Gastclown Offered Bird Head Coaching Job

Celtics owner Paul Gaston offered Larry Bird the head coaching job and the top basketball operations post roughly seven weeks ago, but cannot get an answer from him, a team source told the Herald last night.

"He's been offered everything but the keys to the franchise, but he hasn't given Gaston an answer. The reason is, he's entertaining other offers," said the high-level source.

"He's using all these (media) people to whine, but basically either he can't make up his mind or he wants to wait and see what Indiana and all these other people are going to do.

"He's screwing up the process because Gaston has been waiting to see what he wants to do. Paul has great respect for the process and a high disregard for media game-playing.

"(Gaston's) disappointed in both Larry and Red (Auerbach) for violating the integrity of the process."

Team officials are convinced that because of the delays, Gaston will be unable to land a top replacement for M.L. Carr if Bird walks away.

"Gaston may end up with his third or fourth choice because of the waiting on Bird," the source said. "He's delayed the process so much he's tied Gaston's hands."

Despite the friction between Bird and Gaston because of the stalemate, Gaston still considers Bird at the top of his list. Terms of Bird's offer are unknown. Carr would assume a role in the organization involving community relations, marketing and public relations.

"The common bond between Bird and Gaston is their fierce determination to win and for that reason Bird remains Gaston's No. 1 choice," the source said. "Is (Gaston) pissed off at (Bird)? Yes.

"But is he looking at the benefit of the organization? Yes. If he can get him, he would. But he can't get an answer."

Asked why Gaston would pick Bird over some of the higher-profile candidates, including Kentucky's Rick Pitino and former Indiana Pacers coach Larry Brown, the source said: "(Bird's) a legend and he wants to win."

Neither Gaston nor Bird could be reached for comment last night.

Meanwhile Pitino, playing in a pro-am golf tournament yesterday in Hoover, Ala., left the door open for a possible return to the NBA.

"I've got to do one thing or the other, and it's going to be done next week," Pitino said. "I've got to stop this once and for all."

If the Bird deal blows up in the Celtics' faces and Pitino decides to stay put after playing rumor-mill poker, it could leave Gaston without a decent card left in his hand.

Even if Pitino views Boston as a realistic landing spot when he makes his decision, he would be best served to avoid a commitment until the Celtics' lottery position is determined on May 18.

The Celtics, with the best odds of gaining the draft's No. 1 pick, will learn their lottery fate at a televised drawing in Secaucus, N.J. Wake Forest center Tim Duncan is the impact player every NBA team covets, but the dropoff in talent is considerable after him.

Pitino, unfamiliar with abysmal seasons such as the one just experienced by the Celtics, would probably want to gauge his chances of success here before brokering a deal. He has no apparent sense of urgency to finalize plans, having denied a report there was a 95 percent chance he'd accept a five-year contract worth between $ 40 million and $ 45 million, along with 3 percent ownership interest, to coach the Celtics.

"I know Paul Gaston has not said that, and I haven't said that," said Pitino. "I've never really looked at an offer. I don't know what all this is about."

Pitino, who already has offers on the table believed to be in the $ 8 million per year range from both Golden State and Orlando, has also been courted by Philadelphia. However, 76ers owner Pat Croce, hot on Pitino's trail for about three weeks, appears to have given up the chase and refocused his attention on Brown.

Brown, who announced his resignation from the Pacers on Wednesday, had hoped to take the Celtics' job. But Gaston, buying more time for Bird to make a decision, postponed a meeting he scheduled with Brown on Monday in Los Angeles.

Pitino, a perennial object of desire for NBA teams, seemingly put the rumors about him to rest last month during a nationwide book tour that included a stop in Boston when he vowed he would return to Kentucky . But after the NBA regular season ended two weeks ago - and the latest round of rumors involving his name surfaced - Pitino has failed to make a definitive statement about his plans.

Again yesterday, he was vague in answering significant questions on whether he'll be roaming NBA sidelines next season.

"If I am back (at Kentucky) next year, and I intend to be, it's going to be with a long-term contract," said Pitino, leaving some hint as to what could be at the center of his on-again, off-again flirtation with NBA teams.

Pitino, who has three years remaining on his Kentucky contract, was expected to sign an extension before next season. But even if the school agrees to tear up his contract and raise the ante, it could not compete with the money being tossed around by NBA owners.

Should Pitino remain at Kentucky, Brown land in Philadelphia and Bird turn away Gaston's offer and defect, the fallout would leave the Celtics minus their Nos. 1 and 2 coaching choices, as well as the franchise's most recognizable legend. It would also leave them staring at an alternative list of candidates that includes ex-San Antonio coach Bob Hill and current C's assistant Dennis Johnson.

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