Their paths to become head coaches in the NBA varied as widely as their personalities, but all three carried the same distinction 18 years ago. They were unwanted elsewhere.
At the annual NBA coaches meeting in New York last month, Scott Skiles (Chicago Bulls), Reggie Theus (Sacramento Kings) and Sam Vincent (Charlotte Bobcats) shared a laugh when they thought about their one season playing together with the expansion Orlando Magic (1989-90), a motley, patchwork team.
"We spent some time talking about where we are now, and reflecting on the old days together, about how we all got here," Vincent said last week when the Bobcats played in Orlando. "I would not be telling the truth if I said I saw this coming way back then."
Vincent and Theus will be making their NBA head-coaching debuts, leading teams expected to struggle just to reach the playoffs. Skiles, now in his eighth season as a head coach, has a budding team that should be a serious contender.
Considering that first-year expansion teams normally are loaded with misfits -- left unprotected by their previous employer -- finding all three from one team coaching now is more than a little unusual.
"It might seem a little surprising when you think back," Theus said Sunday night from Sacramento. "But I always thought the I.Q. of that team [in Orlando] was very high. You could tell, there was a good basketball I.Q. It's why so many guys are doing well."
Also on that first expansion team were Otis Smith, now Magic general manager; Morlon Wiley, Magic director of player development; and Jeff Turner, a former Magic broadcaster.
"We were castoffs," Wiley said. "You never could have predicted [that three would become NBA head coaches]. Not at all. They were different guys, but they all got to the same place."
Skiles and Vincent both were point guards. Theus was an accomplished shooting guard who had played in two all-star games. Skiles was the fiery one, often combative, always working the game. Vincent was more calculated and businesslike. Theus was the showman, always understanding the entertainment value of the game.
"No part of me wanted to be a coach back in those days," Theus said. "It just kind of grew on me, evolved. The love of the game never went away."
Theus, 50, played just one season in Orlando, averaging 18.9 points before he was traded to the New Jersey Nets, for whom he played one more year before finishing his career with a single season in Europe. He became an actor/broadcaster, then eventually an assistant coach at the University of Louisville under Rick Pitino. He spent the past two seasons as coach at New Mexico State, leading a surprising turnaround.
Vincent, 44, played three years in Orlando, sharing time with Skiles at point guard. He retired after the 1991-92 season. After a short stint in business, he returned full time to basketball, traveling around the world to coach the game. He was a head coach in South Africa, Greece and The Netherlands. He coached the men's and women's national teams in Nigeria. He coached in the NBA's Development League before becoming an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks last season.
Skiles, 43, lasted the longest (five seasons) in Orlando and still is one of the most popular players in franchise history. In his second season, he set the NBA record for most assists (30) in a game. He was traded to Washington, where he had one more good season before retiring with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996. He started coaching in Greece but quickly moved back to the NBA as a Phoenix Suns assistant and later became head coach for three seasons. The Bulls last season reached the second round of the playoffs, but this should be his best team.
"I've talked to both of them over the years," Theus said. "And the one thing you can say, is that we all respected the game."
NBA TRIPLE TEAM
!CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (Wednesday, 8 a.m. in Shanghai, China, ESPN2; and Saturday, 12:30 a.m., Macao, ESPN2): The Cavs may have regressed from last season because of their inability to sign their own free agents. The Magic will see them twice in China.
!CHINESE NATIONAL TEAM (Thursday, 8 a.m. in Macao, NBA TV): They don't have Yao Ming (Houston Rockets) or Yi Jianlian (Milwaukee Bucks), so how good can they be?
!SAN ANTONIO SPURS (Oct. 25, 7 p.m., at Amway Arena, No TV): The defending champs are coming next week to wrap up the exhibition schedule, so the Magic should get a good gauge on their progress before the season starts.
NBA POWER POLL
!1. SHAQUILLE O'NEAL: "I just found out the other day that he [Penny Hardaway] is older than me," Shaq said. "I never knew that. I really didn't."
!2. CHARLES OAKLEY: He may be 43 years old, but he still wants to play in the NBA. He let the Magic know he's available.
!3. UTAH JAZZ: The addition of Jeff Hornacek - as a shooting coach, not a player - was a wise move.
!4. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS: Owner George Shinn has made it clear already. If they don't reach the playoffs for the first time in four years, Coach Byron Scott won't be around very long.
!5. PAT RILEY: He didn't hesitate to let Miami Heat veteran Antoine Walker know that he was unhappy with his conditioning.
!6. SACRAMENTO KINGS: New Coach Reggie Theus wants a midnight curfew for his players on the road. Good luck with Ron Artest.
!7. MIKE WOODSON: Kudos to Atlanta Hawks coach for cutting practice short so they could listen to former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young speak on a variety of worldwide topics.
!8. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS: Their intrasquad scrimmage was halted briefly by Coach Sam Vincent because he didn't like them moaning about the officials and the calls. Good for Sam.
!9. LEBRON JAMES: There will be 150 million Chinese basketball fans tuning into the games this week to watch the Cavs star.
!10. DWIGHT HOWARD (right): The other 150 million will be watching the Magic center.
Number of regular-season coaching victories Miami Heat Coach Pat Riley needs to catch Lenny Wilkens on the all-time wins list.
The number of NBA titles won in the past nine years by all teams combined that didn't have either Tim Duncan or Shaquille O'Neal on the roster.
Number of regular-season games missed by Magic center Dwight Howard in his three NBA seasons.
nThere is a good reason why the Orlando Magic dancers were selected for the China trip and the dancers for the Cleveland Cavaliers were not. It's the dunk. The NBA has embraced Orlando's between-quarters routine in which the dancers use the mini-trampoline to prove how athletic they really are, doing their dunk contest routine that has drawn rave reviews. The Magic dancers were the first team in the NBA to do it regularly two seasons ago. "The NBA asked for the dancing dunkers," said Chris D'Orso, Magic vice president of marketing.
Camp could be worse
Magic rookie Marcin Gortat (above) is not one of those who complained about how tough training camp was this year under new Coach Stan Van Gundy, who has emphasized the running. Doing it at the RDV Sportsplex wasn't easy, but it was a lot easier than what Gortat did last season when he played in Germany. "You think this is tough, you ought to try running in the woods," he said. "That's what we had to do, run for miles out in the woods."
When he moved from Seattle to Orlando this season, forward Rashard Lewis didn't bring all his dogs, leaving behind a couple of pit bulls, which may have come as a relief to his new neighbors. Instead he just brought two, his Rottweiler and a bull mastiff. "I didn't bring the pits," he said. "I brought these other two. When I'm out of town, my girl likes them as protection. Otherwise, she leaves all the lights on."