- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2003

For some reason, Abe Pollin hasn’t called me this time to ask who he should pick to run his unmagical Wizards — in fact, he’s never called me — but one of the nice things about writing a column is that you don’t need to be asked.

So here’s one vote for turning the Wizards into Terptown South by hiring Len Elmore as president of basketball operations and John Lucas as coach.

The first seems highly possible and the second highly unlikely, but, hey, what’s Abe got to lose except maybe a lot fewer basketball games?

Pollin is an admirable man who has done a great deal for the city, but his talents do not include hiring. Over the past two decades, the Bullets/Wizards have employed more stiffs than “Six Feet Under.”

Chief among them is Wes Unseld, a marvelous center in the ‘70s but a confirmed loser since as both general manager and coach. Pollin has said Unseld is “like a son to me,” which is another example of how risky it can be to turn a business over to your kid.

Since Dick Motta departed in 1980, two years after winning the franchise’s only NBA title, permanent coaches other than Unseld have included Gene Shue, Kevin Loughery, Jim Lynam, Bernie Bickerstaff, Gar Heard, Darrell Walker, Leonard Hamilton and Michael Jordan (a k a Doug Collins). There hasn’t been much more stability in the front office.

Elmore and Lucas could reverse that trend. The former Maryland teammates and All-Americans are solid basketball men with the kind of enthusiasm that would transform the deceased-derriere Wizards into an exciting outfit even without Jordan. And for what it’s worth, both get a resounding recommendation from their old coach.

“Well, you know, I think it would be a good deal,” Lefty Driesell drawled. “Lenny would be super — he’s a graduate of Harvard Law School, he’s a great person, he’s run his own business and he would relate well to the players. And Luke has still got a name in the area. If I were Abe Pollin, I’d want to hire guys who could fill up the building.”

What’s more, Pollin wouldn’t have to enter a bidding war for Lucas’ services. Despite successful earlier stints with the San Antonio Spurs and Philadelphia 76ers, Lucas’ coaching stock would seem to be at rock bottom nowadays because he was fired halfway through the season as boss of the Cleveland Cavaliers — an abysmal aggregation that would have turned Red Auerbach into a nonsmoker.

“I’d certainly have to consider Luke if I were running the club,” said Elmore, permitting himself a bit of wishful thinking. “He presents an awful lot [of positives], especially working with young players. It would be an interesting choice.”

First, of course, Lenny has to land a job himself. His interview with the Wizards went well a couple of weeks ago, but Pollin was noncommittal, sources said. Perhaps the idea of hiring the right man for a change is difficult for Abe to accept.

The conventional wisdom rap against Elmore is that he has never run or coached an NBA team. But if he has the necessities, as Al Campanis might have put it, who cares? With the exception of the unfortunate Hamilton, all the lousy coaches and GMs who have kept the franchise buried in the Eastern Conference had pro experience. The idea of the Wizards recycling one or two NBA retreads is about as appealing as that of moving back to Capital Centre.

“The reason those guys are available is that they were mediocre to begin with,” a man close to the situation said. “It kills Lenny when people bring up that experience issue. I mean, the guy is smart, he’s had experience managing people [with a New York company called TestU], he’s been a writer and TV analyst for years — what more do you need?”

Luck, maybe?

Former players like Kiki Vanderweghe, Wally Walker, Jim Paxson and Danny Ainge are currently running NBA teams without much or any previous front office experience. The important criteria would seem to be whether a man knows the game, has a vision and can execute it. The feeling here is that Elmore has all three qualifications.

There’s no way of knowing what Pollin and Susan O’Malley will do, although they had better do it quickly with the NBA Draft coming up next week. In another sense, too, time’s a’wastin’. Making the finals is the best barometer of NBA success, and the last time Washington did that Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Or was it Calvin Coolidge?

I wouldn’t bet the house that the Wizards will hire Elmore and/or Lucas, but if they want to go all-out with a Maryland connection, I can suggest a great personnel director, too.

This guy used to induce one blue-chipper after another to College Park, he’s a tireless worker and just about every basketball fan in the Washington area knows his name. Besides, at 72, he could rap with Abe — and he might just welcome a new challenge.

How about that, Lefty?

“Well, you know …”

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