Don Casey says he is somewhat uncomfortable about taking over as coach of the Los Angeles Clippers because the man he replaces, the fired Gene Shue, is his friend.
But he wasted no time in putting his young, injury-prone and lackluster team on notice.Casey, an assistant under three Clipper head coaches, was named interim coach for the rest of the season after Shue was fired Thursday.
The Clippers are 10-28, the same as the expansion Charlotte Hornets.
"This team, to me, has not stood up and declared itself - whether it's a pure fast-break team, if it's a power-inside team, or if it's a pick-and-roll team," Casey said at a news conference Thursday evening. "I don't think the character and concept of this team has declared itself.
"My one rule is, I'm going to say to these players (today), `Listen, this is my day in the sun. If you don't play hard, you're not going to play and I don't care who you are . . . I've got 44 games, and I'm going for it. If you're with me, fine. If you're not, you go your way.'
"These fellows are young, they're used to playing a lot because they're right out of college, they're used to being the star. But they're in the NBA now, and this is what's coming down," Casey said.
The Clippers have foundered despite having had three first-round draft picks each of the last two years, including No. 1 pick Danny Manning in 1988. But Manning is out for between nine months and a year with a knee injury.
The Clippers dropped their 11th straight game Wednesday night, bowing 111-90 to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Since they are off until next Wednesday's game at Dallas, the Clippers will work out at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion for three or four days, Casey said. "It will be a period of hard work and we'll get acquainted."
There have been complaints that the hard surface at Cal State Dominguez Hills, where the Clippers have practiced, has been tough on the players' knees.
Casey said he spent most of Thursday in meetings with team executives to clarify his situation. He said he spoke with Shue several times and with other NBA coaches and general managers before accepted the offer.
He hinted that if the Clippers play well, he will be back next year as head coach.
Casey said that, while the promotion is a good opportunity for him, it is "somewhat uncomfortable" because he and Shue are friends.
"It's not like a celebration; it's been so exhausting this week," he said. "(Wednesday night), personally, was a very difficult night. Because quite frankly, if we upset the Lakers, we may not be sitting here tonight. I mean that's the frailty of this business. We really coached hard last night.
"(Laker assistant coach) Randy Pfund came up to us and said their offense hasn't been jammed up this much in a while. Players were tuned in."