The National Basketball Association's new collective-bargaining agreement, part of which will take effect next season, has already caused an upheaval among the league's coaches.
Nine of the league's 23 teams have made coaching changes since the agreement was signed--the greatest number of coaching turnovers in the league's history.
The collective-bargaining agreement sets a ceiling and a minimum on team salaries. The league is hoping it will eventually lead to relative parity.
In the past several years, the teams with the most money have gotten the best players and dominated the standings, almost regardless of who was coaching them. With a more balanced distribution of talent, however, the feeling is that coaching will be more important and, therefore, teams are trying to make sure they have the right ones.
"I know some people downplay the role of the coach, but because of the way the game has developed and with the direction it's headed, teaching is important again," said Al Attles, who resigned as coach of the Golden State Warriors to become general manager.
"Coaching changes go in cycles," said Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry. "Teams are trying to do whatever they can to make themselves better and, obviously, they think the place to start is with the coach."
Since March, four coaches have been fired (Paul Westhead by the Chicago Bulls, Paul Silas by the San Diego Clippers, Del Harris by the Houston Rockets and Scotty Robertson by the Detroit Pistons). Three quit their old jobs to take other NBA jobs (Kevin Loughery going from the Atlanta Hawks to Chicago, Bill Fitch from the Boston Celtics to Houston and Stan Albeck from the San Antonio Spurs to the New Jersey Nets). One quit to go into college coaching (Larry Brown from New Jersey to Kansas) and another, Attles, moved to a front-office job.
Because of the nature of the NBA, most coaches are recycled, moving from city to city. This time around, four former assistants with no head-coaching experience in the NBA, one former head coach and one with very limited experience have been given a chance.
Mike Fratello, a longtime assistant to Hubie Brown in Atlanta and New York, is the Hawks' new coach. In a recent survey of NBA general managers, Fratello was graded as the league's top assistant.
Jim Lynam, a former coach at American University and an assistant to Jack Ramsay at Portland, landed the job in San Diego. John Bach, a longtime coach at Fordham and an assistant to Attles, is the Warriors' new head coach, and Morris McHone, Albeck's assistant at San Antonio, is the Spurs' new coach.
Former Bullets Coach K.C. Jones replaced Fitch in Boston and Chuck Daly, a longtime Philadelphia 76ers assistant before a brief tenure as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, will coach the Pistons next year.
One NBA assistant who has been left out is Bernie Bickerstaff of the Bullets. He was interviewed for the Bulls' job and was one of those mentioned for the jobs in San Diego, New Jersey and Atlanta.
"I guess my time just isn't here yet," he said. "I'm patient, though, so I'll wait. I also have a very good situation here with the Bullets, so there's no need for me to go anywhere, anyway. But I've made it known I want to be a head coach. All I can do now is wait and hope I get lucky."
Defense seems to be the trend of the future in the NBA. Loughery, Daly Fratello, Lynam and Bach all have reputations of being strong teachers and defensive-minded coaches. Daly and Lynam are going to two of the poorest defensive teams in the league last year.
"It's always easier to teach defense than offense," said Fratello. "When you play defense, you assure yourself of being in the game at the end. Philadelphia may be one of the greatest teams ever with all of that firepower, but if you ask them, they'll tell you they did it with their defense. You can't just talk defense, you have to teach it and play it, and with the talent on each team being equalized, strategy, especially defensive strategy, is where the games are going to be won."
The NBA's annual meetings begin Wednesday in New York. The general managers and coaches will meet Wednesday and Thursday, and the owners June 20 and 21. The league MVP, coach of the year, rookie of the year and comeback player of the year will be named Wednesday. Moses Malone of the champion 76ers is expected to be the MVP, while Brown of the Knicks and Billy Cunningham of the 76ers are the top candidates for coach of the year. San Diego's Terry Cummings and Indiana's Clark Kellogg are the top rookies, but Cummings is expected to get the award.
Among the issues to be discussed are the possibility of expanding the playoffs to 16 teams from 12 and making all first-round series best of five instead of best of three.