I know that Scott Skiles is getting the Chicago Bulls' job. And I know that Isiah Thomas wanted it. It was home, he still has family there, and the Bulls have a young, if mentally green, group of players that could have benefited from Zeke's teaching. Yeah, there's probably some residual bad blood in the Second City toward Thomas from his Bad Boys days with the Pistons. But how long does the statute of limitations last on hatred, anyway? John Salley and Dennis Rodman went from wearing Detroit blue to Chicago white and were welcomed with open arms; why couldn't Isiah make up with his hometown?
But that job, and that city, aren't right for Isiah. There are other franchises in other places that need his skills at setting long-term goals, creating buzz in the community and engendering great loyalty from his players. (Atlanta comes to mind. Unless there's a dramatic uptick in the Hawks' fortunes, that's a franchise in need of an attitude makeover, and Isiah would be perfect for that.)
The Bulls' job, by contrast, should have gone to Mike Fratello.
Nothing against Skiles, but there's nothing he does as a coach that Fratello didn't do first, and do better. You think Skiles is intense? You haven't sat next to a Fratello-led squad. Regular season, playoffs -- it didn't matter. Every game was life and death. You think Skiles is detail-oriented? Ohmigosh. You think Skiles will get in underperforming players' faces? It was Fratello who lamented the "low basketball IQ" of his charges in Atlanta, where he sat guys who didn't get it done for so long that they grew moss. You think Skiles is confident? You don't know Fratello, who once boasted to someone that people paid money in Cleveland to watch him coach. In 14 years, he won 572 regular-season games. Like another former Cav, former GM Wayne Embry (still not dead, still better at putting an organization together than anyone you can name), Fratello has been in the wilderness long enough.
Like I said, I've got nothing against Skiles. But it always concerns me when someone brings up quitting of their own volition. I know the story: In late 2000, Skiles was frustrated after his Suns dropped a tough one against Denver, and in the heat of that frustration, he asked his players if they thought he was still the right guy for the job. After sleeping on it, he determined that he still was and told management that he wanted to stay, and so he stayed -- for a couple of more months.
I'm sure that coaches think about quitting all the time. Fred Carter used to always talk about the walks he'd have to take in the Philly streets after especially difficult losses, staying up all night and wondering. But coaches don't usually articulate that desire to leave unless they really want to go. So you wonder what will happen if Skiles has to butt heads for a couple of years with Jamal Crawford and Tyson Chandler and whether he can stand it if Eddy Curry never becomes what he's capable of becoming. And you wonder if Skiles will be able to accentuate the positive.
"Those guys need a kick in the butt, but they're also going to need a pat on the back every once in a while," one of Skiles's old Phoenix players said this week. "I don't think he's the guy to do that."
Now, Fratello wasn't exactly warm and fuzzy. But like Hubie Brown, I'd like to think that the time away from the bench has mellowed Fratello, that he now realizes that just because you can coach doesn't mean you will coach. You have to bring some humility to the table, and you have to at least try to relate to today's younger players. They only know you from TV.
I think Fratello can do that now. It's time to restore the Czar to a throne.
How George globetrotted to L.A.
Rick Fox had no idea.
"Devean?" he asked.
Yup. Devean George played for the Harlem Globetrotters.
"Really?" Fox asked. "News to me. Didn't know it. I'll be sure to bring that to the locker room."
Most of George's teammates had no idea that for a three-game stretch during his senior season at Division III Augsburg (Minn.) College, George moonlighted with the world's most famous basketball team. It was just another interesting stop on the basketball road for George, who will surely be the answer to a trivia question in 20 years or so: Who was the fifth starter on the Lakers' team that had Shaq, Kobe, GP and the Mailman? George is the Dick Barnett of his generation.
"I never thought about Dick Barnett in those terms," his former Knicks teammate, Phil Jackson, said. "That's really funny. Because Dick was really a leader. I mean ... Dick was the one that would tell you he was the star."
George won't have that problem with the Lakers. But he's become a solid pro after being virtually unknown coming out of Augsburg. That began to change after his senior season. He'd played well in the pre-draft camps, but was still looking for a showcase when Chad Groth, a scout for the Trotters, recommended George for the historic team. Groth had grown up in the same north Minneapolis neighborhood as George and was looking to fill out the Globies' roster for its three-game series against a team of college all-stars just before the '99 draft.
