Starting Over

Hoping to give their clubs a jolt, the Sixers and the Wizards turned to men with no recent coaching pedigree
December 22, 2008

WHEN WIZARDSpresident Ernie Grunfeld fired coach Eddie Jordan last month, his in-houseoptions to take over the team included a former NBA coach (Randy Ayers) with adefensive-minded reputation and a highly rated assistant (Mike O'Koren) who wasworking his way on to head-coaching short lists. Grunfeld instead tappedTap—longtime confidant Ed Tapscott, Washington's director of playerdevelopment, who last worked a sideline nearly two decades ago. Likewise, when76ers president Ed Stefanski concluded last Saturday that Maurice Cheeks was nolonger the right man for his team, he barely glanced down the bench at anassistant with 328 NBA coaching wins on his résumé (Jim Lynam) before he namedhis righthand man to the post. No matter that assistant general manager TonyDiLeo's coaching career peaked in the 1980s when he ran the West Germannational team, back when a wall still divided Berlin.

The reasons behindthe moves are simple: Tapscott and DiLeo have strong personal relationshipswith their bosses and, more important, share their basketball philosophies.Tapscott's friendship with Grunfeld dates to 1991, when Grunfeld, then theKnicks' general manager, hired Tapscott as the team's director ofadministration. Both men favor a defensive approach to the game: "It's thebedrock of the franchise," says Tapscott. DiLeo, a longtime Sixers employeewho played collegiately at La Salle under the Guru of Go himself, PaulWesthead, is a staunch supporter of the up-tempo offense, a style Stefanskiforced on Cheeks last season to great success but which Philadelphia struggledwith in the first month of this season. "We need to be able to fast-breakconsistently," says Stefanski. "Tony understands this. He's the rightguy for the job."

Stefanski's andGrunfeld's convictions don't change the fact that a coach who requireson-the-job training could be a significant handicap for two clubs that stillhave postseason aspirations. Through Sunday, Washington (4--17) amazingly wasjust six games out of the final playoff spot in the East and hopes to getAll-Star Gilbert Arenas back by February. So why entrust the team to Tapscott,who hasn't been a coach since leaving American University in 1990 and who sayshe was "shocked" when Grunfeld handed him the job? A faction within theorganization believes that Tapscott is Grunfeld's puppet. "Ernie gets tocontrol everything," says a team source. "He basically coaches theteam."

The Sixers hadvisions of the Larry O'Brien Trophy dancing in their heads when they signedfree-agent forward Elton Brand, but Brand has struggled to adapt toPhiladelphia's open-court style, and his problems playing with center SamuelDalembert are a major reason the Sixers (10--14 at week's end) have floundered.It will be up to DiLeo, whose most recent bench experience came in 1994, todevise schemes that will better integrate Brand. "We are absolutely notgiving up on this season," says Stefanski. "I don't believe a guy hasto come from the bench to be a good head coach." He may change his tune byApril.

ONLY AT SI.COM
The latest news and analysis from Chris Mannix.

Coach's Take

An Eastern Conference assistant talks about the red-hotCavaliers, who had an 11-game winning streak snapped last Saturday:

"They are really locking people down right now.They don't do anything different from any other team—they blitz thepick-and-rolls and like to get in your face—but they are playing with adifferent level of intensity. The Olympics were the best thing to happen toLeBron James (above); he's defending like Michael Jordan used to defend. Andeveryone on that team seems to accept his role. You can see on the floor thatthey hold each other accountable, but they do it in a way that's notdisrespectful. They won't come down on a teammate who blows a defensiveassignment, but they won't let him get away with it either."

PHOTOJESSE D. GARRABRANT/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (HUDDLE)PREACHERS DiLeo (center) is offensive-minded, while Tapscott (below) stresses D. PHOTONED DISHMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (TAPSCOTT) [Seecaption above] PHOTOLOU CAPOZZOLA (JAMES)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)