It's the wrong sport, but Nets are right out of 'Who's On First?'

December 24, 1991|By Alan Goldstein

In recent years, the name of the arena the New Jersey Nets call home has been changed from Brendan Byrne to The Meadowlands. More appropriate would be "The Asylum."

The chaos created on the court by the team's ill-fitting collection of players is matched by the bedlam in the Nets boardroom, where the seven owners constantly bicker over who's in charge and pass on their confusion to general manager Willis Reed and head coach Bill Fitch, who reads every day in the New York tabloids that his job will end after Christmas.

That is, if you believe the repeated rumors that Jim Valvano has signed a five-year deal worth $2.7 million and is simply waiting for the holidays to end before resuming his coaching career after a brief hiatus as an ESPN commentator.

But here is where things get as complicated as the Nets trying to run a pick-and-roll. It seems the offer to Valvano came from Joe Taub, a minority owner labeled "an adviser" by Nets CEO Alan Aufzein.

Taub had permission to talk to Valvano, but apparently lacked the authority to offer him a contract, especially one that would rank among the top half of NBA coaches' salaries.

After his wings were clipped, Taub said: "I've got a lot of bandages and I'm still bleeding pretty good.

"I used to have full control of this team," he added. "I was brought back into this organization to make judgments. Right now, I'm in a holding pattern."

According to the New York Daily News, Valvano was only one of five coaches contacted by Taub or other Nets representatives.

The other four -- Rick Pitino, Doug Moe, Doug Collins and Mike Fratello -- all have NBA experience. Pitino, now at Kentucky, and Collins, working as a TBS sportscaster, quickly spurned offers to take over the Nets. Moe, in retirement, said his doctors have advised him against returning to the sidelines. Fratello, a native of New Jersey, reportedly wants to finish the season as a commentator for NBC.

Valvano, who enjoyed great success at North Carolina State before the scandal-ridden basketball program caught up with him, wants the Nets job, but insiders wonder why.

Some say he would face the same frustrations as Fitch, who has been pressured by several owners to give more playing time to struggling rookie point guard Kenny Anderson, who made only one of 16 shots in his past two games.

As Fitch noted, "If I played Kenny 40 minutes, I'd lose the other 11 guys on my team."

Fitch also discovered that he and Reed had little control over personnel decisions after they were told to take Anderson with the second lottery pick instead of multi-talented forward Billy Owens or intimidating center Dikembe Mutombo. But none of this is surprising to a Nets management type who describes top-level meetings as "a three-ring circus."

Typically, Taub showed up at The Meadowlands on Friday night accompanied by Donald Trump and Marla Maples. No, Maples was not offered the job.

*

Mapping it out: Forward Xavier McDaniel, commenting on his trade from the Phoenix Suns to the Knicks: "I always wanted to play in New York. If you can play in New York and survive, you can play anywhere, even Afghanistan."

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