Sources familiar with the Pistons’ thinking told ESPN.com that Tuesday would be a decisive day in their courting of Johnson, exactly one week removed from the dismissal of Michael Curry.
Pistons president Joe Dumars had his first face-to-face meeting with Johnson at the latter’s Houston-area home Sunday night, which was followed by ongoing discussions between the sides Monday.
If they can’t strike an agreement on financial terms and other job parameters by Tuesday, Dumars and Johnson both appear prepared to move on. NBA coaching sources say Dumars, in that scenario, would then turn to Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach John Kuester to replace Curry.
Johnson has been widely regarded as the leading candidate for the position since ex-Pistons coach and current TNT analyst Doug Collins withdrew from consideration last week. That status stems largely from Dumars’ declarations after Curry’s firing about moving forward “with a more experienced coach” and his intent to have that coach in place before the Pistons begin summer-league play in Las Vegas later this week.
Yet it’s believed that Johnson, well aware that the Pistons are looking for their sixth coach as they enter Dumars’ 10th season in charge, is seeking the security of a four-year contract. Such a deal could prove cost-prohibitive for the Pistons after they paid both Flip Saunders and Curry last season and still owe Curry an estimated $5 million over two years. Detroit, though, would share the financial burden in the first two years with the Dallas Mavericks, who still owe Johnson an estimated $8 million over the next two seasons.
Sources familiar with the talks say Sunday’s meeting was positive and that the sides made further progress Monday, but obstacles remain. Dumars dropped a hint to that effect Friday, even before the face-to-face negotiations began, telling the Detroit News that it is “not a given” that Johnson will be hired despite the perception that Collins’ withdrawal opened up a clear path to the job for him.