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The Inside Track | T.J. Simers

Baylor's Comedy Show Is Now in Its 17th Year

March 04, 2003|T.J. Simers

Let me see if I have this straight: Elgin Baylor, whose specialty is firing and hiring Clipper coaches, decided the team has been playing terrible defense, so he fired Alvin Gentry and replaced him with the assistant coach, who has been in charge of that crummy defense.

Once given the microphone, Dennis Johnson told everyone he's going to work as hard as he can in the "next 25 games" to prove himself. That's when someone told him the team has only 24 games remaining -- officially making Johnson the first Clipper coach to lose a game before ever taking the floor.

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CLIPPER UPDATE: Baylor said it was time to fire Gentry because his team gave up an average of 102 points the last 10 games and that Johnson, a defensive specialist, would change all that. At halftime in his first assignment Monday night -- Johnson's Clippers were on pace to give up 120 points to New Orleans.

Talk about improvement, the Clippers held the Hornets to 111 points.

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THE TV people had to keep reminding Baylor to speak into the microphone at the news conference to announce Johnson's hiring -- as if he has never done this before. By my count, if Baylor had a news conference for every coach hired, and then for every coach fired on his watch, that would make for almost two dozen.

I'd have thought he had a canned speech for these kinds of things given his experience and expectation for failure -- one winning season in 17 years and an overall record of 436-902 -- so I was little surprised to hear him depart from the high road most executives take when firing a coach to trash the guy holding the pink slip.

"Alvin is a nice, wonderful person -- probably too nice," Baylor said. "Accountability unfortunately is one of the things that falls on the coach's shoulder -- if he's telling players to do something and they're not doing it ... I'd ask him after games why we were doing certain things and he'd say he gave the players instructions but they just wouldn't do it.

"Dennis' personality is totally different. He's a more aggressive person; I told him that he had to kick butt."

Wonder why he didn't tell Gentry that?

I asked Corey Maggette if it was true, as Baylor said, that Gentry was too nice and the players didn't listen to him, and he copped an attitude. I got tough with him because that's what Baylor would've wanted, and he said, "The guys were listening. We just weren't winning -- when you're not winning a person has to go."

Maggette then took Baylor's lead and dumped on Gentry, suggesting Gentry had been outcoached in the fourth quarter because his offense had become too predictable "allowing good teams and good coaches" to take advantage.

I liked Maggette better when he copped an attitude and sat there like a forgotten Clipper.

Gentry's response to the muckraking came in a phone conversation late in the day: "Let the fans know how much I appreciated their support this season because I know how tough it had to be on them given the disappointing results.... I'm just looking forward now to walking my kids to school in the morning. We're going to stay in California for a while and enjoy some of this wonderful California life."

Gentry also released a statement through the team, thanking Baylor and owner Donald Sterling for the coaching opportunity. Nothing but class to the very end.

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THERE HAD been friction between Baylor and Gentry in recent days over the continued disappearance of Michael Olowokandi, who has been away from the team since having knee surgery.

Gentry said he wanted him here, but an angry Baylor told The Times on Saturday that Gentry was telling Olowokandi one thing and the media another. A day later he decided to fire Gentry.

It has been well known in Clipper circles from the day he hired Gentry that Baylor didn't think much of the coach. As one insider put it, Baylor was told to hire anyone he wanted -- as long he picked one of four names on a list of coaches the Clippers could afford. It rankled Baylor -- until Monday.

The two had a major disagreement on Olowokandi's value to the team, and Gentry's reluctance to play the center more early last season frustrated Baylor, who began second-guessing most everything Gentry did. When this season began with contract hassles and injuries, Gentry was all but doomed.

And now if Johnson gives it his all and gets the Clippers to listen and win a few more games, he'll be reducing the ping-pong ball odds of securing LeBron James in the draft lottery.

Now wouldn't that be the Clipper caper of all time -- to lose the next NBA superstar because the Clippers won once too often.

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THE BOSTON Globe printed excerpts of Sterling's deposition earlier this year in regard to a financial dispute after the firing of coach Bill Fitch, which left the impression that Sterling really knows nothing ... and is usually the last to know what's going on with the Clippers. So I asked Baylor at the news conference if Sterling knew his head coach had been fired, and Baylor said he told him Sunday. I didn't ask Baylor if he had to tell Sterling the name of his fired head coach.

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I ASKED Baylor if Olowokandi was now going to join the team, and he said, "Oh, God." I guess we disagree on our assessment of Olowokandi.

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TODAY'S LAST word comes in e-mail from Ron Cooper:

"After reading your whining about UCLA's women's basketball costing you $1,043, I'm sending you $1 -- can we find 1,042 other readers dumb enough to help you out?"

The fact I found one is good enough for me.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com.

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