Mutombo: Bickerstaff isn't right for Bullets Hawk says his ex-coach better with older players

February 09, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- When he heard that Bernie Bickerstaff will be named coach of the Washington Bullets, Atlanta Hawks center Dikembe Mutombo was surprised.

"I didn't think it was going to come to this point. I thought he had given up coaching," said Mutombo, who played for Bickerstaff with the Denver Nuggets.

Bullets vice president Wes Unseld remained tight-lipped about a replacement for Jim Lynam, who was fired Wednesday. But sources close to the Bullets again said that Bickerstaff is the choice. And newspaper reports in Denver yesterday said Bickerstaff's return to coaching with Washington is a done deal.

Still, Unseld spent part of yesterday in communication with two potential candidates: Boston Celtics assistant Dennis Johnson and Indiana Pacers assistant Garfield Heard.

"There isn't anything done," Unseld said. "There is no announcement scheduled."

Mutombo played for Bickerstaff for two seasons in Denver, and didn't have a good relationship with the former Bullets assistant coach. Now an All-Star with the Hawks, Mutombo thought that Bickerstaff considered him to be only a rebounder and defensive presence.

"I think for the most part things were fine, but he didn't want me to participate more in the offense, and that was something that was frustrating in the two years I was with him," Mutombo said. "I just wanted to be a part of the offense, like I am in Atlanta."

As both general manager and coach of the Nuggets, Bickerstaff did not make an effort to sign Mutombo, who was a free agent last summer. He signed with the Hawks.

With Mutombo gone, the Nuggets struggled and attendance fell. Bickerstaff moved aside as coach, replaced by Dick Motta, earlier in the season. Bickerstaff remains the GM but speculation has him on the verge of being fired.

Mutombo said he thought Bickerstaff's problems in Denver were related to the players' youthfulness. That could be a major problem with the Bullets, a team whose nucleus is two 23-year-olds -- Juwan Howard and Chris Webber.

"He did a great job in Seattle, he did a great job in Washington, but he just had a problem in Denver," Mutombo said. "The team was young. Sometimes you have a coach who pushes the team to go fast, and sometimes some of the young guys don't get it right away. It takes some time."

By the end of last season, Mutombo said his relationship with Bickerstaff had reached a point where they barely communicated.

"I would say hi to him, and be respectful. But that was it," Mutombo said. "I like getting shots. The offense wasn't working for me in Denver. It was frustrating because I can do something with a basketball.

"Maybe some guys have a different opinion. I think guys were afraid to express themselves."

Pub Date: 2/09/97

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