Unseld tells critics he's frustrated, too

January 26, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

BOWIE -- Facing mounting criticism from fans, Wes Unseld found himself yesterday in the unfamiliar position of discussing his future as coach of the Washington Bullets.

"If I get canned, I get canned," he said after an abbreviated practice for tonight's home game against the Miami Heat. "I can't worry about something out of my hands. I'll just try to do the best job I can."

Unseld, 46, a crowd favorite when he served as the cornerstone of the Bullets for 13 seasons (1968 to 1981), has been relatively free of criticism in five-plus seasons as coach despite a record of 167-254.

Team president Susan O'Malley said she has not received one call this season requesting Unseld's dismissal, and added the rise in home attendance (an average of 13,000) is evidence that the fans support the team's rebuilding program.

Still, Bullets fans on radio and in print have proved less tolerant of the team's 11-27 record and its habit of losing close games, and some of Unseld's game strategy has drawn criticism.

Sunday's 112-110 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers at the Capital Centre, in which Washington blew an eight-point lead in the final 2:25, was typical of the season.

"I can understand the fans' frustration," Unseld said. "No one is more frustrated with losing than I am, but now is not the time to jump ship.

"Whether our organization is on the right track is still open to question. There were some high hopes raised early in the season that have not been fulfilled. But I still believe we're doing some good things."

In losing to the Lakers, the Bullets proved ineffective against the defensive traps and in executing their half-court offense with the game on the line.

"It wasn't as if we didn't prepare to attack their traps," said Unseld. "We anticipated it in practice before the game, and we called two time outs in the closing minute Sunday to adjust to it. But when the players leave the huddle, you don't know how they'll carry out instructions."

Unseld also responded to criticism that his team repeatedly experiences great difficulty in getting high-percentage shots late in tight games.

"I don't design plays strictly for the last two minutes," he said. "We have go-to plays for go-to people all game long that we continually try to carry out. I don't believe in creating miracle plays.

"My primary job is to get us in position to win close games. If we don't get the job done, then I take full responsibility."

Whatever pressure Unseld is feeling seems mostly self-imposed.

Team owner Abe Pollin, who persuaded Unseld to leave his post as vice president to replace Kevin Loughery as coach early in the 1987-88 season, remains firmly in his corner.

"Obviously, none of us are happy with not winning," Pollin said. "But I'm not considering changing the coaching. We've been very close in a lot of games, and, sooner or later, I believe we're going to start winning more than our share."

Before the season, Pollin praised Unseld for his motivational skills and called him "the best coach in the NBA."

"I've told Wes not to get disheartened," Pollin said. "He says, 'Abe, I worry about you taking it [the losing] too hard. And I tell him, 'Wes, I'm more worried about you. Just keep doing your best.' "

Last year, when the Bullets slipped to 25-57, Unseld acknowledged he had stomach problems and spent numerous sleepless nights thinking how he might have changed the outcomes.

"It hasn't got any easier," he said yesterday, "but that comes with the territory, and my health is not a concern right now."

Unseld has sought to remedy his on-the-court problems by juggling his key players. He has employed eight different starting lineups, the most recent change resulting in the benching of shooting guard Rex Chapman in favor of the more defensive-minded Buck Johnson.

He also has given less playing time to promising rookie forward Tom Gugliotta, who has had problems matching up against smaller defenders.

But the offensive problems in the fourth quarter mainly result from lacking a point guard to penetrate the defense and create easy shots in a half-court game.

Playmaker Michael Adams is more effective in transition and creating his own shot in the motion offense.

Unseld and general manager John Nash know the team's glaring deficiencies. How they go about correcting them appears more vital than a coaching change.

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