Deposed Jones gets blame and sympathy from Sonics at same time

BASKETBALL Notebook

January 19, 1992|By Bob Ford | Bob Ford,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Some of the players on the Seattle SuperSonics pulled off one of those trifectas last week that only professional athletes can justify.

They played poorly, blamed their poor play on the coach, then moaned about how horrible it was that a good man had lost his job.

The good man was K.C. Jones, who was fired after the Sonics lost at home to the Charlotte Hornets. When he was relieved of duty, the Sonics had lost five of their past seven games -- a slump that began against the 76ers on Jan. 4 -- and had fallen to .500 for the season.

"We had to do something," team president Bob Whitsitt said. "Being .500 is not OK at this point. We want to do the right thing, but, obviously, it's embarrassing to be going into this right now. K.C. came in and we were mesmerized by all his championship rings. He's a legend, but it wasn't the right staff. Now we have to make the right move."

Jones has guided teams to 522 NBA victories in his 10-season coaching career. His .683 winning percentage entering this season tied him for third place on the all-time list.

But the Sonics were his match, a group that never seemed to play together and one that resented Jones' deliberate style of play.

And with such supportive players as Eddie Johnson, Jones didn't need too many enemies.

"It's obvious what's wrong here," Johnson said after the loss to Charlotte. "I don't mind being a leader. As a veteran, it's part of my job to talk to younger players. K.C. is laid-back. We all know that. I can't expect him to change.

"But it can't be up to the players alone. The coach has to step in and have control. There are different kinds of coaches. The disciplinarians wear on players after a few years, but in this situation, there is no discipline."

And, naturally, Johnson was part of the chorus that bemoaned the dismissal of Jones when the deed was done the next day.

"What it may have come down to is guys grouching about minutes and not being happy when they did get in there," Jones said of the locker-room posse that got him. "There's no other explanation. The system had nothing to do with boxing out and turnovers. There were fundamental things that were hurting us. What can you do? What can you put your finger on?"

Bad drafts and bad trades might be good places to start. The Sonics have taken underachievers Gary Payton and Rich King in the first round in the past two drafts. They traded for one-dimensional center Benoit Benjamin last season, and if you dip back in the archives, you'll find that, in effect, they traded Scottie Pippen even up for Olden Polynice -- another one-dimensional center -- in 1987.

Seattle has some players, but the pieces don't seem to fit. Maybe with a disciplinarian -- the kind of coach Eddie Johnson apparently wants -- things will go better.

Don't feel sorry for Jones. He is finally free of these losers and is scheduled to collect a total of approximately $2 million from the Sonics over the next three years.

"I'm not ready to retire yet," said Jones, who will be 60 this year. "I'll just see what's happening and watch the fish jump up and down in the lake."

Whitsitt indicated that the team, currently being coached on an interim basis by assistant Bob Kloppenburg, would have a new head coach before long.

Garry St. Jean, a Golden State assistant, apparently has the inside track on the job, although rumors also have touched the names of Doug Collins, Stu Jackson, Randy Pfund, Brian Winters, Paul Silas and Don Casey.

*

No Celtics stars?: With the big three of Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale suffering from a variety of injuries this season, there is a looming possibility that the NBA All-Star Game will be played without the benefit of Boston participation.

Bird continues to have trouble with his surgically repaired back, vTC McHale's ankle problems have been joined by a muscle tear in his right calf, and Parish has missed several games with nagging injuries.

Parish probably won't be picked for the Feb. 9 game, anyway. The same goes for McHale.

Bird, however, is second in the voting at the forward position, behind only Charles Barkley. But even if he is selected as an Eastern Conference starter, he might not play. His back is unreliable, and his recovery has been hampered by his stubborn tendency to come back too soon. One more exhibition game probably would not be a good idea.

"Larry and I had a discussion the other day," Celtics coach Chris Ford said last week, "and he told me he's finally learned his lesson. The doctors convinced him that, at the first sign of trouble, he should take a rest. That's what Larry says he's going to do."

If there are indeed no Celtics on the floor for the All-Star Game, it will be the second time in the 42-year history of the game. The Celtics, on their way to a 29-53 record, went unrepresented in 1979, when the era of John Havlicek, Jo Jo White and Dave Cowens had ended and the era of Bird and Parish had not yet begun.

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