"I was trying to be seen," George recalled. "I went to a small school, I didn't get a chance to play on national TV, and those were some nationally televised games. They were playing against guys that were going to be drafted, the college all-stars. So I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for scouts that were going to be at the game to see me play against talent at a D-1 level."
George stood out for the Globetrotters -- who were playing seriously, not the Washington Generals stuff they'd done for decades. The pro scouts were there to see the college team, which had guys like James Posey, Quincy Lewis and Melvin Levett on its roster. But it was George who made an impact, averaging 15 points and five boards in the three games, including a 23-point effort in one.
"None of us had ever heard of him," recalled Otis Key, a former teammate and current Globetrotter. "He just sort of exploded. You could tell in practice that the athletic gifts were there. ... You could tell from his demeanor that he had something to prove, that he deserved to be there."
The coach of the all-star team just happened to be Jim Cleamons, who was about to rejoin Jackson as an assistant coach on the Lakers' bench. A month later, Jerry West took George for the Lakers with the 23rd pick in the first round.
"It was unbelievable, because I put a lot of work into it," George said. "I had been criticized for trying to make it to the NBA from Division III. People thought it was a joke. So all that was balled up, and it was a big relief. But this was the one team that I didn't think would draft me, you know. I kind of looked to the next team when the Lakers were up -- well, hopefully the next team. It was a surprise at the time because they had Rick, Glen (Rice) and Kobe. They had everybody at my position."
But George endured. He even outlasted West. Now, with a $20 million contract in hand, George has become a mainstay in L.A., providing the Lake Show with badly-needed athletic play and perimeter defense.
"I would venture to guess -- this may light a fire under some of my other teammates -- but I would venture to guess that he's the most athletic player we have on our floor," Fox says. "You hear that, Kobe?"
Around the League
I am just asking: Why was Danny Ainge seen sitting behind the Boston bench recently, yelling out to players and yelling at officials? Like I said, I'm just asking. ... The Jazz have gotten some great play from the likes of Carlos Arroyo and Raul Lopez, but no one is a bigger shock to the SLC than Greg Ostertag. He's pulling down more than nine rebounds a night this season, which would be a career high. Of course, Karl Malone isn't bringing in his customary 11 or 12 boards a game anymore, so there are more caroms to be grabbed. And Ostertag is in the last year of his contract. But nobody cares about the whys and wherefores. "He might play better without Karl and John out there, being the senior guy on the team now," says a member of the Jazz Band. "He knows he doesn't play every night. He doesn't understand why, and nobody else understands why. He doesn't know when he's going to play (hard), but he doesn't know how to change." ... There are those who may be disappointed in how Rasho Nesterovic is playing D so far for the Spurs, but it doesn't matter. Gregg Popovich's opinion is the only one that matters, and he's still sold on Rasho. "It's exactly the same system; it's just a Serbian guy there instead of a guy from Virginia," Pop says. "The system has not changed a lick. Rasho is learning where we want him to be in the various defenses that we run, but it's exactly the same system." ... Detroit made a very quiet, and very solid, pickup by bringing in forward Tremaine Fowlkes just before camp. Fowlkes has toiled in the CBA, the IBL, the D League, the Venezuelan League and that most horrifying of stops -- the Clippers. Last season, he started 10 games for the Clips, but with a partial guarantee on the line, L.A. opted to sign Bobby Simmons instead of Fowlkes. Enter the Pistons, whose director of player personnel, Scott Perry, had recruited the 6-foot-8 Fowlkes while an assistant coach at Cal in 1994. "I was ready to go back overseas," Fowlkes said. "I was in California with my daughter when my agent called." For Detroit, Fowlkes is a designated stopper off the bench whose length and athletic ability can be sicced on East scorers from Richard Jefferson to Paul Pierce, and who can cause problems for opponents on the offensive glass. ... With Ricky Davis quickly wearing out his welcome in Cleveland, Paul Silas is serious about playing rookie Jason Kapono. "He knows how to play," Silas says of Kapono. "He's a hell of a shooter. I like what I've seen so far. I've got to do some experimenting to see who I can count on. Kapono, Juanny (Dajuan Wagner) and LeBron have got some firepower."