The repercussions of the Magic Johnson-Paul Westhead conflict in Los Angeles are being felt from coast to coast. Now every coach in the NBA realizes the occupational hazard of having a superstar.
Once the Magic Man said "I'm not having any fun . . . I want to be traded . . ." Westhead should have gone home and packed his bags. You don't have to be a mathematical genius, as Laker owner Jerry Buss claims to be, to figure out who is expendable if one confrontee has a contract worth $250,000 annually for four years and his rival is owed $25 million.
The reaction of the coaches was predictable, but behind every attempt at humor, one could sense an even more deepening feeling of the insecurity that already plagues that occupation.
"The inmates are running the asylum," said Gene Shue of the Bullets. "The animals are running the zoo," offered Paul Silas of San Diego. "Ridiculous, absurd, anything you want to call it," said Indiana's Jack McKinney. "Frightening," said Houston's Del Harris, hitting the nerve of the problem.
"Sure," Harris admitted when asked if he would lose his job if Moses Malone issued a him-or-me ultimatum. "There is no question that it's easier to get a new coach than a rebounder like Moses."
Jack McMahon, a long-time assistant coach at Philadelphia who lost his head job at San Diego after a confrontation with Elvin Hayes, conceded the same thing could happen to Billy Cunningham if Julius Erving ever insisted on his ouster.
"When a player is bigger than the organization," Red Auerbach told a reporter, "then it's just a matter of time before the organization will suffer."
General Manager Bob Ferry says one of the reasons his Bullets were able to maintain their high level of excellence for so long -- 12 straight playoff appearances -- was that owner Abe Pollin keeps a firm hold on the team's salary structure.
The real villain of Westhead's dismissal, of course, is Buss, who already has spoiled Magic beyond repair. Most of the Lakers did not like their coach because he insisted on his highly structured, college-type offense, but as experienced pros they had learned to adjust. Only Johnson, who because of his extraordinary talents always has been given a free hand, could not accept the discipline.
The question now is how long can the present tandem of Pat Riley and Jerry West keep Magic happy and how many coaches will Buss have to pay off to prevent his young millionaire from pouting and issuing ultimatums.