Bob Whitsitt tells Maurice Cheeks: You can't go home
The Philadelphia 76ers will have to spin the NBA head- coaching roulette wheel again.
Unless Maurice Cheeks is lying Ñ and there's no reason to believe he is Ñ the Trail Blazers have not only denied him permission to speak with the 76ers about their coaching job, but they also have not promised any alterations to his contract. No extension, no bump-up in salary.
'I would love to have an extension,' Cheeks says. 'That has not been addressed, but hopefully it will be addressed. (The Blazers) wanting me to be here is more important than anything.'
No, it's not. Job security is. Next fall, Cheeks enters the third year of a three-year, $4.5 million contract, with a fourth year as a team option. If nothing is done, he will be in a lame-duck situation, a sad predicament for a coach with the kind of leverage he doesn't seem to know he holds.
The 76ers were all but ready to hire him as Larry Brown's replacement.
'Mo has a contract with Portland, but he would be great in Philadelphia,' Brown told the Tribune before the Sixers weren't allowed to talk with Cheeks. 'I always had it in mind that he would be the guy to follow me here. They love him here. He's a great coach, a great person. I love the guy. I told him in January when things weren't going so good (for the Blazers), he could always come back to Philly and take my job. I meant it, too. You can ask him.
'They are hiring a new GM and president in Portland, and I would think they would probably want to bring in their guy. If Mo decided he wanted the (Sixers) job, I hope they would let him come home.'
Precisely. Cheeks spent 11 years with Philadelphia as a player, seven years as an assistant coach. To Cheeks, Philly is home. No other coaching job in the NBA would interest him. This one does, of course.
Guess who told Cheeks he couldn't leave?
You got it Ñ Bob Whitsitt.
Owner Paul Allen was 'out of town' Ñ by one report, in France attending Naomi Campbell's birthday bash. Vice Chairman Bert Kolde (yes, somebody needs to handle vice control with this franchise) evidently was too busy trying to hire front-office types. The man in charge of operations when the Cheeks situation unfolded was Alexander Haig, er, Whitsitt.
Philadelphia GM Billy King contacted Erin Hubert, Portland's executive vice president, who forwarded the request to Whitsitt in Seattle. The deposed president/GM of the Blazers told Cheeks he had to honor his contract. Period.
'There is a reason why you sign on the dotted line,' Cheeks said, echoing Whitsitt's message. 'When teams like Philadelphia have an interest in you, you can't just up and leave.'
True. But you should get more respect than Cheeks got when another club came calling.
'I was surprised,' Cheeks told the Tribune. 'The subject of an extension really never came up when I talked with Bob. I didn't get that far.'
Cheeks has used Joe Glass of Woodmere, N.Y., as an agent since his playing days but says he's in the process of hiring somebody new to represent him.
'In this case, I just figured I would handle it myself,' Cheeks said.
Cheeks was naive about the whole thing, but he deserved better. He held all the cards and folded with a full house, unaware he should at least have been given an extension and more salary for staying. The Blazers don't want to lose a popular coach who gives them credibility in the community when their image is in tatters.
'It would have been a difficult decision for me,' Cheeks told the media. The Blazers 'took that decision out of my hands, which can be a blessing,' he said.
Or a curse. Cheeks said he has been assured by Allen that he will have a voice in the hiring of his new boss, creating another curious situation. What expertise does Cheeks have in deciding who's best to run the Blazer front office? And might he endorse the hiring of someone who will assure him job security, regardless of the candidate's credentials?
What this all suggests is that the Blazers aren't serious about returning Geoff Petrie to town. Surely, after the way they have handled the Cheeks fiasco, they wouldn't feel right asking Sacramento owners Joe and Gavin Maloof for permission to discuss the vacant Portland job with Petrie, who has at least two years left on his contract.
Notes: Arvydas Sabonis reportedly announced Thursday that he won't return to the Blazers. 'It's time for me to end it, my time in the Americas,' he said during a speech to the City Council in Kaunas, Lithuania, his hometown. Sabonis said he plans to play next season for Zalgaris, the Lithuanian League championship club that he starred for years ago and now partly owns. É Boston GM Chris Wallace was interviewed by Cheeks last week in L.A. Also in the mix for the GM job: John Hammond, Detroit's vice president of basketball operations; Ernie Grunfeld, Milwaukee's GM, and Billy Knight, Atlanta's director of basketball operations. Atlanta's interim coach, Terry Stotts, who has worked with Grunfeld and Knight, praises both: 'I thought Ernie was terrific. He is very astute, has a good sense of the game and is willing to pull the trigger on a deal. Billy is really good, too.' É Insiders say Tod Leiweke, chief operating officer and president of the NHL Minnesota Wild, is high on the list for the Blazers' president position.