Win or Else: The Ax May Be Poised Over 3 NBA Coaches


Stu Jackson of the New York Knicks was the first coaching casualty of the 1990-91 NBA season, but others could follow, with the Indiana Pacers’ Dick Versace, the Atlanta Hawks’ Bob Weiss and the Denver Nuggets’ Paul Westhead believed to be on shaky ground.

In Denver, Westhead has been under heavy fire. His Nuggets play a crowd-pleasing brand of racehorse basketball. Unfortunately, it has produced only negative results, with the Nuggets’ opponents threatening to break every offensive mark in the NBA record book.

Phoenix assistant Coach Paul Westphal said he is not impressed by Westhead’s strategy of trying to win a nonstop shoot-out.

“Right now, they look like an expansion team,” Westphal said. “They got rid of two All-Stars--Alex English and Fat Lever.”


Westhead apparently is not swayed by the mounting criticism.

“I’m not about traditional basketball,” said Westhead, who previously had made Loyola Marymount the nation’s highest-scoring college team.

“My guys are still learning this system. The very thing we’re trying to do is what can give this team an incredible sense of dignity.”

In Atlanta, Weiss inherited a veteran Hawks team in decline, a sign that Mike Fratello clearly saw before he “retired” after last season in favor of a television analyst’s job. He suggested the players he was kissing goodby had a “low basketball IQ.”

Aging center Moses Malone, slow to adopt to new systems, has cost more than one coach his job. And free-wheeling Dominique Wilkins is trying to play the unfamiliar role of team player.

Before the Hawks won consecutive road games in San Antonio and Houston last week, disenchanted Atlanta fans had taken to wearing bags over their heads.

“We understand that we need to be patient making the transition to a new coach because it’s diametrically opposed to what was done here before, and it’s foreign to our players,” said Hawks General Manager Pete Babcock.

He implied that if the team does not make a dramatic turnaround by January, he is more likely to make player changes than dismiss Weiss, who posted a 59-105 record in two seasons as coach of the San Antonio Spurs.


“If things still aren’t working by the end of December,” said Babcock, “we’ll have to make some decisions on changing direction.”

It is believed that Wilkins, 30, while he still has substantial trade value, will be used as the prime bait.

Meanwhile, in Indiana, Versace is not getting any votes of confidence from team President Danny Walsh as the disappointing Pacers continue to hover below .500 and the players bicker among themselves.

Rumors persist that Walsh is prepared to hire ousted Nuggets’ Coach Doug Moe, a longtime buddy from Denver and the old American Basketball Assn.


After losing to the Bullets two weeks ago, playmaker Vern Fleming accused his teammates of playing selfish, one-on-one basketball. High-scoring Reggie Miller was fingered as the chief culprit.

Versace shrugs off the rumors of his demise. “I always win out in the end,” he said. “I’m like a cat you drop off the roof upside down and he lands on his feet. I always have and always will.”