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A Brilliant Mind and the Courage to Speak It

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Dave D'Alessandro and Al Iannazzone spoke this week with Avery Johnson's mentor, Gregg Popovich, about a moment that for Pop defines the Nets' new coach.  It's February 1999, the lockout season, and the Spurs are in trouble, opening the up 6-8, very un-Spur-like.  The coach and his point guard are sitting at the coach's table, when Johnson launches.

"That night, Avery is in my living room," Popovich recalled in great detail...and with great flourish. "and he says with that voice of his, ‘Pop, we’ve got to peck and roooollll.’ Pick and roll. I was running all this motion stuff, the stuff that looks so pretty on paper. But Avery said, 'This is the NBAyyyyy, we have to play peck-and-roooollll, we have to use Tim like this, and David (Robinson) like this.'"

And so the coach, knowing of his point guard's brilliant mind and his courage to speak it, goes along and the Spurs go on a run that leads to the NBA championship.  That's one side of Johnson.  The other, Pop says, is something the Nets haven't seen in a while.

"If he has trouble with a player or if there is somebody who doesn’t buy in, it’s because the guy doesn’t have the character and mental toughness to persevere and understand that things don’t come easy," added Popovich. "If somebody is not willing to put in the time and the effort, that guy is not going to play for Avery. He’s looking for men."