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If it's Casey, Clippers have a sales job

June 30, 2010|BILL PLASCHKE

Forget the difficulties of living through the perpetual nightmare of "All My Children" or the eternal horror of "One Life to Live."

Neil Olshey, the former soap actor now starring as Clippers general manager, is facing his toughest acting job yet.

He has to sell us on Dwane Casey.

It's not official yet, but it appears to be happening, Casey soon to be hired as the next coach of the Clippers, a journeyman assistant shoved into a scrum of challenging talent, an anonymous gym rat asked to light up Tinseltown.

Yeah, this should be good.

Olshey is going to have to convince us it isn't about money, even though Casey comes far cheaper than an established coach such as Larry Brown.

Olshey is going to have to convince us it isn't about ego, even though Casey is the grateful type who won't try to change the culture like Lakers assistant Brian Shaw might have done.

Olshey is going to have to convince us, finally, that this isn't about Donald Sterling, even though the Clippers owner has become more involved since dumping Mike Dunleavy, and would certainly want someone who won't challenge his motives or his wallet.

We'll see. The announcement isn't ready yet, and there are always last-minute twitches that could change Sterling's mind, but right now, the man is Dwane Casey, and the first question comes quick.

Didn't he already coach here once?

No, that was Don Casey, who led them to a 41-85 record in 1989 and 1990. But at first blush -- and believe me, Clippers fans are surely blushing right now -- Dwane Casey isn't much different.

He's an 11-year NBA assistant coach who was given a brief chance with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2005. Even though Kevin Garnett was on that team, they struggled to a 53-69 record in 11/2 seasons before Casey was fired in 2007.

He was canned because the team, 20-20 at the time, was "treading water," according to then-Timberwolves official Kevin McHale. Hmmm, sounds like the Clippers.

He was fired after having trouble settling on a rotation, and after one of his players, Ricky Davis, walked off the court during a midgame tantrum. Hmmm, sounds even more like the Clippers.

It's not all bad. Casey, 53, has worked in winning situations for the likes of George Karl, Nate McMillan and, currently, Rick Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks, so he obviously has good basketball pedigree.

The last Carlisle defensive coordinator to get a head coaching job? Someone who guided the Cleveland Cavaliers to the best record in basketball the last two seasons, guy by the name of Mike Brown.

"Mike had a very similar profile to Dwane, this is a very comparable deal," said Carlisle on Tuesday. "Great communicator. Great defensive guy. This is an opportunity for the Clippers to grab a guy who flies a bit under the radar in terms of NBA publicity, but he's been one of the most highly respected basketball people in the league in the last 15, 20 years."

But is he a charismatic leader? Is he a scheming winner? And haven't the Clippers spent the last several months promising us both? Wasn't the removal of Dunleavy the first step in an organizational shakeup that would finally give this neglected collection of athletes a chance at its potential greatness?

OK, Neil Olshey, it's your stage.

"I don't need a guy for a press conference or a guy for a cocktail party," said Olshey in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. "We need a basketball coach. We need somebody who has a track record of developing players. We need somebody who has a road map for getting it done."

But weren't there other guys with better track records? Like, guys whose track took them to the NBA Finals as a head coach? Oh yeah, that's right, Byron Scott doesn't get along with Baron Davis, so cross him off the list.

As for other more experienced NBA coaching candidates out there, I spoke to one during the NBA Finals who essentially said it would be difficult hiring a veteran winner as long as Sterling was the enigmatic owner.

"This is not a money decision, this is an organizational decision, hiring a coach who we feel gives us the best chance to win while developing our players," said Olshey.

Although he was indeed a former actor, Olshey cut his basketball chops working in camps with guys such as Casey, and he liked what he saw, a guy who didn't care who was watching him.

"We need a coach who makes it about the team, not about them," Olshey said.

"We don't care about winning the press conference. We want to win the game. We don't care about everyone loving this in April. We care about what happens in October."

Strong words. Scripted words? Don't blame Clippers fans for thinking they have seen this act, because they have. Here's hoping Dwane Casey can be the one Clippers coach who will make it real.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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