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Rick Reilly : Chaney Inherits House of Horrors

March 07, 1985|RICK REILLY

Western Union finally found the home address of Clipper Coach Jim Lynam Wednesday:


Into Lynam's worried shoes, the Clippers have inserted his worthy assistant, Don Chaney, not to be confused with Lon Chaney, who, come to think of it, might have been a better choice, considering the scary state of affairs at the Sports Arena. Talk about a house of horrors! The Clippers are 3-17 since the All-Star game, and breaking new ground.

Lynam's expunction came as no great surprise, considering the awful things his boss, General Manager Carl Scheer, has been saying about him lately. For instance, just last week, Scheer had said, in reference to a recurring rumor that Lynam would soon be fired: "I told Jimmy, once and for all last night, that he doesn't need to worry. Both Jimmy and I have survived all the speculation about his job status."

If you are the Clipper coach and you are losing on the order of the St. Louis Browns, and your GM tells you everything is just hunky-dory, you change your home phone number and start looking into a career with Amway.

But the question Lynam might have had for Scheer is the same one a shell-shocked pitcher once asked his manager after giving up 13 runs in a single inning, "So what kept you?"

So Carl, what kept you?

After all, this was a team replete with problems, among them that Scheer, Chaney and many of the veterans--Norm Nixon, Bill Walton, James Donaldson included--all wanted a running game.

What they got instead was Lynam's Sominex set-up, the same style used here, to similar fan disdain, by other Jack Ramsay clones--Paul Westhead and Jack McKinney. Now they can be together and we may see all three of them huddled at the deli some day, diagramming plays in each other's Jell-O.

But a running game was only the half of it. There were reports that the veteran players could not relate to Lynam.

"I think this team was occasionally a victim of overcoaching," center Donaldson said Wednesday. "When you've got talent like we've got, sometimes it's better just to let it fly."

Also, since November, Scheer has wanted top draft choice Lancaster Gordon to unvarnish himself from the bench and fly a little himself. Lynam played someone named Bryan Warrick instead. Warrick played at St. Joe's. Lynam coached at St. Joe's. You think? Naaaaaah.

Finally, 10 days ago, Scheer ordered Lynam to play Gordon. Lynam played Gordon. Gordon played well. Gordon, in fact, had 22 points and 7 assists in 40 minutes in Lynam's swan song Sunday night, a loss to Kansas City in a game the Clippers had led by 14 points.

Scheer, in fact, sat Lynam down at that meeting 10 days ago and spelled it out. More running, more Gordon, more W's, or less Lynam.

"For a while, I was satisfied," Scheer said. "But then it became evident that we weren't making any progress."

When you lose, in order, to Seattle--twice--Portland, Houston, Golden State and then, heaven forbid, Kansas City, and you realize that among them, only Houston is above .500, you are not only making no progress, you are not even treading water. If you're the GM, you reach for the phone.

"I didn't sleep at all last night," said Scheer, who, to both his credit and his anguish, has a king-sized conscience. In fact, Scheer has become known as something of a Red Cross station for wayward coaches in the NBA.

Scheer's peccadillo is that he has too much heart. He issues too many second chances, befriends too many stray dogs. Finally, everybody up to and including the guy who changes his oil at the filling station, is knocking on the window and saying, "So fire the bum already."

It happened with the last two coaches Scheer parted with as GM of the Denver Nuggets--Donnie Walsh and Larry Brown--and it happened here. The problem with it is that when cryin' time finally comes, it is that much messier.

So it was Wednesday. Here was Scheer, wrung out. Here was Lynam, wondering who in the NBA might have a job open for a man with a winning percentage of .363. And here were the Clippers, 17 games under .500, light years out of the playoffs.

Most of all, here was Chaney, an interim coach who wants so badly to be a head coach in the NBA that he will face these final 21 games as if with a pistol to his temple.

Only hours into the job, Chaney issued warning shots. "This team is out of shape," he said. He also talked about changes. "I believe in the running game," he said. He also believes in Lancaster Gordon, wisely.

But Chaney may feel such pressure to win that he, too, may overcoach. And the Clippers may continue to overlose. The New Era is not off to a rousing start after Wednesday night's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"Don Chaney doesn't have to win every game," Scheer said.

But it would have been helpful.

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