Paul Silas was appointed interim head coach of the Charlotte Hornets today, one day after Dave Cowens quit because he felt he was not being paid enough.
Silas, the only one of Cowens' three assistants with previous NBA head coaching experience, takes over a team struggling on and off the court.
"Where this thing is going, who the heck knows?" said Silas, a friend and former Celtics' teammate of Cowens. "Hopefully, miracles do happen."
Cowens, dissatisfied with his salary, walked into the office of general manager Bob Bass before the team's practice Sunday at its training center and quit.
Cowens, the only coach to lead the Hornets to consecutive 50-win seasons (54-28 in 1996-97, 51-31 in 1997-98), signed a three-year, $1.89 million contract in May 1996. The contract called for him to get $575,000 his first year, $625,000 last year and $675,000 this season.
Bass described the reasons as "irreconcilable differences," but refused to elaborate, and team owner George Shinn could not be located for comment.
But Charlotte's players and assistant coaches, including Silas, said the resignation stemmed from Cowens' frustration at Shinn's refusal to give him a raise.
"I guess he just couldn't take it any more," Silas said after running what was described as a somber practice following Cowens' departure. "It really, really hurt him, this whole situation."
Shinn has been accused of unwanted sexual conduct by three women, and fans are calling for him to either start paying top dollar to keep good talent or to sell the team.
Injuries have sidelined Charlotte's top two players, and one of them, Glen Rice, reportedly is about to be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. The team is 4-11 and attendance has plummeted for a club that used to be among the NBA's leader in sellout crowds.
"I hate to see this once-proud franchise headed in the direction it's headed," said forward Chuck Person, a 12-year NBA veteran in his first season with the Hornets.
"I know that when I played in Indiana and even with San Antonio, when we came to Charlotte it was really a home court and the fans were really some of the best fans in the world just from being around Carolina basketball. And now to see how the fans respond when our product runs on the floor, it's definitely a different scenario."
Person and the rest of the Hornes who spoke after Sunday night's practice all voiced support for Cowens, voted one of the NBA's 50 greatest players.
When Cowens went to Shinn last season and said he felt he should receive the NBA average of about $1.3 million, the Hornets offered him a four-year, $5.2 million extension. But Shinn reportedly withdrew the offer in February 1998 because he didn't feel Cowens was being appreciative enough.
Cowens went public with complaints about his salary last month as the team struggled to get started during the lockout-shortened season.
"Coach just decided he had to do what's best for him," forward J.R. Reid said. "For whatever reasons, Shinn and Coach didn't get along and couldn't work out the contract."
Silas said he tried to talk Cowens out of resigning.
"I told him there's just two more months left in the season, but his mind was made up," Silas said. "At this point in the season, it's just shocking. That's the only word I can use."
Silas, who joined Cowens on NBA championship teams in Boston in 1974 and 1976, was with five other teams during his 16-year playing career.
He coached the San Diego Clippers from 1980-83, compiling a 78-168 mark. Silas was an assistant with New Jersey, New York and Phoenix before joining the Hornets in 1997. He interviewed last summer for head-coaching vacancies in Chicago, Sacramento and Seattle, but wasn't offered any of the jobs.
"This is a difficult position to be in," he said as he left the training center Sunday night, five hours after Cowens quit. "But if you're called upon, then I think you have to accept it for the good of the organization, for the good of the team."
Point guard B.J. Armstrong said the coaching change could give the team a fresh start.
"I think throughout all of this something positive will happen, because this is one less thing for us to be concerned about," he said.
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