Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause, the owner and general manager of the Chicago Bulls, have been criticized daily this season, ripped for having the audacity to consider breaking up a team that has won five championships in the 1990s and is pursuing No. 6.
In the process, Phil Jackson has been a sympathetic figure, the ** successful coach being forced out. But if what Reinsdorf said last week is true, Jackson might be the villain of this soap opera.
Reinsdorf, who had been silent throughout the season, told the Chicago Tribune last week that he never said he would break up the team, that he would be inclined to invite everybody back if the Bulls win the championship this year, that Michael Jordan has decided to take the summer to decide whether he will return, and that it's Jackson who has made it clear that he does not want to return to the Bulls.
"We're definitely not closing the door to Phil's return," Reinsdorf said. "We never closed the door to Phil coming back. For the last nine years, we could not have had a better coach. But Phil is the one who keeps telling me he doesn't want to coach."
Reinsdorf said he has continued to ask Jackson whether he wants to return, most recently before Game 2 of the Charlotte-Chicago series last Wednesday. Jackson said he did not want to coach.
"The reason I kept asking him was that he kept telling me he didn't want to coach, and then every time I read a newspaper or magazine, it looked like I was trying to push him out," Reinsdorf said. "So I asked him Tuesday, and he said, 'No, I really don't want to come back.' He said things have been taken out of context and misunderstood."
Why doesn't Jackson want to return? Who knows, but maybe telling the media that he's being forced out was a motivational ploy, designed to create an "us against management" mentality to rally an aging team to another title.
If that's the case, perhaps the players -- particularly Jordan, who has been Jackson's staunchest supporter -- might believe they've been misled. And if that's the case, it will be interesting to see how the Bulls respond.
Changes in Houston
Now that the Houston Rockets have been eliminated from the playoffs, expect some major changes this summer. Only four players -- Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Willis, Brent Price and Rodrick Rhodes -- are under contract.
The Rockets would like to sign free agents Charles Barkley, Matt Bullard and Eddie Johnson. Houston also has indicated it might pursue free agents Rod Strickland, Scottie Pippen and Cedric Ceballos in an attempt to strengthen its point guard and small forward positions (now that Clyde Drexler has retired).
"We are looking at all the options, all the things we can do," coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "There might be a lot of changes. There might be moderate changes. But there will be changes just because of the age of our team."
Barkley, who missed Game 5 of the opening-round series against Utah, had surgery on Monday to reattach the torn tendon in his right triceps. He suffered the injury in the second quarter of Game 4.
"It's been a very disappointing season," Barkley said. "I was happy with the way we fought during the series. Injuries happen. That's part of the game. You can't complain."
Around the league
"I don't have anything but good feelings for Jeff," Riley said. "Somewhere I'll probably call him. My opinion has not changed about him. He likes me; I like him.
"Just like the players," he added. "When you're in a battle, there's no friends."
"He coaches like a woman? That might be one of the best compliments George has ever gotten," USC women's coach Chris Gobrecht said. "When I saw the quotes, I was surprised at the lack of imagination on Shaq's part. I mean, he couldn't come up with anything better to say?"
"If he comes back, we'll test him. One good slap on the wrist, and we'll see if he can play."
"We think before we act except for Dennis [Rodman]. We think for him."
-- Michael Jordan, when asked whether any of the Bulls could have been drawn into a fight situation similar to Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning.
"Oh, I like that. I like that. They'll change their tune after five games."
-- Indiana guard Reggie Miller, after being shown a New York tabloid headline that read "Knicks vs. Hicks."
Pub Date: 5/10/98