Pollin keeps the faith, Unseld as Bullets coach Woes due to youth, injuries,owner says

May 12, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin's strong friendship and belief that Wes Unseld remains the best man to oversee his team's massive rebuilding job led to yesterday's decision to retain Unseld as head coach next year despite five straight seasons of missing the playoffs.

Unseld, 47, will remain in his dual role as head coach and vice president. As in the past, a handshake between the two men, who have formed a close bond since Unseld won both Rookie of the Year and MVP honors for the then-Baltimore Bullets in 1969, was all that was needed.

Although Unseld was openly disturbed this season by a lack of progress and, at times, what he perceived as a lack of total commitment from some of his veterans, Pollin blamed the team's problems on inexperience and injuries.

Pollin said: "Wes has done an admirable job during very trying circumstances. The past two seasons have been very difficult for the Bullets' organization, especially considering the fact that the injury situation has been devastating.

"After meeting this morning to discuss the team's future, I decided that the Bullets would be best served in the hands of Wes Unseld."

Pollin's decision to keep the status quo also hinged on the prospect of a high NBA draft choice this June. The Bullets, who finished with the third worst record, have a shot at one of the top three lottery picks, and no worse than sixth.

"If we take a big man in the draft," said Pollin, "that player will have the opportunity to learn from one of the best big men in the history of the game. Pervis Ellison and Tom Gugliotta both

benefited immensely from Wes' experience."

Unseld could not be reached for comment.

After watching his team plummet to 22-60 this season -- its worst record since going 20-61 in 1966-67 -- Unseld gave serious thought to stepping down from the job he first assumed as a midseason replacement for former teammate Kevin Loughery in 1987.

Before one of the last home games in April, Unseld said: "I've learned I can live without this job."

Unseld, who remained the Bullets' main marketing tool as the coach of a team bereft of superstars, stood above criticism his first four full years as coach. Injuries to key players such as John Williams and Bernard King negated any chance for marked improvement.

But Unseld, who as an undersized center led the franchise to its only NBA title in 1977-78, became the target of critics this season.

While still healthy, the Bullets got off to a 7-19 start, with a nine-game losing streak in early December.

Ellison, the slender 6-foot-10 center who won the "most improved" award the previous season when he led the team in scoring and rebounding, suffered several minor ailments before a knee injury, Feb. 26, sidelined him for the rest of the season. The already undersized Bullets won only six games after that.

Trying to "keep from being embarrassed," Unseld used 19 different starting lineups. The youthful Bullets lost 17 games by six points or less. The lack of a defensive intimidator and a "go-to" guy on offense underlined most of their fourth-quarter failures.

Unseld and general manager John Nash have expressed different opinions in evaluating talent and the release of guards A. J. English and David Wingate. The playing time allotted to inconsistent shooting guard Rex Chapman also was a debating

point.

But no serious schism exists. One might develop, however, if the Bullets are fortunate enough to obtain the first lottery pick. Nash might be reluctant to pass over 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley, who played only one season at Brigham Young. Unseld seems to favor Chris Webber, a 6-9, 240-pound power forward who elected to pass up his final two years at Michigan.

"All coaches and general managers have their differences," said Nash. "Even assistant coaches argue. But I think this is healthy. Wes and I both understand that we've gone through a painful, difficult rebuilding phase.

"Hopefully, next year we'll start reaping some benefits. But I know that Mr. Pollin is expecting us to win more games next season."

Bullets point guard Michael Adams said there was an unusual burden placed on Unseld with four rookies and two players with only one year of experience on the roster. He also noted that by March some players were only hoping the season would end.

"Wes is an excellent motivator," Adams said, "but you shouldn't have to motivate guys making millions of dollars. We're all in this business to win games."

UNSELD'S RECORD

Wes Unseld's NBA coaching record. (All years with

Washington):

.. .. .. .. .. Regular season Year .. .. .. .. W .. .. L .. .. .. Pct. .. .. Fin.

.. .. 30 .. ..25.. .. .. .545 .. .. ..T2

1988-89 .. .. ..40 .. ..42 .. .. ...488 .. .. .. 4

1989-90 .. .. ..31 .. ..51 .. .. .. .378 .. .. ..4

1990-91 .. .. ..30 .. ..52 .. .. .. .366 .. .. ..4

1991-92 .. .. ..25 .. ..57 .. .. .. .305 .. .. ..6

1992-93 .. .. ..22 .. ..60 .. .. .. .268 .. .. ..7

Totals.. .. .. 178.. ..287 .. .. .. 383 .. .. ...--

.. .. .. .. .. Playoffs Year .. .. .. ..W .. .. L .. .. .. Pct.

.. .. ..2 .. .. 3 .. .. .. .400

Totals .. .. .. 2 .. .. 3 .. .. .. .400

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