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Johnson interests Bulls
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/1/200 12:08 AM

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The Dallas Mavericks wasted no time firing coach Avery Johnson on Wednesday, the morning after they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by New Orleans.

Now the question is how fast the Bulls will move on Johnson, who arguably becomes the most well-qualified coach on the open market.

The Bulls definitely have interest in Johnson for their coaching vacancy and he more than likely is their top target. So far, Rick Carlisle and Mark Jackson are the only candidates to have formal interviews with general manager John Paxson.

In three-plus seasons leading the Mavericks, Johnson was 194-70 in the regular season and 23-24 in the playoffs. His .735 regular-season winning percentage is the best in NBA history among coaches with at least 250 games.

Johnson led Dallas to the 2006 NBA Finals and won a franchise record 67 games the following season. He helped turn a defensively-indifferent Mavericks squad into one of the league's better defensive teams.

But Johnson will also be remembered for last year's first-round playoff loss at the hands of eighth-seeded Golden State, one of the biggest upsets in league history.

He deserves less blame for this season's poor finish, since the Mavs were never the same after the ill-advised acquisition of 35-year-old Jason Kidd.

"This is something that needed to happen," Johnson said on KESN radio in Dallas. "There's no animosity or bitterness. We didn't win the championship, but if you look at the whole body of work that we put together over the last 3½ years, we'll put it up against anybody."

Elsewhere in the league, Phoenix general manager Steve Kerr denied a report that the Suns were about to dismiss Mike D'Antoni. The Suns' season also ended Tuesday, with a five-game loss to San Antonio.

If D'Antoni becomes available, he's less of a fit for the Bulls, since he coached a fast-paced, high-scoring style in Phoenix and the Bulls don't figure to have the offensive firepower to succeed with such a strategy.