Bullets look for NBA ties in search Bickerstaff contacted

Celts give Johnson OK

Westphal, Hill eyed, too

February 07, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

On the day after firing coach Jim Lynam, Washington Bullets general manager Wes Unseld was on the phone making calls to potential candidates -- and at the same time fielding calls from a few people trying to add themselves to the mix.

"I've been getting a lot of calls from people, yes," Unseld said last night. "It's going painfully slow. It's a lot of people you have to contact, but it's a process you have to go through. It's going OK."

And by today Unseld likely will begin face-to-face discussions with coaching candidates when he arrives in Cleveland for this weekend's NBA All-Star Game activities.

Denver Nuggets president Bernie Bickerstaff, a Bullets assistant when Washington won the championship in 1978, already has been contacted about the position. Bickerstaff began the season as Denver coach.

Also, the Bullets have received permission from the Boston Celtics to talk to assistant coach Dennis Johnson. Other possible candidates include former Phoenix Suns coach Paul Westphal, Miami Heat assistant Stan Van Gundy, Phoenix assistant Paul Silas or former San Antonio Spurs coach Bob Hill.

Unseld would like to have the coach in place by Monday, when the Bullets begin practice for the second half. Washington went into the All-Star break with four straight losses, and its 22-25 record is identical to that of last season -- making the Bullets the biggest disappointment in the NBA.

Surprisingly, in a league in which players often rebel under the tight reins of coaches, many of the Bullets said privately that Lynam allowed the team to play too loosely, and without discipline. And discipline is probably what's needed most on the youthful team, which may be the reason Unseld wants someone who has a track record with NBA players.

Though most new coaches are free to bring on their own assistants, it's possible that Bob Staak, Lynam's top assistant, and Clifford Ray might remain on the bench. Assistant coach Buzz Braman was fired along with Lynam.

"A new coach should have the right to bring his people," Unseld said. "But I'm going to make sure that Bob and Clifford are here and just let it go from there. I'm not going to say which way we go, one way or the other. But some continuity is in order."

Said Staak, after coaching the team in Wednesday's loss at Denver, "I'd like to remain. Anything the organization wants me to do, I'll do."

One of the biggest concerns expressed by some of the players before they went their separate ways for the All-Star break is that the team would face what amounts to a training camp situation all over again, learning an entirely different system. That is something that a team hoping to make the playoffs can ill afford. Unseld is hoping to avoid that.

"I think whoever we get will understand you can't chuck everything out the window and start all over again," Unseld said. "It's not done that way, not at this stage."

Said Juwan Howard, about the possibility of learning a new system: "It's going to be a test for us. We're going to see how tough it really is."

Howard was happy that the team was getting away from the game for a few days.

"It's good to have a break right now," he said. "It's good to have the guys collect their thoughts and come back with a different mind-set and with an intensity to come in and win. I'm not pleased with our play. We had to find a way to turn it around, and hopefully that will be able to happen."

NOTE: Guard Tim Legler was activated from the injured list, and he will attempt to defend his title in the All-Star Weekend's Three-Point Shootout. Originally set to return at the end of January after rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee suffered April 17, Legler suffered a minor setback when he strained his left hamstring. Legler played in 77 games for the Bullets last season and led the league in three-point shooting (.522).

Pub Date: 2/07/97

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