06/15/2010 5:20 PM ET
Johnson dreams big as he takes over
Nets coach works for Prokhorov after tenure under Cuban
By Adam Zagoria / SNY.tv
Avery Johnson hopes Rod Thorn can improve on the personnel that fueled a 12-70 finish in 2009-10. (AP)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Avery Johnson can now lay claim to having worked for two billionaire NBA owners.

Mark Cuban was an outspoken, heavily involved owner who eventually fired Johnson after more than three seasons in Dallas.

By virtue of his personality and home across the Atlantic Ocean in Moscow, Mikhail Prokhorov figures to be more distant and removed as Johnson's new boss with the Nets.

"Fortunately, I have dealt with a billionaire before and that was a wonderful experience," Johnson, who signed a three-year deal reportedly worth more than $11 million, joked during his introductory news conference Tuesday.

"Mark is a different kind of an owner, and he has a different way of doing things and we had a great run for three years. Whereas Mark likes to be close to the action, Mikhail will probably be sitting across the court from me. He'll probably be a little more quiet during the games. Just because they do business differently, both of them are very successful."

Johnson took the Mavericks to the NBA Finals in 2006 before losing to Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. Despite posting a 194-70 and owning the NBA's best winning percentage during that time, he was fired two years later after a first-round playoff loss to New Orleans.

Prokhorov says he expects the lowly Nets -- who finished an NBA-worst 12-70 last season -- to win a title "minimum, five years."

Sounding exuberant, playful and ready to get to work, Johnson never mentioned a timetable, but said the "sky is the limit" for the Nets.

The team is armed with a wealthy, willing owner, a new arena in Newark, N.J., two first-round draft picks -- three total -- and $26 million in cap space to spend on a free-agent class that includes LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It also has some young talent in Devin Harris and Brook Lopez.

"We feel we can go from worst to first," Johnson said after being introduced by team president Rod Thorn. "With the draft picks that we have, Rod's going to get us two really good players with the third and 27. And if we can convince free agents to come here, we think not only can we get one guy we can get another guy. With what we have with Devin and Brook Lopez and Courtney Lee, we feel if we get the right free agent, that's three really good young draft prospects to our existing roster, we feel that the team together can have an opportunity to be really good."

Harris and Johnson, of course, have history in Dallas, and not all of it was positive.

During his news conference, Johnson tried to make light of that by turning to Lopez and saying, "Brook, do not believe all the stories that Devin has told about me."

He added: "I'm really excited, Dev, to work with you and I'll try to relax a little bit, OK?"

Surrounded by media, Harris talked about how tight a ship Johnson runs and how his young teammates may be in for a rude awakening.

"When he doesn't get results, he can be a bit of a dictator," Harris said.

Harris wanted more freedom in Dallas, and Johnson wasn't always willing to grant it.

"We butted heads, we'll probably still butt heads going forward," Harris said. "But it's all about winning and that's the only thing we both respect."

Harris expects Johnson to continue to demand accountability with his young team, even if Johnson talked about taking players out for private lunches and dinners to get to know them and build team chemistry.

"Obviously I would like to have a little more trust on the sideline," Harris said. "I'm at a different point in my career. I think he has learned a lot from his absence in coaching and I think we will be a good fit."

As for his fit with the new owner, Johnson met Prokhorov for the first time Sunday in Boston during Game 5 of the NBA Finals. With one man from New Orleans and another from Moscow, it's hard to know if a translator was needed.

"His English is pretty good, so I called one of my old coaches from Serbia, Gregg Popovich, and I said, 'Teach me some Russian,'" Johnson said. "The crash course that he tried to give me in Russian didn't really impress the owner."

Despite the language differences, both men have big, lofty goals for the future of the Nets, who are expected to move to Brooklyn after two years in Newark and could land LeBron James down the road, if not this summer.

"He's really excited," Johnson said of Prokhorov. "We talked about how we want to build this team and build the image of this team as we go forward. We talked about a lot of winning organizations. I played for an organization in the San Antonio Spurs that's a winning organization. We talked about how we wanted to build a team and what I saw my vision."

That vision will begin with a series of key workouts in the next few days. Syracuse forward Wesley Johnson is due in on Thursday. Georgia Tech forward Derrick Favors and Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins,who both played only one season at college, come in Monday. And Brooklyn's Lance Stephenson is expected next Wednesday.

The Nets are strongly leaning toward taking the 6-10 Favors because he is a natural power forward who could play alongside Lopez, two team sources said.

"I am all about the positive," Johnson said. "I am about hard work. I am about dreaming. I have a big dream right now in my mind in terms of where this franchise can go and where we can take it and I see all the possibilities."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Adam Zagoria is a regular contributor to SNY.tv. Read his blog at ZagsBlog.com and follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AdamZagoria.
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