- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2003

Abe Pollin is scrambling to make a big splash with his next hire following the dismissal of Michael Jordan.

This is the implicit message of the letter he is sending to the team’s season-ticket holders today.

“If you are not satisfied with the direction of our basketball franchise after this summer,” he writes, “I will refund your season-ticket deposit in full.”

Pollin has lost out on securing the services of Larry Brown, a long-shot proposition if ever there was one. Yet Brown’s decision to take up with the Pistons is merely one element of an increasingly intriguing marketplace.

Rick Carlisle, the NBA Coach of the Year in 2002, was shown the door in Detroit to make room for Brown. Carlisle’s only shortcoming was not to have Brown’s coaching pedigree.

Carlisle is the latest person who should merit an exploratory call from Pollin, and not just because he led a team of no-names to the best record in the Eastern Conference this past season.

Carlisle is an old disciple of Larry Bird, from their playing days in Boston to sharing X’s and O’s on the sidelines in Indiana.

Bird retired from coaching after leading the Pacers to the NBA Finals in 2001, and Carlisle proceeded to land his first head coaching job in Detroit.

Bird has been out of the NBA since that time, although he made a highly publicized ownership bid in Charlotte, N.C., last winter, only to lose out to Bob Johnson.

Bird, along with Boston-based businessman Steve Belkin, then expressed an interest in purchasing the Bucks before deciding that Milwaukee might be too far north for someone who makes his home in Naples, Fla.

Bird’s ownership group also includes Jan Volk and M.L. Carr, both of whom were slated to have prominent roles in the Charlotte franchise while Bird presided over the basketball operations.

Here’s the thing: Is Bird wedded to the Belkin-led group, or could he be enticed to consider a reasonable alternative?

Pollin could give Bird what he gave Jordan: a minority ownership stake in the franchise and the power to run the basketball operations as he saw fit.

Unlike Jordan, Bird is not adverse to rolling up his sleeves and doing the grunt work.

Aside from the bright lights of game night, coaching is as tedious as being an executive. Bird is not one for the bright lights anyway.

Bird was a player’s coach who felt no desire to be the show on the sidelines. He also showed remarkable patience in his players, a rarity among ex-superstar players.

As is his practice, Bird is being tight-lipped about where his interests next might lead him. Other than expressing disappointment in losing out in Charlotte and deciding “it’s too cold in Milwaukee,” Bird has maintained his customary low profile.

Reports suggest the Trail Blazers have given Maurice Cheeks permission to talk to the 76ers while entertaining the notion of making a pitch to Carlisle, which may mean nothing.

The process comes with an ample dose of speculation, after all.

Brown was expected to save either the Rockets, Clippers or Cavaliers after being put on Washington’s wish list late last week. By Saturday, after Joe Dumars and Brown magically found a way to communicate about a job that was not open, all the inside reports turned out to be off the mark.

Bird certainly could get a lot of what he wants in Washington. He could put his people in place, and he would have an owner willing to yield to his basketball expertise.

Pollin took a huge gamble by abruptly cutting his ties to Jordan. Now he is upping the ante with the team’s season-ticket holders by pledging to return their deposit if they don’t feel encouraged by his moves.

That means acquiring someone with credibility, a record of success and star power. Either the new executive or the new coach has to bring that passion-stirring quality to the franchise.

If not, fair or not, Pollin is liable to find a good number of season-ticket holders taking him up on his offer.

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