DENVER -- A Washington Bullets team that had been picked by many to compete for the Atlantic Division title had been reduced to a laughingstock. Back-to-back blowout losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz -- by a combined 52 points -- were described by some players as the worst losses of their careers. On any level.
So when the players, on their way to a morning shootaround yesterday, were told that Jim Lynam had been fired as coach, the news did not come as a total surprise.
"We had to make a change," Bullets forward Juwan Howard said. "And we, as mature adults, have to understand the change and have to move forward. I understand the position that Wes Unseld took, and all of us in the organization have to support it."
The Bullets, with no major injuries and some of the youngest talent in the league, took a 22-24 record into last night's game against the Denver Nuggets -- their identical record after 46 games a year ago.
The team has shown its potential only in flashes, and the possibility of not making the playoffs was becoming a reality, with the Bullets with the 10th-best record in the Eastern Conference.
Earlier this season, the team said some of its problems were the result of its new players not yet having jelled, but recently the talk became more serious, with Howard saying earlier this week that the Bullets needed to "to correct something that's within the family," and, "We, as a team, as an organization, have to find out what the problem is."
Rod Strickland, who has a history of conflicts with coaches, never said anything publicly about the Bullets this season. Yesterday, Strickland, who has been in the playoffs each of his first nine seasons in the league, said that something needed to happen.
"I obviously think something's wrong and we had to change up in some kind of way," Strickland said. "I don't know if that meant the coach or whatever. But I definitely think it was time for a change."
Calbert Cheaney said the losses this week "were embarrassing." The fact that the Bullets were made fun of on ESPN the morning after the Utah game didn't sit well with the players.
"It would tick me off, to see something like that on television," said Cheaney, who did not see the ESPN report. "I guess they're treating us like we're a high school team. We're going through some things that we just can't figure out right now. But when we get it going, it's going to be fine."
The man to lead the way, at least temporarily, is assistant coach Bob Staak, who coached for 10 years on the college level at Wake Forest and Xavier. Staak met first with Lynam yesterday, then with Lynam and general manager Wes Unseld.
"It's a tough business, and you know something like this can happen," Staak said. "When you're not performing up to what people's expectations might be, it's a part of the way things go. I know where people are coming from."
Even though the players said a change was necessary, all said they felt sorry that Lynam was the fall guy for the team's woes.
"My heart goes out to Coach," Webber said. "He's a good person. That doesn't have anything to do with the business, but he's a good person and a good coach.
"He's definitely a person who could relate and do his job," Webber added. "Not too many coaches, I feel, can coach and be a good person in their relationship with you. My heart goes out to his family, but it's part of the business."
Jim Lynam's career record
Season Team W-L Pct.
1983-84 San Diego 30-52 .361
1984-85 S.D./L.A. 22-39 .361
1987-88 Phila. 16-23 .410
1988-89 Phila. 46-36 .561
1989-90 Phila. 53-29 .646
1990-91 Phila. 44-38 .537
1991-92 Phila. 35-47 .427
1994-95 Wash. 21-61 .256
1995-96 Wash. 39-43 .475
1996-97 Wash. 22-24 .478
Pub Date: 2/06/97