WHEN WIZARDS president Ernie Grunfeld fired coach Eddie Jordan last month, his in-house options to take over the team included a former NBA coach ( Randy Ayers) with a defensive-minded reputation and a highly rated assistant ( Mike O'Koren) who was working his way on to head-coaching short lists. Grunfeld instead tapped Tap—longtime confidant Ed Tapscott, Washington's director of player development, who last worked a sideline nearly two decades ago. Likewise, when 76ers president Ed Stefanski concluded last Saturday that Maurice Cheeks was no longer the right man for his team, he barely glanced down the bench at an assistant with 328 NBA coaching wins on his r�sum� ( Jim Lynam) before he named his righthand man to the post. No matter that assistant general manager Tony DiLeo's coaching career peaked in the 1980s when he ran the West German national team, back when a wall still divided Berlin.
The reasons behind the moves are simple: Tapscott and DiLeo have strong personal relationships with their bosses and, more important, share their basketball philosophies. Tapscott's friendship with Grunfeld dates to 1991, when Grunfeld, then the Knicks' general manager, hired Tapscott as the team's director of administration. Both men favor a defensive approach to the game: "It's the bedrock of the franchise," says Tapscott. DiLeo, a longtime Sixers employee who played collegiately at La Salle under the Guru of Go himself, Paul Westhead, is a staunch supporter of the up-tempo offense, a style Stefanski forced on Cheeks last season to great success but which Philadelphia struggled with in the first month of this season. "We need to be able to fast-break consistently," says Stefanski. "Tony understands this. He's the right guy for the job."
Stefanski's and Grunfeld's convictions don't change the fact that a coach who requires on-the-job training could be a significant handicap for two clubs that still have postseason aspirations. Through Sunday, Washington (4--17) amazingly was just six games out of the final playoff spot in the East and hopes to get All-Star Gilbert Arenas back by February. So why entrust the team to Tapscott, who hasn't been a coach since leaving American University in 1990 and who says he was "shocked" when Grunfeld handed him the job? A faction within the organization believes that Tapscott is Grunfeld's puppet. "Ernie gets to control everything," says a team source. "He basically coaches the team."
The Sixers had visions of the Larry O'Brien Trophy dancing in their heads when they signed free-agent forward Elton Brand, but Brand has struggled to adapt to Philadelphia's open-court style, and his problems playing with center Samuel Dalembert are a major reason the Sixers (10--14 at week's end) have floundered. It will be up to DiLeo, whose most recent bench experience came in 1994, to devise schemes that will better integrate Brand. "We are absolutely not giving up on this season," says Stefanski. "I don't believe a guy has to come from the bench to be a good head coach." He may change his tune by April.
ONLY AT SI.COM
The latest news and analysis from Chris Mannix.