Mitch Johnson, son of former Seattle SuperSonic John Johnson, is a 36-year-old assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs. Johnson has recently become one of the more popular candidates for NBA teams in search of a new head coach.
Johnson’s player development background and success when filling in as head coach for Gregg Popovich has caught the attention of several teams around the league. He has become one of a few young NBA assistants whose names have frequented the lists of teams’ potential coaching hires.
Before joining Popovich’s staff, Johnson played Division I basketball for four years at Stanford University and three years between the G-League and in Europe. He spent time interning at Seattle University and coaching at the AAU level, at the University of Portland, and with the Austin Spurs, San Antonio’s G-League affiliate.
Q: Since Head Coach Nate McMillan’s mid-season departure from the Atlanta Hawks, your name has been circulating as one of the next young NBA head coaches. Now, rumors of interest from the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks for their head coaching vacancies have surfaced. How true are these rumors?
A: In any profession, I would suspect, when there’s smoke there’s at least a little bit of fire. Sometimes it’s real. Sometimes teams want to get to know you, want to interview you, want to bring you in. Sometimes it’s more background intel gathering. Sometimes it’s just like ‘Well, if this other organization likes you, are we missing something? Why don’t we know about them?’ So I’d say it’s kind of a combination of all those things.
Just because some of those things are open-ended or pending, I would probably leave it at that for now. Part of it is I’m speaking almost on their behalf. Out of respect for the teams that are in the process — and I’ll be honest, some of the teams I don’t know where they are in the process, or I think I may know but I don’t — I probably would hold my tongue on that situation.
Q: What is your relationship with former Spur Dejounte Murray?
A: His uncle, [Terry Thompson Jr.], is one of my best friends, so that’s how it started. He was just a young kid, and I was best friends with his uncle. That relationship grew, and as he got older, our lives all changed. The year that he was at the University of Washington, I was at the University of Portland as an assistant coach. After that, he decided to declare for the draft, and I was kind of aware that there was a good potential we were not going to be brought back to Portland, so I actually went and supported him through the draft process. It’s quite a coincidence that he ended up in San Antonio. They also had an opportunity at the time for an opening in their G-League as an assistant coach with a focus on player development and they offered that to me. It was one heck of a coincidence that we ended up in the same NBA organization. I’d be lying to say that I don’t obviously attribute some of that opportunity to him and our relationship.
Q: What did you see from ninth-overall pick Jeremy Sochan in his rookie season with the Spurs?
A: He’s a fearless competitive kid, and he has a unique skill set. He will be a very good NBA player for a long time. He’s multifaceted – he can play on the ball, he can play off the ball, he’s got great size, good athleticism, he’s got a great feel for the game, [has] shown the potential to be a very good defender on our level and I think he’s got a chance to be a special player. He’s already been in the gym, you spoke to the one-handed free throw and trying to continue to evolve and develop his shooting. Going and shooting a one-handed free throw in an NBA game at the age of 19 is a great example of some of the fearlessness that he possesses.
Q: What did you think of Federal Way High School graduate Jaden McDaniels’ snub from the NBA’s All-Defensive Teams?
A: It’s unfortunate, but every year guys get snubbed. Every year, there are All-Star guys that don’t make the All-NBA, there are All-NBA guys that weren’t even All-Stars. I’m sure he’s pissed off as he should be because he had a heck of a year. Really all it can be for him is motivation and hopefully next year maybe he goes and joins the First Team and tries to jump into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.
Q: What is your Mount Rushmore of Seattle basketball?
A: That’s tough. It’s hard because some guys had great NBA careers and then some guys were monsters in high school. All those combined, I think Jamal [Crawford] would definitely have to be on there. I think it’s always hard to speak on generations before you that you didn’t see enough, so I’ll probably stick to the generation right before me which would be Jamal and those guys, and then to the current day. It would have to be Jamal Crawford, I’d have to put Jason Terry on there, I’m going to put Martell Webster because he went out of high school to the NBA so that was a huge thing that continued to put Seattle on the map, and I think you’ve got to put [Brandon] Roy.
Because I’m 36 now, I’m kind of getting old. I know probably a lot of young guys would be sticking their noses at me because I didn’t say Paolo [Banchero]. I think Paolo ends up getting on that list, but I think he’s probably got a few more years to get some stuff under his belt to get on there. But I’m sure he’s starting to replace one of those guys sooner than later.
Andrew Foster (he/him) is a sports reporter at The Front. He enjoys listening to music, playing basketball and is working towards a degree in journalism.
You can reach him at email@example.com.