Bullets tab Unseld again this time as new GM Ex-player, ex-coach is Nash's replacement

May 02, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- When Wes Unseld retired as a player in 1981, Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin was quick to extend him a position in the front office. When 1987-88 team got off to an awful start, Pollin gave Unseld the coaching job. And when Pollin found himself without a general manager this week, he again turned to Unseld.

One day after John Nash resigned as general manager, Pollin yesterday announced the signing of Unseld to a five-year contract as vice president and GM.

"I'm delighted with the opportunity of being the general manager," Unseld said. "We all realize that the No. 1 priority is securing the services of Juwan Howard, and there are four or five other players that we are going to have to negotiate with.

"I look forward to a lot of the preliminary work to get better informed as to what's going on with the league. I have a lot of work to do."

Pollin has no doubts that his longtime friend will do a good job.

"When I asked him if he wanted the job, he said, 'You want me to do it, I'll do it. I think I can do a good job for you,' " Pollin said. "I was prepared to have to twist his arm, but I didn't have to do it. He's respected by everybody. He knows the game. Wes will do a great job."

Bullets officials expressed surprise Tuesday when Nash, citing "personal reasons," handed in his resignation. But the team quickly replaced him, raising speculation that Nash was forced out.

Coincidentally, it was Nash, badly wanting his own coach in place, who in 1994 forced Unseld from the sidelines and hired Jim Lynam. Unseld then was named the team's executive vice president, helping in planning for the MCI Center, the arena being built in downtown Washington.

That task has kept him from being in close contact with the players, but he said communication will not be a problem.

"You grow, you learn to adapt and you speak a language that everybody understands," said Unseld, who talked with Lynam yesterday afternoon said he'd be contacting players in the next several days.

Unseld is a Bullets institution. After two straight All-America seasons at Louisville, he was the first-round pick (second overall) of the Baltimore Bullets in 1968. He made an immediate impact, winning the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards.

Unseld did that despite being a 6-foot-7 center. What he lacked in height he made up with his rugged play, and he helped the team to 12 straight playoff appearances and the 1978 NBA title.

Since Unseld's retirement, the Bullets have had just three winning seasons, never finishing more than four games over .500. The Bullets have experienced nine straight losing seasons and haven't been in the playoffs since the 1987-88 season.

"I want to see if I can help this organization get back to some of the years that we all enjoyed," Unseld said. "You guys have not seen fun until you've come out knowing you're going to kick butt."

That's an attitude that didn't appear under Nash, who never fielded a winning team in his six years. The beginning of the end for Nash, however, could have been his relations with forwards Chris Webber and Howard.

Webber's agent, Fallasha Erwin, said, "John's relationship with Chris was somewhat tenuous. I don't think that John understood Chris an an individual."

Howard, who will cash in big when he becomes a free agent July 1, has expressed bitterness with Nash over ugly contract talks in 1994.

Howard, after a holdout, agreed to an 11-year deal only after he was given an option out of his contract after two years.

But Pollin said he had no problem with those negotiations.

"I'm the head guy," Pollin said. "And if anything goes wrong, I take the full blame."

Pub Date: 5/02/96

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