Johnson believed to be Pistons' top pick

Updated: July 4, 2009, 12:37 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Pistons president Joe Dumars is scheduled to have his first face-to-face meeting with Avery Johnson later this weekend regarding Detroit's coaching vacancy, according to NBA coaching sources.

Johnson
Johnson

Sources told ESPN.com that Dumars and Johnson, after discussing the job by phone, have planned to meet Sunday at Johnson's home in the Houston area, with Dumars intent on trying to hire his next coach before the Pistons begin summer-league play next week in Las Vegas.

After former-Pistons coach Doug Collins pulled out of consideration earlier this week, ESPN analyst Johnson was widely regarded as the leading candidate for the position, which was vacated by Tuesday's firing of Michael Curry.

Dumars, though, told the Detroit News that it is "not a given" that Johnson will be hired as Curry's replacement, with sources telling ESPN.com that Dumars has added Boston Celtics associate head coach Tom Thibodeau to an original list of candidates that featured Collins, Johnson and Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach John Kuester.

Kuester and Thibodeau have no head-coaching experience in the NBA, which appeared to clash with Dumars' recent declaration that he thinks it is "best to move forward with a more experienced coach." It wasn't immediately clear Friday night if the Pistons have requested permission from either Kuester's or Thibodeau's current teams to speak with them.

Johnson has declined interview requests about the Pistons' search but said during the season that he would be more proactive in seeking jobs after completing a second season as a television analyst for ESPN. The 2008-09 season was Johnson's first in TV after the Dallas Mavericks fired him in May 2008 in the wake of a second successive first-round playoff oust.

When he turned down a mid-season offer to coach the Memphis Grizzlies, Johnson said that he was "enjoying my time at ESPN and with my family" but that he was also intent on returning to coaching "at the right time and in the right situation."

Colleagues said Johnson is intrigued by the opportunity to work for one of the league's signature franchises, even though the Pistons are in the midst of what Dumars openly describes as a "transition" period.

Collins' decision to withdraw his name from consideration Wednesday night and stay in TV -- amid a growing belief in league coaching circles that he was being offered the job -- appeared to have opened a clear path for Johnson. If Dumars and Johnson can hash out a deal, Detroit's monetary obligation to Johnson in those two years would be shared, since the Mavericks still owe Johnson $4 million over each of the next two seasons.

If Dumars or Johnson ultimately decides that the fit isn't right, it's unclear how Detroit will proceed. Sources said Dumars is a long-time admirer of Kuester's work -- and Kuester won raves last season in Cleveland for his impact on Mike Brown's offense -- but Dumars also appeared to make experience a prerequisite when he let Curry go, saying it was "a little bit unfair of me" to ask Curry to guide the Pistons through their transition as a first-time head coach.

Proven veterans known to be interested in a return to head coaching include Del Harris, Paul Silas and Collins' fellow TNT analyst Mike Fratello. Sources with knowledge of Detroit's thinking maintain that former Pistons center Bill Laimbeer, who recently quit as coach of the WNBA's Detroit Shock to pursue NBA opportunities, is unlikely to be considered for the position.

Johnson, 43, posted a 194-70 record in four seasons with the Mavericks. He took Dallas to the NBA finals for the first time in franchise history in 2006, earned NBA Coach of the Year honors that season and followed up with a 67-15 record in the 2006-07 season.

Johnson's tenure in Dallas began to unravel with a first-round loss to the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors and former Dallas coach Don Nelson in the 2007 playoffs and was followed by a tension-filled final season in 2007-08 that could not be saved by the midseason acquisition of Jason Kidd.

On Wednesday, free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva made verbal commitments to sign with the Pistons on July 8, when the league-wide moratorium on signings and trades is lifted.

The Pistons' next coach will be Dumars' sixth in 10 seasons as the head of Detroit's basketball operations, which is said to be one of the factors that gave Collins pause.

Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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