Nash quits as GM of Bullets Resignation catches team by surprise

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When John Nash signed on as general manager and vice president of the Washington Bullets during the summer of 1990, the thinking was he would help turn around a struggling franchise. But those struggles continued, with the Bullets failing to make the playoffs during his tenure and suffering through six straight losing seasons, and Nash has decided to call it quits.

Nash walked into the office of team president Susan O'Malley yesterday and offered her a prepared statement announcing his resignation, citing "personal reasons" for the decision. There's speculation that Nash will be in line to assume the same position with the Philadelphia 76ers, who are expected any day to relieve John Lucas of his coaching and general manager jobs.

O'Malley said she planned to meet with team owner Abe Pollin last night to discuss what direction the team will take in replacing Nash. The Bullets do not have a first-round draft pick this year, but the new general manager will face the important task of re-signing free-agent forward Juwan Howard.

Nash's resignation caught O'Malley by surprise and comes less than a month after vice chairman Jerry Sachs resigned after 26 years with the team. "To say [Nash's] decision was surprising is to say you've given it thought, and I hadn't given it any thought," O'Malley said. "He had a prepared statement when I met with him. He was very prepared. The meeting was brief, and he was very complimentary of the organization and his time here."

According to O'Malley, Nash declined an opportunity to dis- cuss his resignation during a news conference -- instead offering just his prepared comments.

"For reasons that are personal, I have decided to resign from my position with the Washington Bullets, effective immediately," Nash's comments began. "My immediate plans are uncertain, but I do intend to focus on some personal family matters."

Whether those plans include working with the Sixers are unclear. Nash was the Sixers' GM before taking the same job with Washington and, despite working with the Bullets, continued to maintain his home in the Philadelphia area. New Sixers owner Pat Croce and Nash are friends, although Nash said last week that he had no interest in the job there.

"Was I approached? I'd rather not talk about it," Nash said last week of the Sixers' job. "But, no, I'm not interested in the job there."

The moment that Nash felt most proud of in his years with the Bullets was obvious by simply walking into his office -- the walls were adorned with framed newspapers of the November day in 1994 when the Bullets obtained Chris Webber for Tom Gugliotta and three No. 1 draft picks and signed Howard.

"The rebuilding is over," Nash said on that day. "It's time for winning."

Nash was widely lauded as pulling off the deal of the year. But the winning did not come as expected, and the Bullets won just 21 games.

And the way the Nash handled the bitter negotiations that led to the signing of Howard will wind up costly to the team this summer when the third-year player becomes a free agent.

During those negotiations, Howard was seeking a six-year deal worth $24 million as the fifth pick overall; the Bullets countered with a deal that, in the first year, would have paid Howard less than sixth pick Sharone Wright. Howard, after a holdout, eventually agreed to an 11-year deal only after he was given an option out of his contract after two years. Howard's new deal will likely average more than $10 million per season.

Nash also made the trade that sent the team's 1996 first-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Mark Price. Foot injuries limited Price to seven games last season, and now he's a free agent.

Washington's best season under Nash was this past season when the Bullets, despite being beset by injuries, finished with a 39-43 record and were in playoff contention until the final week of the season. By winning 18 more games than the previous season the Bullets were the second most improved team in the NBA.

Before this season, the best under Nash was the 30-52 record during his first season with the team. The Bullets have endured nine straight losing seasons.

Pub Date: 5/01/96

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