OUT OF THEIR MISERY
The 1995-96 regular season is finished, and so are some of the
NBA's coaches. The first announced postseason firings came on
Monday, when Brendan Malone was canned by the Raptors and Butch
Beard by the Nets. In Toronto, Malone won a creditable 21 games
with the first-year Raptors, but his parceling of playing time
was publicly questioned by executive vice president of
basketball Isiah Thomas. Darrell Walker, a Malone assistant and
Thomas's former Piston teammate, is the replacement. In New
Jersey, Beard, whose Nets finished 30-52, sealed his fate on
April 14 by blasting his bosses with a refreshing weapon: the
truth. Beard tagged his talent "second line" and dared New
Jersey to hire either Kentucky coach Rick Pitino or
Massachusetts coach John Calipari and ask him to win with the
same roster. The Nets already have had the full-court press on
At week's end a handful of other coaches were preparing to share
Malone's misfortune. In Charlotte, where the Hornets missed the
playoffs, sources said Allan Bristow would be gone. In midseason
Bristow told his main supporter, Charlotte vice president Bob
Bass, to "save himself" by agreeing, if necessary, to Bristow's
ouster. The 76ers (18-64 record) are under new ownership,
meaning coach and general manager John Lucas will be sent
packing. A group that includes industrialist Ross Perot Jr. is
set to purchase the Mavericks from Donald Carter (page 110).
That means coach Dick Motta, a Carter favorite, could be
finished in Dallas. But P.J. Carlesimo, rumored to be out when
the Trail Blazers were floundering in midseason, is now
in--unless Pitino bolts the University of Kentucky and
Carlesimo's good friend (and Wildcats athletic director) C.M.
Newton lures Carlesimo to bluegrass country.
Forget all those whispers about Bill Fitch's moving upstairs to
the Clippers' front office. He'll be back on the bench next
season. But listen to those whispers in Milwaukee that spell
doom for Mike Dunleavy, who as coach and general manager carved
out plenty of salary cap room for the Bucks to use in acquiring
free agents in the off-season; Dunleavy probably won't get the
pleasure of using it. Maybe University of Utah coach Rick
Majerus will. Majerus has Milwaukee ties--he's a former Marquette
coach and Bucks assistant--and his family is tight with Bucks
owner Herb Kohl.
Celtics coach M.L. Carr consulted with his vice president of
basketball operations--M.L. Carr--and agreed that no coaching
change should be made. Nuggets coach Bernie Bickerstaff
consulted with his general manager--Bernie Bickerstaff--and agreed
that ownership should make the call on whether he should do both
jobs again. Garry St. Jean of the Kings all along had the
support of Sacramento vice president Geoff Petrie, but ownership
was wavering about keeping him on. So St. Jean had to will his
Kings into the postseason at the 11th hour before he could
exhale. Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, trusted friend (and
former University of Minnesota teammate) of vice president of
basketball operations Kevin McHale, has the choice of remaining
on the bench or returning to his front-office job, though McHale
would love to have former Celtics teammate Danny Ainge as coach.
Ainge, a TNT analyst, is hoping a coaching opportunity arises in
his warmer home base of Phoenix. Cotton Fitzsimmons is secure as
coach of the Suns but will relinquish that post if president
Jerry Colangelo thinks it best.
Jeff Van Gundy has a non-guaranteed--read: meaningless--two-year,
$2 million contract with the Knicks (think of the trees, fellas;
it's a waste of paper), but New York is as focused on changing
players as it is on changing the coach. Anyone want Anthony
Mason, Charles Oakley or John Starks? The Knicks could perk up
if Dunleavy or Pacers coach Larry Brown becomes available.
The SuperSonics have the option of retaining George Karl for
another season; Karl would have no trouble finding a new team if
he and Seattle agreed to part. Magic coach Brian Hill wouldn't
feel at home unless people were speculating on his future,
despite a franchise-best 60-win season. Brown wouldn't feel at
home unless speculation was rampant about his next move, but he
insists (to paraphrase the R. Dean Taylor song) Indiana wants
him, Lord he can go back there.
Sure, there are megastars like the Bulls' Michael Jordan who
will command colossal money in next summer's free-agent market.
But here are four less glamorous names who will quietly draw
their own share of interest and greenbacks.
--Allan Houston, shooting guard, Pistons: Houston is a blossoming
star who increased his scoring average from 14.5 in '94-95 to
19.7 this season. If Reggie Miller leaves the Pacers, Indiana
will come knocking on Houston's door. Detroit, which, like all
NBA teams, can go above the salary cap when attempting to retain
its own free-agent players, will first try to sign a big-name
free agent from another team (hello, Juwan Howard of the
Bullets). Then, when the Pistons are over the cap, they will
offer Houston, who earns $1.1 million, the megaraise he deserves.
--Chris Childs, point guard, Nets: His asking price of around $3
million is too high, but he's attractive to point-starved clubs
such as the Kings and the Timberwolves. Childs says he wants to
stay with New Jersey.
--Jim McIlvaine, center, Bullets: A shot-blocking specialist, he
has a big fan in Chicago by the name of Jordan. It's highly
doubtful he'll re-sign with Washington.
--Antonio Davis, forward-center, Pacers: Active, young body who
thrives in an up-tempo system. The Celtics love Davis. So does
Indiana--but not if he comes at too high a price.
LINE OF THE WEEK
Knicks guard Hubert Davis, April 18 versus the Cavaliers: 28
MIN, 0-5 FG, 0-0 FT, 0 points, 0 rebounds, 6 fouls.
Long-range specialist Davis, who was 0 of 4 from three-point
range, was the poster boy for New York's futility in a 92-77
loss to the Cavs--a defeat that essentially cost the Knicks home
court advantage in their first-round playoff series against
Cleveland. In the first half the Knicks scored 28 points, two
shy of the franchise low.
AROUND THE RIM
With 2,106 points in 1995-96, good for a 25.7 average, Jazz
forward Karl Malone became the only player in NBA history to
score 2,000 points or more in nine consecutive seasons. Of his
23,343 career points, 5,984 have been from the foul line,
placing him ninth alltime in free throws made and 73 behind No.
8, Wilt Chamberlain.... Forgotten what forward Horace Grant does
for the Magic? Orlando was 20-8 this season without Shaquille
O'Neal and 10-9 without Grant.... Magic Johnson, suspended for
three games for bumping official Scott Foster on April 14, broke
down and cried when he apologized to his Lakers teammates. "He's
devastated," says L.A. coach Del Harris. "I saw him give his HIV
announcement, and I saw his [second] retirement announcement,
and he was more distraught by this." ... Clippers fans should
kiss big man and soon-to-be free agent Brian Williams goodbye.
The team won't pay the top dollars needed to keep him.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS With new ownership in Philly, loss-weary coach and general manager Lucas will probably lose both jobs. [John Lucas]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Sizzling shooter Houston should be a hotshot as a free agent.[Allan Houston in basketball game against Orlando Magic]