Friday, April 20, 2001

Huggins right for Cavs

        This year, Bearcat fans, your anxiety is appropriate. It's transition time in the NBA, and Bob Huggins is bound to be tempted.

        The Cleveland Cavaliers fired head coach Randy Wittman Thursday, creating an opening that could satisfy both Huggins' ambition and his geographical comfort zone. The University of Cincinnati's basketball coach has flirted with the pros before, without result. This time, though, Huggs might be history.

        “I would have to think Bob Huggins would have an interest in the Cleveland Cavaliers job,” Chuck Machock said Thursday afternoon. “He's always talked about going to the next level, which is the NBA, and he's an Ohio person. The last time I looked, Cleveland was still in Ohio.”

Million-dollar decision

        Machock, the former UC assistant coach who now serves as the Bearcats' radio analyst, is one of the senior members of Huggins' inner circle. He knew Huggins was in Texas Thursday, chasing a recruit a day after assistant coach Mick Cronin bolted for a seat on Rick Pitino's bench. He also knew the Cavaliers' opening was sure to ignite intense speculation.

        If Huggins remains at UC for one more season, he will qualify for an annuity UC officials say is now valued between $1 million and $2 million. While this is a lot of money to leave on the table, the NBA's pay packages are on a higher plateau. Huggins rejected a 4-year, $8 million offer from the Los Angeles Clippers in July. The Cavaliers will pay Wittman $1.5 million next season to do nothing.

        “Anybody who (goes) after Bob is going to have to spend some money,” Ma- chock said. “I think he would be foolish not to look into it.”

        Cleveland general manager Jim Paxson would be equally foolish if he fails to gauge Huggins' interest early in the hiring process. The Cavs are a franchise in need of some fire, a team fresh off a 30-52 finish that played to barely 77 percent of Gund Arena's seating capacity, despite aggressive ticket discounting.

From apathy to buzz

        Following Wittman's firing Thursday, the Cleveland airwaves continued to be dominated by mock NFL drafts. In a city consumed by professional sports, the Cavs have been hard-pressed to achieve apathy.

        “There is absolutely no buzz about this team,” Cleveland columnist Bud Shaw wrote in Thursday's Plain Dealer.

        One thing you can say about Huggins: He brings the buzz.

        Paxson's stated preference is to hire someone who has been a head coach in the NBA, “somebody who has had success with both young players and experienced players and has helped build teams and grow with teams.”

        Most of the professional coaches who meet those criteria already have better jobs. The pool Paxson has to draw from probably includes such names as Del Harris, P.J. Carlesimo and perhaps Mike Dunleavy, should he lose his job in Portland.

        Though all of these men have the advantage of NBA experience, none of them is likely to cause a stampede at the box office. None of them can match Huggins' sideline act for sheer entertainment value. None of them has his Ohio roots. None of them can be expected to extract more effort from his players.

        If Cleveland is smart, Cincinnati should start worrying.

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