Bullets see future in past Former assistant Bickerstaff expected to be named coach

Part of '78 title team

Announcement likely before practice Tuesday

February 08, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- It appears that the Washington Bullets, in an effort to correct the losing ways of the present, are likely to hire a coach connected to the winning days of the past.

Bernie Bickerstaff, the current president and former coach with the Denver Nuggets, is expected to be named coach of the Bullets by the time the team resumes practice on Monday, a source with the Bullets said. Bickerstaff was an assistant coach with the Bullets in 1978, when Washington, led by Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes, won the NBA championship.

Unseld, the Bullets general manager who fired Jim Lynam on Wednesday, is here for the weekend's All-Star festivities, but did not attend yesterday's media session featuring most of the NBA's 50 greatest players. Unseld was staying at a downtown hotel but apparently under an assumed name. He could not be reached for comment.

Bickerstaff, an assistant with the Bullets for 11 years, was a head coach as recently as this season with the Nuggets. But Bickerstaff stepped down when the team got off to a slow start, turning the job over to Dick Motta.

There have been reports in Denver that several players did not like Bickerstaff's coaching style. But Nuggets guard Dale Ellis -- in Cleveland to participate in tonight's three-point shoot-out -- said he enjoyed playing for Bickerstaff.

"He's a player's coach," Ellis said. "He doesn't distance himself from the players. He forms a relationship with the players, as well as coach. You don't find that too much in the NBA."

When asked if Bickerstaff is enough of a disciplinarian to offer the guidance the Bullets might need, Ellis said yes.

"It's a matter of his team playing well enough to get into a situation where you can win a game -- that's where he steps in and gets the job done," Ellis said. "He knows how to motivate players. With the amount of money some of these young guys make, there's really not much incentive to get up and play every night. He's the type of coach you want to play for, you want to win for. I'm sure he'd do a nice job."

Elvin Hayes, the long-time Bullets star here for the gathering of the 50 greatest players, suggested his former team might be better off with a younger coach.

"It would be a great mistake," Hayes said. "Sometimes coaches are past their time and the league is just recycling the same old guys. We need young guys to get the production out of the young guys. It's not always talent that's the problem."

When Bickerstaff was in Denver, he apparently did not have the best of relationships with Jalen Rose, the former Fab Five teammate of Chris Webber's at Michigan. That may be the reason Webber didn't have any comment on word that Bickerstaff would be named coach.

"I don't know him, so I really can't say," Webber said. "But Mr. Unseld won a championship, so whatever he does is fine with us."

For Tim Legler, the firing of Lynam removes the coach who gave him his first real shot in the NBA and adds uncertainty when the second half of the season starts on Tuesday. Legler was activated off the injured list on Thursday and will defend his three-point shoot-out title tonight.

"I was looking forward to coming back to playing for Jimmy," Legler said. "It's a little chaotic. I don't know what I'm coming back to. To me, it's a little bit confusing."

The Bullets requested -- and received -- permission to talk to Bickerstaff shortly after Lynam was fired on Wednesday. Unseld also had an interest in Indiana Pacers assistant Garfield Heard and Boston Celtics assistant Dennis Johnson.

Bob Hill, fired as the San Antonio Spurs coach earlier this season, is also here this weekend. There was speculation that the Bullets would consider an experienced coach for the job, but Hill said yesterday he thought "the job is Bernie's."

NBA standings, 10C

Pub Date: 2/08/97

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