Fitch Unable to Untangle Nets' Mess


Coaching changes are intended to revitalize a team, with the players expected to impress their new boss with all-out hustle and basketball intelligence.

But it does not always work. Just ask Bill Fitch, who inherited the 26-56 New Jersey Nets this season. The rap against Willis Reed, who was moved to a vice president's job, was that he was too soft and failed to motivate the Nets.

Fitch, who had won with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets, had a reputation as a petty dictator who could intimidate his players to play aggressively by threatening trades or banishment to the bench.

But Fitch has been unusually subdued while watching the rebuilt Nets, featuring center Sam Bowie and rookie playmaker Mookie Blaylock, stagger to a 4-11 start, including a nine-game losing streak.

"I've got to make a lot of evaluations and changes, but it's not my nature to wave the white flag," Fitch said. "I'm doing everything I can, but I'm only 90 percent of it. It's not my nature to walk away and give up, but we have to find some character out there."

After trading power forward Buck Williams, the cornerstone of the team the past years, to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Nets were left without a true leader, on or off the court.

"The part I don't understand about this team is the lack of aggression," Fitch said. "Good teams can shoot bad and still win with tough defense, but we haven't shown that quality."

Fitch reportedly has been most upset with the inconsistent play of forward Chris Morris, the top draft pick in 1988, rookie center-forward Charles Shackleford and veteran point guard Lester Conner.

Watching his team dig a huge hole for itself, shooting guard Dennis Hopson said, "We're not doing what Coach Fitch wants us to do. It's crazy. The things we do in practice, we forget once the game begins.

"We've got to find the problems and solve them. It's not the same circumstances as the last few years. We've got a lot of new guys, but if one person falls into the losing mold, it starts to rub off and kind of snowballs."

Trade bait: The hottest trade rumor has the Dallas Mavericks offering Roy Tarpley, who was leading the league in rebounding, to the Golden State Warriors. The Mavericks are looking to acquire shooting guard Mitch Richmond, the National Basketball Association's 1988-89 Rookie of the Year.

The Warriors, who need a big man, reportedly are willing to deal Terry Teagle or Winston Garland but will not part with Richmond, who has struggled this season.

Tarpley has a history of drug and drinking problems. He has been suspended twice and is in an outpatient clinic in Dallas for alcohol abuse.

Said a Warriors source, "It seems unthinkable to trade a person with as much talent as Tarpley. But on the other hand, you have to wonder if he'll ever play for you and what will happen to his trade value."

In all likelihood, the Mavericks will be stuck with Tarpley, for better or worse. With two strikes against him, a third would bring a life suspension. Tarpley would have a right to appeal after two years. So, a team trading for the gifted power forward would risk getting nothing.

It's only a name: Disgruntled Sacramento Kings fans are booing and heaping ridicule on Pervis Ellison, the first player chosen in the 1989 NBA draft. In college, the All-American center-forward was known as "Never Nervous Pervis."

But after missing nine of the first 13 games while recuperating from ankle surgery and then averaging only five points and five rebounds, Kings supporters dubbed him "Out of Service Pervis."

Bad timing: The Mavericks' team calendar starts with November and a picture of head coach John MacLeod, who failed to survive the first month. Tarpley appears as January's centerfold.

Coach's rebuttal: Mike Schuler, an assistant with the Golden State Warriors, said that to this day he has not been told the reason he was fired as head coach of the Trail Blazers last February. His replacement, Rick Adelman, has the Blazers off to a 12-4 start.

Speculation at the time of the firing was that Schuler had lost control of the team, particularly All-Star guard Clyde Drexler.

Schuler said last week, "I've had some of my old players look me right in the eye and tell me, 'Coach, you weren't the problem, and you couldn't have solved it.'

"If I couldn't get along with the players, how come I won so many games in Portland and coach of the year (1986-87)? The things I was doing in Portland were good, solid and sound. And the team did not win when I left last season. I've proved I can win. I don't think I have to defend the job I did in Portland."

Asked about disagreements with Drexler, Schuler said, "He's a hard player to coach. I won't say much more than that."

Minor disturbance: After being fined $5,000 for threatening referee Mike Mathis, Philadelphia 76ers forward Charles Barkley said, "It was just a slight disagreement. Of course, when you shoot someone dead on the street, that's a disagreement, too."

More Barkley: When the 76ers played the Boston Celtics recently in Hartford, Conn., Barkley was disturbed to find that the hamburger joint in teammate Rick Mahorn's old neighborhood featured a Mahorn Burger, Michal Adams burger and one even named after homebred welterweight champion Marlon Starling.

"I haven't got anything like that for me back home in Atlanta," he said.

"That's because they can't make a burger big enough," said Mahorn.

Dive play: In the off-season, Houston Rockets Coach Don Chaney gets his kicks sky-diving. "I don't do it during the basketball season," he said. "I might be tempted not to push the button."

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