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Casey Gives Inaugural Speech, Too : New Clipper Coach Is Seeking Defense, Up-Tempo Offense

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Times Staff Writer

The Casey Administration, understaffed as it may be, took office Friday morning with a pointed inaugural address to players and a subsequent workout at Pauley Pavilion.

Did it draw attention away from another guy on his first day on the job in Washington?

“I think it’s hurt him on the West Coast, yeah,” Don Casey said.

But the day after he was promoted from assistant coach to interim head coach in the wake of Gene Shue’s firing, Casey was not all jokes. There were still some awkward feelings about replacing his friend, some extra pressure because he has no job assurances beyond June, and, if only for a day or two, extra duties because no new assistant has been found.

Just getting to practice was difficult enough. Casey, who received a $20,000 raise with the new position, had only $2 with him when he arrived at UCLA, so he parked his car on the street and ran inside Pauley Pavilion to borrow another dollar from trainer Bernie LaReau so he could move the car into a nearby parking structure.

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Clearly, there have been more auspicious starts to regimes.

Now, with several days off before the Clippers (10-28) play again at Dallas next Wednesday, Casey will go for a better ending to a season that has suddenly turned disastrous with 21 losses in 24 games.

“I’m not going to dump it all on the players, but it’s time people started to focus on the players and what they’re doing,” Casey said. “Everyone has to understand the onus is on the players as well as the coach.

“I don’t like that it (Shue’s firing) happened, I don’t like how it happened (drawn out with speculation), and I feel uncomfortable about it. Some of the offensive sets have been dropped because I don’t feel as comfortable with some of them as Gene did. Some will be kept, but the playing time will be cut drastically if they don’t run them right.”

Such was his state-of-the-team message to players. More of the up-tempo offense, which Shue also talked of, more playing time for starters to increase stability, and a tougher defense.

The defense is the key for the Clippers, and that is where Casey has made his mark in coaching, having produced a pair of video coaching tapes and written a book on defense.

“It’s hard to run fast breaks off made baskets,” he said.

Casey, 51, has never coached in the pros before, not even as a replacement for part of a game. Among other things, this step up will also mean a change in perception, away from the friendly relationship he was able to develop with players as an assistant to the more hard-line approach a head coach must take. How much will carry over, of course, remains to be seen.

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He was well liked by players in the previous position as a sometimes playful adversary and motivator. Even his hard-line message to players Friday didn’t seem to alter feelings about the new coach, which may be the most important attribute he brings to the job.

“Everyone changes a little bit,” veteran guard Norm Nixon said. “But I don’t think the basic person changes. We might not be able to BS with him as much anymore, but things will be more relaxed around here.”

The Clippers signed 6-foot 10-inch forward Rob Lock to a contract for the remainder of the season.

Lock, who played at Kentucky, was the Clippers’ third-round draft choice last year. He has been playing since August in the Italian Professional League, where he averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds a game for Standa Reggio Calabria.

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