Avery Johnson gives advice for building a championship NBA organization

Avery Johnson knows a thing or two about championship pedigree.

As a player, Johnson started for the first title team in San Antonio Spurs history in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, and played under Gregg Popovich for five years. As a coach, he helmed two 60-plus win Dallas Mavericks squads in the mid-aughts – one of which made the 2006 NBA Finals, but fell to the Miami Heat.

Appearing on the most recent episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast hosted by Jason Goff and Will Perdue, Johnson shared his perspective on how to build championship culture, organizationally.

«I think the coach, the head coach, the general manager, the president of basketball operations and ownership all have to consistently be on the same page,» Johnson said. «Everybody has to be synchronized so that you can build a culture that’s conducive for success. And that culture is not – what you see in the games is only a byproduct of the culture behind the scenes and connectivity between all of those entities and people that I talked about before.»

In addition to efficient and thoughtful communication from the top down, Johnson said «competent, hard-working scouts» are a major part of building steadfast behind-the-scenes culture, which invariably trickles into the on-court product. Johnson cited the Heat – helmed by Pat Riley and Eric Spoelstra – Spurs, Mavericks, both Los Angeles teams and the Golden State Warriors off the top of his head as organizations that have enjoyed great basketball success as a byproduct of healthy, synergized management. 

For less successful teams, the inverse is true.

«There’s no surprise why the same teams always show up every year and consistently win,» Johnson continued. «But I’ve been in organizations where I’ve been fired after coaching a month, coaching the Nets (from 2010 to midway through 2012-13). So, you get fired – you’re coaching the month of November, then you get fired in December. That’s a problem. That’s a problem. Not just because it’s me, you know, you look at now, the Nets just recently made another coaching change with Kenny Atkinson, they went to the playoffs last year or whatever and he changed the culture, and now all of a sudden he’s abruptly fired… I think there needs to be some synergy and connectivity because if it’s not, the players will feed off of it, not necessarily in a positive way.»

That can have negative ramifications in league-wide player perception. Talk is far from cheap in the NBA.

«Negativity and when you’re unorganized, when you consistently over-react, it’s no surprise that teams that have had eight coaching changes in two or three years are not successful. That’s not a winning formula,» Johnson said. «And there are players that really are not attracted to that. How do you treat your superstars? You know, you look at the New York Knicks – unbelievable in terms of market share, New York City, major city, but haven’t really been successful in luring free agents there, and haven’t really been successful as they probably wanted in terms of drafting. 

«But if you look at Philadelphia (76ers), they go through The Process, they’re in Philly, they change it around, and basically (the) coach (Brett Brown) loses four years in a row and they retain him year after year after year. And they were able to see some light at the end of the tunnel. So, I think, you know, it’s all a process – to play on that word – and everybody must understand how to collaborate during that process, build trust, understand how to communicate through the highs and lows through an NBA season, and basically don’t always allow the Twitter universe to fire your coach (laughs).»

On the podcast, Johnson, Goff and Perdue also discuss the cultural elements behind the Spurs’ sustained success, how to stay sharp in a shortened season, stories of battling all-time greats like Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin Garnett and more.

Bulls Talk Podcast


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Avery Johnson gives advice for building a championship NBA organization originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago