- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Jeff Van Gundy became coach of the Houston Rockets yesterday, rejecting an offer to take over the Washington Wizards. The Wizards are now stepping up their pursuit of former Detroit Pistons coach Rick Carlisle.

The club is scheduled to meet with Carlisle this week — perhaps as soon as tomorrow, according to a team source — to discuss the coaching vacancy that was created when Doug Collins was fired last month.

Reached yesterday, Carlisle declined to confirm or deny that a meeting was scheduled. “I have no comment,” Carlisle said.

Wizards owner Abe Pollin and Susan O’Malley, president of Washington Sports & Entertainment, did not return calls placed to their offices yesterday. Pollin and O’Malley are leading the search for a new coach.

Carlisle is not being considered for the position of president of basketball operations, the job formerly held by Michael Jordan. He was fired by the Pistons this month despite leading his team to back-to-back 50-win seasons and the Eastern Conference finals this season.

Carlisle was replaced by former Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown.

Van Gundy decided to accept the job in Houston yesterday morning, days after announcing he was deciding between an offer from the Wizards — believed to be about five years and $25million — and one from the Rockets.

According to reports, Van Gundy told Rockets general manager Carroll Dawson he would accept the coaching offer and instructed his agent, Jim Ornstein, to finalize a contract, which is expected to pay him between $4million and $5million each year over four or five years.

Although no one with the Wizards would confirm it, it was reported that the Wizards had offered Van Gundy as much as $35million over five years to coach the team and have major input on personnel decisions.

Brown reportedly also was offered a lucrative contract by the Wizards but opted instead for the Pistons. No one in the organization has stepped forward to confirm the Wizards made the offer, but this lends credence to the belief of some that the Wizards’ sloppy handling of the Jordan situation could come back to haunt them.

Jordan’s departure haunted the Bulls long after he left. When Jordan was told by Bulls management that the team would be broken up after he led them to their sixth NBA championship, he retired but the Bulls had loads of money available to pay free agents such at Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. However, they and other players opted to play elsewhere.

The Wizards have said they want the eventual president of basketball operations to hire a coach. However, they have publicly acknowledged having talked to just one candidate, former University of Maryland standout Len Elmore.

In the meantime, the continually shrinking pool of coaches has forced the Wizards to also interview coaches, meaning there is a possibility that the coach will be named before the president of basketball operations. Pollin had said he would leave the hiring of the coach to the eventual president of basketball operations.

Compounding things, general manager Wes Unseld will abdicate his responsibilities for health reasons following the June26 draft.

Unseld said yesterday the team will begin bringing in potential draft choices for workouts later this week. The Wizards have the 10th pick in the draft.

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