As the crocuses bloom and the birds begin to chirp, the regular season winds down—and heads begin to roll. For agent Lonnie Cooper, who represents nine coaches, several former coaches and a slew of assistants, this means a mad scramble to save jobs and, if not, make sure his clients fill the openings.
As many as 10 teams may make coaching changes this spring, and the 45-year-old Cooper will have a client somehow involved. He's been there before. In 1993 he helped Lenny Wilkens hop from the Cavaliers to the Hawks, Bob Weiss go from the Hawks to the Clippers and Mike Fratello move from Turner Sports' broadcast booth to the Cavaliers—all in 48 hours.
Cooper has represented the four head coaches the Magic has employed. He represented the three Heat coaches before Pat Riley. He represented Pistons coach Chuck Daly; who was succeeded by Cooper client Ron Rothstein; who was succeeded by Cooper client Don Chaney; who was replaced by—gasp!—a non-Cooper client, Doug Collins; who was replaced by Cooper client Alvin Gentry. "Teams never ask my opinion about firing my guys," the Atlanta-based agent says. "I can't stop it, but I can turn it into an opportunity for another client."
How does one fired coach feel about Cooper's hammering out the deal for his successor? Isn't there a conflict of interest? "Lonnie's integrity is above reproach," Wilkens says.
That's not to say that Cooper's job doesn't get complicated. When Chris Ford was fired by the Clippers on Feb. 3 and assistant Jim Todd was about to take over, Ford hooked his replacement up with Cooper, who negotiated Todd's deal. The Clippers say Todd will not be in charge next season, but candidates for the position include Clippers assistants Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dennis Johnson, both Cooper clients, as well as Fratello.
According to league sources the Pacers have already interviewed their top assistant, Rick Carlisle, as well as Kings assistant Byron Scott—neither of whom is a Cooper client—about replacing Larry Bird, but Isiah Thomas, who signed with Cooper last spring, is in the mix as well (though he may have to sell his interest in the CBA). Thomas is also in line to succeed Don Nelson with the Mavericks.
Will the Warriors make a coaching switch? Garry St. Jean is leaning toward limiting his duties to the front office, which should open the door for assistant Dave Cowens. (He's not a Cooper client, but St. Jean is.) Will the Wizards make a change next season? Cooper called Michael Jordan last week to find out for client Darrell Walker, the current coach. The Nets? Cooper client Don Casey is probably gone, and New Jersey may bring in Fratello. Meanwhile, say league sources, Celtics coach Rick Pitino, who loves Stephon Marbury and has ties to Nets minority owner George Steinbrenner through their horse racing interests, has put out feelers about the New Jersey job. If Pitino leaves the Celtics, they may consider Wayne Embry—yes, a Cooper guy—for their G.M. position.
Line of the Week
Heat center Alonzo Mourning, April 6 versus the Hornets: 40 minutes, 12-21 FG, 2-4 FT, 26 points, 17 rebounds, 6 blocks, 2 steals. 'Zo padded his league lead in blocks in the 76-70 win, which helped Miami keep its hold on second place in the East.