Sunday, February 29, 2004

Silas understands Baker's demons



By MIKE DOUGHERTY
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

Paul Silas considers himself a lucky man since most alcoholics never find a way to deal with their unquenchable desires.

The admission came this week in response to a question about Vin Baker, who's dealing with his own demons and lining up a new job. No rush to judgment was made as the sympathetic coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers shared his own personal history.

"After every game, there was beer in the locker room," Silas said of his playing days. "You were dehydrated, and instead of drinking water, I'd have a couple beers and chug them down right away. Guys that didn't drink, I'd grab theirs and put them in my stall. I'd have five or six beers before I left the locker room. It got progressively worse from there."

Nobody even blinked at binge drinking in the mid-1960s.

"I'm sure it did (affect my play)," he said. "I look back on it and I wonder how I made it through. It was a normal part of life then. The rigors of the game weren't nearly as tough as they are now."

And the Celtics never would have considered releasing Silas like they did Baker, who's currently fighting to recover $35 million in lost salary.

Times have changed.

"I could really drink a lot of alcohol, and I liked it," said Silas, whose father was also an alcoholic. "I drank anything. When we traveled, in first class, they had those little bottles. I would take them from all the guys who didn't drink and put them in the barf bag and take it back to the room."

Remarkably, he quit almost cold turkey.

After getting fired by the San Diego Clippers, his first coaching job, Silas went to work for his former agent. Old habits remained unchanged until a sobering ride home more than 30 years after the drinking began.

"I was working in New York and was (driving) home and got lost in a drunken stupor," he said. "I started praying and said, 'Lord, if you let me find my way, I won't take another drop.' It was like an illumination. I saw a sign showing where I was.

"I went home and told my wife, 'That's it.' She knew. This was something I had to deal with. I'm glad I did."

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Unenviable position: There isn't much left in Atlanta after general manager Billy Knight pulled off three deals that moved talent and slashed payroll. The season has been written off and the franchise is finally starting over.

Hawks coach Terry Stotts has been asked to play out the string.

"I've told Terry this privately and publicly that I appreciate his understanding through all of these things because it's tough for a coach to be in the situation that he's in," Knight said. "His job is to go out there and win games and I'm changing players all the time on him."

With the trade deadline passed, Stotts at least knows what he's dealing with.

"Everybody knows why the trades were made," he said. "The best thing for everyone is to play hard and play together and make the best of it. Whatever happens these last games is going to be a reflection on them as individuals."

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Playing scared: Teammates winced as Tim Duncan limped off the court Thursday with a knee injury. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich began to search the bench for help and quickly realized this team is not equipped to deal with a loss of this magnitude.

"I sensed a significant reduction in talent," Popovich said with his usual dose of sarcasm. "We're not a team of All-Stars. We're a team of Tim Duncan and role players. He's much more important to us than other people's stars because they usually have more than one."

Very true.

San Antonio without Duncan is like Dallas without Dirk Nowitzki, Antoine Walker and Michael Finley. A repeat postseason performance is highly unlikely if the back-to-basics All-Star is not playing at full strength.

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Just a thought: Sacramento headed down the coast and beat the Los Angeles Lakers this week even though it didn't have Chris Webber, Brad Miller or Bobby Jackson. So who's the favorite to win the NBA championship now? When the injuries heal, the Kings will have a more talented roster. Or maybe the Lakers are sandbagging. The league's best rivalry is about to get even more interesting.

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Quotable: With negotiations on a two-year contract extension dragging, Shaquille O'Neal has begun to snipe. The dominating Lakers middle man has general manager Mitch Kupchak in his sights this time. "The general manager we have needs to take notes from me," O'Neal said. "It's a fact. Because if I was general manager, with a team like this, there'd be no problems. No problems with the Diesel, no problems with the coach, no problems with the Kobester, no problems with the owner." The sides are reportedly $9.5 million apart.

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Around the rim: Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan has been dealing with frustrated players most of the season. He's got a proven method, though, and usually gets things straightened out. Benching guys usually does the job. "You know my motto," he said. "To the seat to the butt to the brain." ... Frustrated over picking up offensive fouls due to what he termed "flopping," Houston Rockets guard Cuttino Mobley blasted the officials. "Be consistent if you're a referee," he said. "You take classes in the summertime. There's some calls I can't believe they even make. Competence is one thing, but incompetence is another." ... Toronto coach Kevin O'Neill is getting a pretty good idea of what Lenny Wilkens had to go through last season now that Alvin Williams has joined fellow starters Vince Carter and Jalen Rose in street clothes. "That hurts us big time," he said. "It just never ends, does it?"




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REDS / BASEBALL
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Inside camp
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COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Bearcats back on top in C-USA
Smaller rotation pays big dividends
Musketeers finally fall off tightrope, derailing hopes
NCAA hopes dealt blow
Kentucky, LSU heading in opposite directions
RedHawks hit pothole in quest for No. 3 seed
Top 25: Stanford, St. Joe's stay the course
Creager's 22 points lead NKU women

PREP SPORTS
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SUNDAY PAGE TWO
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