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The NBA : Shue’s Firing Is Raising Some Questions

Gene Shue has lost more games than any coach in National Basketball Assn. history, which is more of a testimony of Shue’s coaching ability than a criticism. Anybody who can lose 768 games--he has won 757--and still be employed must be a good coach.

Last Wednesday, Shue learned that he won’t be losing any more games as coach of the Washington Bullets. Owner Abe Pollin and General Manager Bob Ferry surprised many around the league by firing Shue, in his 20th NBA season with his fourth team, less than a month before the start of the playoffs.

Even more puzzling, Shue was replaced by Kevin Loughery, who has had only two winning seasons in eight years of professional coaching. Loughery, a former Bullet player, has won 39.3% of his games as an NBA coach. Shue has won 49.6%.

Two questions have emerged from the Bullets’ coaching change:

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--Why do it so suddenly, instead of waiting until the playoffs are over?

--Why Kevin Loughery?

Pollin, who had never fired a coach before, said he wanted the new coach to implement his system and evaluate talent for the final 13 games and the playoffs.

Ferry said that the club had lost four straight games, including a 28-point drubbing by the New Jersey Nets and a 29-point spanking by the Milwaukee Bucks, at the time and needed a shake-up.

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But, as Ferry admitted to Washington writers after the press conference: “The timing is totally strange.”

Said Pollin: “I felt the team needed a new direction. The last four games helped me decide that the time to do it was now. I wanted to give the new coach the opportunity to evaluate his material over the last 13 games. . . . The feeling I had was that Gene Shue had run his course.”

The Chicago Bulls said the same thing about Loughery when they fired him last season. But Loughery was available and friendly with Pollin, so he was hired. It may not have been that simple, but that’s the way the Bullets made it seem.

“He’s always been popular with Mr. Pollin,” Ferry said. “Kevin’s name was always there, as soon as he became available.”

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Pollin, who said that no other coach was considered, was criticized by some in the Washington media for not talking to Georgetown Coach John Thompson about the job. Said columnist Tony Kornheiser of the Washington Post: “If you have a coaching vacancy in this city, you have to think of John Thompson.”

Shue, meanwhile, leaves Washington with his reputation mostly intact. Despite the loss of center Jeff Ruland and guard Frank Johnson to injuries, Shue had the Bullets almost assured of a playoff spot with a 32-37 record at the time of his firing.

Besides the opening at Cleveland, there figure to be several coaching vacancies--Golden State, Indiana, the Clippers, New York--during the off-season. Shue might fit in somewhere.

Add Coaching Changes: When the Cavaliers fired George Karl on March 16, replacing him temporarily with Gene Littles, some news reports said that Cleveland made the change after Karl had interviewed for the opening at the University of Pittsburgh.

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It turns out that the Cavaliers told Karl three days before his interview at Pittsburgh that his contract was not going to be renewed.

One of Karl’s disagreements with Cleveland management concerned playing time for rookie forward Keith Lee and second-year center Mel Turpin. Reportedly, Karl was not high on either player, preferring to go with veterans Edgar Jones and Lonnie Shelton. But General Manager Harry Weltman wanted it the other way around.

The firing of Mo McHone, Karl’s top assistant coach, a few weeks before Karl’s dismissal was an indication that Karl’s job was in jeopardy. McHone apparently was pushing for less playing time for Lee and Turpin.

Add Cavaliers: The day after Karl’s firing, Cleveland played a home game against the Philadelphia 76ers and lost. The Cavaliers also suffered a major public relations loss that night.

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It was team poster night and when local sportswriters saw the poster, they noticed something wrong.

No, Karl had not been air-brushed out of the picture. But the face of Herman Kull, the new assistant coach, had been superimposed over McHone’s. So, fans were treated to Kull’s head on McHone’s body.

Late Night With . . . the Chicago Bulls:

Before Michael Jordan, coming off a broken foot, finally decided that he would resume playing for the final month of the regular season, team executives, doctors and Jordan debated the matter long and hard. Jordan wanted to return, but the Bulls wanted him to play it safe and start fresh next season.

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Finally, at about midnight one night, owner Jerry Reinsdorf reportedly took a coin from his pocket and told Jordan that they should flip for it. Heads, Jordan sits out. Tails, he plays. Jordan wisely examined the coin and found that it was a two-headed coin.

The sides went back to negotiating. But it was worth a laugh.

Attention Lakers: The Denver Post recently ran a lengthy question-and-answer story with star forward Alex English.

At one point, the Post asked English to respond to the belief that the regular season is just an 82-game prelude to another Laker-Celtic showdown in the championship series.

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English responded: “I don’t think it will be that way. You never know what’s going to happen. Personally, I don’t think the Lakers will come out of the West this year. . . . I think when it comes down to playoff time, it will be the Lakers and the Denver Nuggets (in the Western Conference championship series). And I honestly feel we can take them.”

Denver has beaten the Lakers three of the four times they have played this season. They will meet for the final time in the regular season tonight at Denver.

The Sacramento Kings will play host to the Portland Trail Blazers tonight in a game the Kings need to win to hold off the Phoenix Suns and the Seattle SuperSonics for the final Western Conference playoff spot.

But it also is noteworthy because the Kings are 10-0 in Tuesday night home games this season. Tonight is the team’s final regular-season Tuesday night home game.

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Among the Kings’ Tuesday victims have been Boston, Detroit, Dallas, Houston and Denver twice.

“It’s merely a coincidence,” Sacramento reserve center Rich Kelley said.

“It’s the water,” King guard Reggie Theus jokingly added.

Atlanta is sneaking up on Philadelphia for the third position in the Eastern Conference playoff pairings. The Hawks are 44-25, the 76ers 47-25.

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But Philadelphia forward Charles Barkley is not worried about Atlanta.

“They will choke, choke, choke,” Barkley said. “We’ll get the third spot, there’s no doubt about it. But it doesn’t matter that much where you finish. What’s the difference if you play Boston in the first round or third round?”


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