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Where It Stops Nobody Knows
Jackie MacMullan
May 19, 1997
After a dizzying week in which coaches' pay spun out of control, four coaches were sitting pretty with new teams, one was unsaddled and a sixth had the bull, if not the Bulls, by the horns
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May 19, 1997

Where It Stops Nobody Knows

After a dizzying week in which coaches' pay spun out of control, four coaches were sitting pretty with new teams, one was unsaddled and a sixth had the bull, if not the Bulls, by the horns

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Checkered Record
History is no guide to how Larry Bird (left) will fare as a coach. Of the players named to the NBA's list of 50 greatest alltime, 15 have coached in the league or in the ABA (minimum: 10 games). Six have winning records, and four have led teams to NBA titles: Billy Cunningham (76ers in 1983), Bill Russell (player-coach, Celtics in '68 and '69), Bill Sharman (Lakers, '72) and Lenny Wilkens (SuperSonics, '79).

COACH

SEASONS

RECORD

ELGIN BAYLOR

4

86-135

WILT CHAMBERLAIN

1

37-47

BOB COUSY

5

141-209

DAVE COWENS*

2

81-69

BILLY CUNNINGHAM

8

454-196

DAVE DEBUSSCHERE

3

79-143

MAGIC JOHNSON

1

5-11

GEORGE MIKAN

1

9-30

WILLIS REED

4

82-124

BILL RUSSELL

8

341-290

DOLPH SCHAYES

5

151-172

BILL SHARMAN

10

466-353

WES UNSELD

7

202-345

JERRY WEST

3

145-101

LENNY WILKENS*

24

1,070-876

*Still Active

The NBA coaching carousel is usually a study in perpetual motion, but last week it spun especially fast as three coaches jumped on board, two fell off and a sixth got himself a permanent pony.

Hall of Famer Larry Bird signed a contract with the Indiana Pacers for a reported $4.5 million a season and partial ownership of the team, sending residents of his native Indiana into swoons worthy of Elvis worshipers.

Larry Brown, the man Bird replaced, became the new coach of the struggling Philadelphia 76ers. By the time Brown resigned from his Indiana job on April 30, he had already talked with Boston Celtics officials about their coaching vacancy, but when it became apparent that the University of Kentucky's Rick Pitino was Boston's man, Brown quickly turned to Philly, which had previously been spurned by Pitino. Sixers president Pat Croce snagged Brown, a well-traveled coach (of two college teams and six pro clubs) with a deserved reputation as a rebuilder of young teams, by offering him all the money (five years, $25 million) and all the power (final say in all personnel decisions) he desired.

Sacramento Kings coach Eddie Jordan deleted "interim" from his title with a two-year, $1 million deal, but his signing was dwarfed by the biggest coach's payday in NBA history: a 10-year deal that Pitino says will pay him $7 million a year to coach and serve as Celtics president for six seasons and another $2 million annually to continue as president from 2003 to 2007.

Pitino and, indirectly, Brown, were not the only beneficiaries of Boston's largesse. Another was Tubby Smith, a former Pitino assistant, whose five-year, reportedly $1 million-a-year deal to replace Pitino at Kentucky represented a $395,000-a-year raise on the salary he had been making at the University of Georgia. Pitino's windfall also figures to affect the bank accounts of Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson and of retired coach Chuck Daly, who is on the Orlando Magic's wish list and may be persuaded to return to the bench by the new pay scale.

Jackson's one-year, $2.75 million contract with the Bulls does not expire until the end of the postseason, yet it's increasingly apparent that Chicago has little interest in paying market value for him. Sources say the Magic, the Golden State Warriors and the Vancouver Grizzlies are willing—even eager—to give Jackson's income a boost closer to the Pitino level. (The Portland Trail Blazers, who fired P.J. Carlesimo last week, were also in the market for a coach at week's end, but sources said Mike Dunleavy, who recently resigned as general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, was close to signing a five-year deal.) "We're just sitting here watching the coaching landscape change," says Jackson's agent, Todd Musburger. "Two fine coaches who have never won an NBA championship have just been paid exorbitant amounts of money. What does that do to the worth of a man who has won four titles and may win five?"

Even more intriguing than last week's events were two big questions they posed, neither of which may be answered for some time.

The first: Can Larry Bird coach?

Revisit Bird's playing days. Late in Game 2 of the 1984 NBA Finals, normally placid Celtics coach K.C. Jones grew agitated. Boston was locked in an epic battle with the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Celtics were sputtering offensively. Jones threw down his clipboard and called a timeout. "The players came into the huddle, and Larry grabbed me," Jones says. "He said, 'K.C, give me the ball. I know what to do.' "

Jones said to Bird, "Shut up, Larry. I'm the coach of this team." Then he turned to his other players. "Here's what I want," he said. "Inbound the ball, get it to Larry, and everybody else get the hell out of the way."

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