Wizards' Bickerstaff left in lockout limbo Coaches try to fill void with clinics, tape sessions as season start is delayed


WASHINGTON -- Washington Wizards coach Bernie Bickerstaff was in his element, leading stretching exercises on the MCI Center's practice court. Seconds later, as Bickerstaff offered tips on the art of shooting, he was interrupted by a question from the front row.

"Excuse me," the questioner said after raising his hand. "Can I go to the bathroom?"

It's not the type of question Bickerstaff generally hears this time of the year, normally the opening week of the NBA season. But such is the life of Bickerstaff and NBA coaches around the league, pretty much being reduced to leading kids clinics while the league's lockout cuts farther and farther into the regular season.

All of November's games have been canceled. And the lost contests likely will carry into December, as the NBA has postponed indefinitely the 1998-99 season.

The players' union and owners continue to clash in bargaining sessions that appear to be making no progress, leaving coaches caught in the middle and eager to begin the season.

"We're ready to go," said Bickerstaff, who was leading the clinic about the same time he would have been at a shoot-around in preparation for a home game against the defending NBA champion Chicago Bulls. "As a staff, we've done everything we could conceivably do to prepare. When they drop the flag, we'll ** be ready to get this under way."

If and when the season starts, the Wizards will have a short period to address some major questions: Can they re-sign free-agent point guard Rod Strickland, the league's leader in assists last season? Can Gheorghe Muresan rebound from a foot injury that forced him to miss all of last season? Will the team try to sign a free agent to boost a roster already improved by the off-season acquisition of shooting guard Mitch Richmond?

Bickerstaff, about to enter his second full season as Wizards coach, can't even begin to guess what those answers might be.

"When the time comes, we'll understand that there is a sense of urgency and we'll have to get things done," he said. "That's a situation that the entire league is going to have to deal with."

Bickerstaff and assistants Mike Brown, Jim Brovelli and John Outlaw still get together daily to map out game plans and watch tape. The staff also has made its way to college campuses.

"We've been out to the University of Maryland and we'll get out to see some college games once the season starts," said Bickerstaff, who, under NBA rules, can't discuss the lockout's issues.

"When you've been in the league for 25 years, you just roll with the punches," he added. "You just take care of the things you can take care of. Everything else is out of your hands."

Pub Date: 11/06/98

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