The Bullets now need more than a healthy John Williams and a ferocious big man. They need someone who can get that big man without a first-round draft pick, someone who is more familiar with the players in Europe than those in the Big East. They need someone who can turn a buck, who is of the same economic mind as owner Abe Pollin and the same basketball mind as Coach Wes Unseld. They need Bob Ferry's replacement fast too, to get a feel for the trade winds before the June 27 NBA draft.
There will be no shortage of applicants. The position of general manager/director of player personnel/director of basketball operations is the most sought-after job in the NBA; either that or TV analyst. As Jerry Reynolds, the coach turned player personnel man for the Sacramento Kings, said yesterday: "People know it's a player's league, therefore there is much more emphasis on the person who acquires the players. Ten years ago, people didn't know who the GM or whatever you want to call him was. Today it's a high-profile job. That person had better know about Europe, the rules of free agency, every last detail of the salary cap. All those things are new to the league and new to the position."
There are any number of ways Pollin can go in choosing his new GM. The person he trusts most in the Bullets organization is Unseld. It probably would be easier for Pollin to simply make Unseld the GM and hire a coach. Unseld's opinion is the one that has mattered most to Pollin recently anyway, increasingly more than Ferry's. And since the most important opinions rendered concern players -- whether, for instance, Manute Bol should stay (Ferry's opinion) or leave (Unseld's) -- then Unseld is probably going to have the final say on most personnel matters. That will make it difficult if Pollin leaves Unseld as coach while bringing in a new GM who has a different philosophy.
You see how quickly Bobby Beathard packed his bags when Joe Gibbs got a bigger say in Redskins' personnel matters? Some of us would like to see Unseld as GM and someone like Don Casey as coach. Or how about the savvy Bill Blair, a Bullets assistant coach? That scenario, however, seems unlikely because Pollin says he believes Unseld is the best head coach in the league and he isn't about to replace him.
In that case, there are a couple of men who seem to fit the bill perfectly: Bernie Bickerstaff in Seattle and Billy McKinney in Minneapolis.
First, the one most Bullets fans don't know -- McKinney. At 35, he is the rising personnel star in the league. His re'sume' is flawless. Northwestern University grad. Big-time overachiever as NBA starter and role-player. Has worked as a scout, assistant coach and assistant GM. Currently director of player personnel for the Timberwolves. He started the basketball operation there, from the ground up. Minnesota, many people around the league will tell you, had the best personnel of the four expansion teams. McKinney is the reason why. He has earned credibility quickly.
The Denver Nuggets tried to hire him recently. A lot more teams will in coming seasons. Reportedly he and Unseld have a very good relationship. Reynolds, asked to name a few of the rising personnel stars in the league, named several, but said: "Billy McKinney in particular. He's young, but he's really good. Really good."
If the Bullets want to move in a new direction, McKinney would be an excellent choice. He personifies a new breed of high-tech personnel men, who are redefining the pressure-packed position.
Pollin has a third opportunity to make Bickerstaff the head coach. Once, he hired Gene Shue, another time he hired Kevin Loughery. Both are very competent; neither should have been hired before Bickerstaff, who went on to become the SuperSonics' head coach and now their top personnel man.
Talking to Bickerstaff would give the Bullets uncommon flexibility. Unseld could be be GM, Unseld could be coach. Bickerstaff could be GM, Bickerstaff could be coach. Bickerstaff, throughout his 12 seasons as a Bullets assistant coach, worked with Unseld. From all outward indications, they've had a fine relationship. In sports talk, they're on the same page. Ferry never spent a lot of time talking with Unseld.
Pollin is a loyal man. Well, here's a chance to reward Bickerstaff for long Bullets service. Nobody knows better than Bickerstaff what Pollin expects, what Unseld expects, what the Bullets need. Bickerstaff lives in Seattle, but this is home. He never should have been allowed to leave in the first place.
The trend lately is for coaches to be bumped upstairs to GM. Reynolds is one example. Bickerstaff is another. There is nothing to indicate he is unhappy in Seattle, but there is also nothing to indicate he wouldn't be interested in returning as general manager, or as coach.