loss to Nelson and the Warriors.
Critics said Johnson was outcoached by Miami's Pat Riley in the finals, then by Nelson. Johnson gave critics ammunition with moves such as switching hotels during the Finals to get away from distractions and by changing his starting lineup for Game 1 against Golden State even though his team was the overwhelming favorite.
"Was it time for a change? I guess," said Dirk Nowitzki, who became the league Most Valuable Player under Johnson's watch. "I think this franchise, we owe him a lot."
SuperSonics -- Kevin Durant has been chosen as Rookie of Year, a person with knowledge of the vote Associated Press has learned. The honor was first reported by The Seattle Times in yesterday's editions. The official announcement is expected today. Durant averaged 20.3 points -- the highest scoring average for a Rookie of the Year since LeBron James averaged 20.9 points in 2003-04.