The Washington Wizards will name former Detroit Pistons assistant coach Gar Heard as their head coach today, ending the team's 2 1/2-month search.
Heard accepted his first full-time head coaching job shortly after 1 p.m. yesterday. Terms of the deal are not known but it is believed Heard, 51, agreed to a three-year deal with an annual salary of $1.5 million to $2 million.
"It's still sinking in right now," Heard said. "My thing was I knew it was going to happen one day. I just had to be patient and wait until the right situation came along. I didn't want to get into a situation where I didn't have any chance. I feel we've got a chance to turn things around quickly but we've got a lot of work to do."
The Wizards will hold a news conference at 4 p.m. today to introduce Heard, who joins Charlotte's Paul Silas and Orlando's Glenn "Doc" Rivers as the NBA's newest head coaches. All were on Washington's initial list of prospects, and all are highly regarded, particularly Heard, who takes over a team that was 18-32 last season and failed to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
A source close to Heard said the Wizards' new coach wants the team to re-sign free agent guard Mitch Richmond and that Heard made those intentions clear during his interviews with the Wizards. Richmond, who repeatedly has expressed his desire to stay with the Wizards, said Washington's management has given him no indication about its plans.
Still, Richmond was glad to see Heard finally get an opportunity as a head coach.
"I'm happy for Gar," Richmond said. "I think he's waited his turn and he's definitely been patient. It's good to see a guy like that get an opportunity. I know he'll take advantage of it."
Former Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson -- who will be named coach of the Los Angeles Lakers today -- apparently was on the Wizards' wish list. A source with knowledge of the situation said yesterday that early in the coaching search, the Wizards placed a call to Todd Musburger, Jackson's agent. Musburger said he would discuss any inquiries on Jackson's behalf. When Wizards officials said they wanted to speak directly to Jackson, talks ended there, the source said.
Former Detroit Pistons guard Isiah Thomas, ex-Notre Dame coach John MacLeod -- who coached Heard with the Phoenix Suns -- and longtime NBA veteran Buck Williams also were candidates, but for different reasons none was viewed as highly as Heard, a source said.
"Gar is well-respected around the league," said Indiana Pacers President Donnie Walsh, who worked with Heard from 1993 to 1997 when Heard served as Larry Brown's assistant in Indiana. "Gar has paid every due that a person can pay. He is more than ready and I think he will do well with Washington, a veteran team. He is very economic when it comes to words and veterans can deal with that.
"Players have always respected him because he was a player and he approaches coaching knowing what players can do."
Heard said his first priority will be to meet with General Manager Wes Unseld -- whom he played against in the 1970s and early 1980s -- and put together a coaching staff. Heard said he has no idea who will join him on the bench but has had numerous applicants.
Then, he said, he must evaluate players for the June 30 draft at MCI Center. The Wizards have the seventh and 35th picks. Heard was in Chicago at the pre-draft camp last week scouting for the Pistons, who do not have a first-round pick.
Watching the Wizards from the Pistons' bench three times last season, Heard said Washington's main weaknesses were its lack of conditioning and porous defense. Those areas will be addressed as soon as camp opens. He said he is not worried about the offense.
"Hopefully we can give the fans what they have been missing there the past two or three years and that's a competitive team that comes ready to play every night," Heard said.
Heard played in the NBA for 11 years with the Seattle SuperSonics, Chicago Bulls, Buffalo Braves, Phoenix Suns and San Diego Clippers. He is best remembered for hitting the game-tying basket for the Suns in Game 5 of the 1976 Finals against the Boston Celtics, who went on to win the game in triple overtime.
He retired in 1981 and became an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks in 1987. He was there through the 1993 season, completing the final 53 games as interim head coach. He won nine. After leaving Dallas, he worked with Brown in Indiana and Philadelphia before going to Detroit last season.
Heard replaces Jim Brovelli, who was hired as interim coach April 5 after Bernie Bickerstaff was fired. Heard has been on the Wizards' short list from the time Bickerstaff was fired, but Unseld could not interview him until after the Pistons had been eliminated from the playoffs. Heard had a solid follow-up interview with team owner Abe Pollin and President Susan O'Malley last Thursday in Chicago.
Richmond said he is glad that the Wizards finally hired a coach so the team can address other issues. The coaching search also was taxing for players, he said.
"I think it's good to finally get a coach and see where he's going to go," Richmond said. "You don't want to wait and do this too late because whoever the coach is has to evaluate the team and put his hands on it."
CAPTION: Gar Heard is ready for first full-time NBA head coaching job, saying, "I feel we've got a chance to turn things around quickly."