We bid a fond farewell to: Cotton Fitzsimmons -- This is the heartwarming story of a survivor who became an institution. He made the most of opportunities with low-power programs (Buffalo, Atlanta, Kansas City) and found a home in Phoenix his second time around, rescuing the drug-tainted program. Garrulous and colorful, he is one of the game's spokesmen and his rasping repartee is imitated wherever NBA writers meet.
Paul Westhead -- The Jerry Brown of basketball gets in trouble again with his new-age ideas. Westhead didn't destroy the Denver Nuggets, who melted themselves down before he arrived, but his attempt to transplant his Loyola Marymount system to a team wholly lacking in ability and depth was ill-fated. He's a very nice, bright guy with a weakness for innovation. Hopefully he'll get another college job where he can fire up the system.
Frank Hamblen -- The career assistant wanted to be a head coach, but all he got was 65 games with theso-far-beyond-the-hill-they-can't-fin d-it-in-their-rear-view-mirror B 1/3 Milwaukee Bucks, a team which now has openings for a general manager, a coach and 12 new players.
Charles Barkley -- Just in case 76ers owner Harold Katz wanted to switch scapegoats at the last minute and fire coach Jim Lynam, Barkley outflanked him, saying he would play only for Lynam. Katz has been backed into a corner; he can no longer insist on making a good deal for Charles and will have to take the best one that comes along. (Won't he?)
Larry Bird? -- There's speculation he will pack it in. Back surgery got him only a 45-game season. He will see how the playoffs go (and what Magic Johnson decides?).
We also recommend the departures of: Bill Fitch -- There's
speculation The Last of the Old School will resign and walk out with his head high after the playoffs, which should be soon. He should, because New Jersey Nets management has already undercut him and Nets players are bent on finishing him off. Talk about your civil wars, this is like Bobby Knight coaching 2 Live Crew. After Derrick Coleman and Chris Morris refused to enter games, Fitch said every Nets player had pulled that trick at one time or another. Said Sam Bowie: "That's a situation that has been going on, and I don't see it ending."
Chris Morris -- Another Auburn Tiger-from-Hell. If you were paying their salaries, you would be tempted to tie him and Coleman together and drop them off a bridge. Coleman is immensely talented, so you have to give your next coach (the hot name is Doug Moe) a chance to salvage his head. Morris is merely talented. Cut him loose and enjoy the extra room under the salary cap.
Charlie Thomas -- The Houston Rockets owner vilified Hakeem Olajuwon, but in case you missed the Rockets' choke, Hakeem was the only gun firing at the end. The problem all along has been management's inability to bring in supporting personnel for Olajuwon, Otis Thorpe and Ralph Sampson. Remember Lewis Lloyd and Mitchell Wiggins before Sleepy Floyd and Vern Maxwell? A real coach would help, too, but since Fitch ground down his welcome, they have gone the friend-of-the-players route. They would be a lot better without Thomas than Olajuwon.
Ya gotta be Forum: Human nature being what it is, only champions go out amid any good feeling at all.
Everyone else loses their last series and their last game and departs to catcalls, second guesses and analyses of their shortcomings.
This brings us to the Lakers, whose demise should be forthcoming.
Their tenacity in the face of an avalanche of bad fortune was remarkable. It's not even arguable whether they were better off in the lottery, but for pride's sake they passed up the opportunity.
Several deserve special mention:
Sedale Threat -- "Everyone knew he was good," Sacramento general manager Jerry Reynolds says, "but we didn't know he was this good."
A.C. Green -- Two years ago, L.A. fans ballot-stuffed him into the All-Star Game. He deserved it more this season when he played like a demon.