Sunday, March 30, 2003

Talk of coaching changes begins

NBA insider

Enquirer wire services

You're aware of the big-name free agent players available this summer. But need a big-name free agent coach? New Orleans coach Paul Silas should be available.

Silas tried to get an extension of his $1.5 million annual contract last off-season. But strained relations with management negated such a move, and it appears more and more likely Silas will be looking for another team.

The latest rumor is he'll wind up in Toronto, replacing Lenny Wilkens. The two coaches just happen to share the same agent.

"It's still a business," Silas said. "Like anyone else, you become a free agent, and you listen."

Although Byron Scott has a year left on his contract in New Jersey, he might be jettisoned, too. And, of course, while Don Nelson remains under contract in the Mavericks organization for seven more seasons, his future as head coach is cloudy.

HARDAWAY'S PACE: Point guard Tim Hardaway is happy to be back in the NBA, after signing with Indiana this week. Hardaway received a warm welcome when he entered the Pacers' game against Chicago Friday night. The Pacers led 31-25 and were ahead 53-32 when he left six minutes later.

"I can shoot the ball. I can score. I always wanted to come back and play for a playoff team," Hardaway said. "They have some young guys, and I feel I can give them some veteran leadership. I didn't think this day would come. A whole lot of folks have been forgotten about. It's not only me. Guys like Mitch Richmond. Teams want to go young and save money. I have proven a lot of people wrong in the past, and I'll show I can still play and prove some more people wrong again."

ATTACK ON SHAQ: The Sacramento Kings , believe they have solved "Spalding-gate." Now they can only hope Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal is satisfied with the results.

The Kings concluded a courtside fan - and not a team employee - was responsible for defacing O'Neal's game ball last week in Sacramento.

"I hope Shaq accepts our apology," Kings owner Joe Maloof told the Sacramento Bee, "because that guy could take me and dunk me."

Here's what the Kings discovered: During a fourth-quarter timeout, the ball was handed to a boy sitting courtside (not uncommon during NBA games). It then was passed among a group of fans, one of whom scribbled on it with ballpoint pen.

After the final buzzer, Lakers spokesman John Black retrieved the ball to give to O'Neal, who had scored his 20,000th point during the game. Black discovered the profane message - "Shaq is an (expletive)" - immediately and the next day sent the ball back to Sacramento.

$51,000 IN CHILD SUPPORT? Former NBA player Ralph Sampson appeared in federal court this week on charges he failed to pay more than $51,000 in child support.

Sampson, 42, was indicted last week in Richmond, Va., for failing to pay $21,628 in child support for a daughter who lives in Falmouth, Va., according to court documents unsealed this week. He also is charged separately for failing to pay $29,542 in child support for another daughter who lives in Charlottesville, Va.

WAR OF WORDS: During a recent game, Detroit's Ben Wallace got into a shouting match with injured Chicago forward Marcus Fizer near the Bulls' bench. Said Wallace: "It was just some guy trying to be tough with a pink tie on." Countered Fizer: "He sure didn't come close enough to say anything to me. And by the way, let him know that the tie was Gucci."

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