By Marc Stein
The New Jersey Nets and ESPN analyst Avery Johnson have reached a verbal agreement to hire Johnson as the Nets' new coach, according to sources close to the process.
Johnson, who has been working for ESPN since his dismissal from the Dallas Mavericks after the 2007-08 season, was the NBA's Coach of the Year in 2005 and took the Mavs to the NBA Finals in 2006. He posted a record of 194-70 in three-plus seasons, good for a winning percentage of .735, and will be reunited in New Jersey with point guard Devin Harris.
Johnson was a finalist for the coaching job in Atlanta, having met Saturday with Hawks general manager Rick Sund for his third in-person visit with the team. The Hawks are expected to make their choice this week, after conducting multiple interviews with Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey, holdover Hawks assistant Larry Drew, ESPN analyst Mark Jackson and Johnson.
The arrival of Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov as the Nets' new owner initially prompted speculation that New Jersey would try to lure Duke's Mike Krzyzewski to the pros with an offer of $12 million to $15 million annually.
The Nets also had strong interest in ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy, but Van Gundy told team president Rod Thorn that he wanted to stay in television for at least one more season.
Johnson was the only known candidate to get a face-to-face interview with Thorn, although Boston Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau did have phone discussions with the Nets before striking a verbal agreement with the Chicago Bulls.
ESPN.com reported in early April that Harris was making a hard internal push for his former coach in Dallas, despite the fact that Johnson rode Harris hard as he was learning the nuances of NBA point guard play.
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