The Understudy

Avery Johnson will make a fine coach someday, but why today?

"I think I'm more ready to do it now," Johnson says. "The first game, I think I wanted to prove to the team that I'm a good coach. I gave them so many things to think about, they were walking around like zombies. Nellie told me I froze their brain. I'll keep asking him for suggestions now. I just hope he's not too drugged-up."

Johnson does run practices for Nelson, and he's frequently heard during timeouts at games. In that respect, there shouldn't be too much concern about the transition. Nor did the players anticipate any sort of hiccup now that the former point guard--who is one of only two players in NBA history under 6 feet tall to play 1,000 games--is in charge. But, again, despite Johnson's hot start as the team's new leader, Nellie is a Hall of Fame coach, and Johnson isn't. Don't you lose something there?

"As a player, it's easier to correct your mistakes," Michael Finley says. "If you miss a shot or don't make the right pass, you fix it yourself. As a coach, it might be more frustrating for him, because he can tell us what to do, but we have to do it. But he's always had the intelligence to be a head coach. I don't think the transition will be hard for him or us, and I don't think we'll lose anything."

Nellie to Avery: "Don't tell anyone, but this 'surgery' is really a cover for me to sit on the bench and work on my bitchin' tan."
Nellie to Avery: "Don't tell anyone, but this 'surgery' is really a cover for me to sit on the bench and work on my bitchin' tan."

All of which, from this end, is way too nice and neat. Someone has to be worried or suspicious, right? Doesn't anyone wonder if it's a good idea to hand the team over in the middle of the season to a guy who has never had his own NBA team to command?

"There are no concerns for me as far as that goes," Johnson says. "I've been in and out of this league. I've been cut on Christmas Day before. This--I'm ready for this."

Apparently the Mavs are ready for this, too, but I think the rest of us would feel a whole lot better if the experiment was cut short. If only Nellie's doctors could help us out and get him back sooner than expected. If only medical science could devise something to aid his recovery. Something radical.

Like, say, a sling.

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