Wait is Almost Over

May 1997

Very soon, the 15 Days of Coaching Questions will end. Next coach of the Celtics? We'll know by tomorrow or Wednesday if, as it now appears, Rick Pitino will be moving his clipboards and motivational books to Merrimac Street.

Next coach of the Sixers? This afternoon, former Celtics candidate Larry Brown will take that job. The intentions of Larry Bird? By midweek, we'll know if the Legend will return to his home state (Indiana) and collect a $ 4.5 million salary or take the unlikely route: stay with the Celtics.

This is indeed the week of decisions. Throughout New England, members of the Celtics' most recent coaching staff will await word of what they will do next. First assistant Dennis Johnson will be by the phone, waiting to hear if he will serve the remaining two years of his contract here. If not, he'll head to his home in Orlando and wait for his agent to land him some coaching interviews. K.C. Jones and John Kuester, the other Celtics assistants, also will wait and see if they are in the new Celtic coach's plans.

M.L. Carr will be waiting, too. Last weekend, he again repeated that his goal is to see title banner "No. 17 raised to the rafters." But will Carr do that as director of basketball operations? Or will he become more active in the executive vice president side of his job?

Chairman of the board Paul Gaston did not want to comment on team issues when he was reached at his Connecticut home last night. But 15 days after Carr announced he was going to relax in the Carolina sand, things finally appear to be coming into focus for the Celtics.

Players have been whispering all week that they hear Pitino is on his way to town. There was no hushed talk last night in a Lexington, Ky., gym. Antoine Walker may be a rookie, but he got a head start on his teammates by hanging out with the man who may be his coach in 1997-98.

A Walker sighting in Kentucky is not unusual, considering that he played for the Wildcats and helped them win the 1996 NCAA title. His timing, though, is perfect. Remember: this is Decision Week. Walker is in Kentucky at the same time Pitino is expected to tell his players of his whereabouts next season. And, once again, Walker wanted everyone to know that he has no problems with Pitino. You wonder if he would persist at making that point if Pitino were not going to be his coach. You also wonder if Pitino would have been so quick to call Walker's agent, David Falk, if he didn't think the best player of his potential next employer might leave in two years.

If the final decisions include Pitino in Boston, the next phase of questions will focus on the turnaround powers of a coach. When Pitino was in New York, he took a 24-win Knick team in 1987 and turned it into a 38-win squad in '88. Then he pushed that team to the 52-win level and a division title in '89. He also had Patrick Ewing and Rookie of the Year Mark Jackson.

Many will want the coach to do the same here. But he has to come here first. Will he or won't he? Everyone will know in the next 48 hours.

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