I pick my way toward the VIP area of a sweatbox of a nightclub. I brush past a bouncer, walk over, grab a stray chair next to the Man.

"What's up, 'Sheed?"

"Not much, man. What can I do for you?"

"'Sheed, look. The draft's Wednesday, and we have no coach. Not that I'm surprised, after last season's freaking abortion--no offense, man."

"None taken."

"Anyway, you know how Whitsitt is with the media. Adversarial, if not Nixonian. And so we're chasing after rumors of this Bucks assistant or that Sixers assistant or Mike Fratello or Jeff Van Gundy or John Thompson, for God's sake. I need to know what Whitsitt's playing at."

'Sheed smiles. "That's the 64-cent question, ain't it?"

"Hey, I'm dyin' over here."

Taking a crafty look around, 'Sheed leans in close. He whispers. "You really wanna know?"

I offer him a blank look.

"It's gonna be Bob himself, fool."

I gasp. "No!"

"Check it out, man. He finally found someone who could agree with him on every move. Someone who agrees that it was a good idea to bring Strickland in last year. Someone who will also 'vouch' for Kemp. Himself."

My head whirls. "But, 'Sheed...it's all so...so..."

'Sheed grins and leans back with an air of sick satisfaction. "Diabolical," he concludes. "Yeah."

OK, so this was a dream. Rasheed Wallace and I don't rendezvous for cocktails and confidences. The above passage is pure fiction, bearing no resemblance to reality aside from being loosely based on a scene in my sleeping subconscious the other night. Must've eaten too close to bedtime.

I have no more clue than the next buffet-stained scribe as to whom Bob Whitsitt, maximum leader of our beloved Blazers, will hire. Since Whitsitt put poor Mike Dunleavy out of his misery last month, the media have floated a bewildering menagerie of candidates, from incumbent and former coaches to NBA assistants and wildcards. Even veteran Blazer writer Dwight Jaynes, host of KPAM's daily "Whitsitt's Follies," has been stumped. Whitsitt, meanwhile, has liberally tossed out red herrings (he might hire a woman! his "real" candidate hasn't been named in the press!...). At the moment of this writing--the weekend before Wednesday publication--rank fiction seems as reasonable as any response. Of course, if Whitsitt moves on Tuesday, after we go to press, this could all be moot. But, to try to take things seriously, a few speculative thoughts:

New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and ex-Georgetown guru John Thompson have both figured in the public guessing game. I'd bet dollars vs. donuts that neither will stalk the Rose Garden sidelines next year.

Van Gundy might relish an escape from the New York media and that nasty Charlie Ward. Still, it's hard to imagine Mr. Nervous relishing a stint in the 'Sheed/Kemp/Arvydas asylum.

This week, I called the Knicks. The spokesman politely declined to comment on Van Gundy's status, but asked a question--"Is it big out there, about Jeff?"--with what sounded like genuine puzzlement. Could be a clue!

Meanwhile, Thompson boasts a great college résumé. And it has been, shall we say, strongly suggested that some Blazers might appreciate playing for a black coach. It's hard to figure, though, why a man who has very little to prove, and who is accustomed to the czar-like prerogatives of a major-college coach, would want to work for the Blazers. Whitsitt has made it pretty clear exactly where the buck stops with this organization, and it isn't on the coach's desk.

That leaves us looking at two kinds of candidates: seasoned but unremarkable ex-coaches like Mike Fratello, late of Cleveland and Atlanta, and up-and-coming assistants hungry for a shot, like Philly's Maurice Cheeks, a known and highly touted candidate. In all, I'd say a choice from the latter category is more likely. Whitsitt will want a man who's absolutely in his corner. A guy who's just happy to be here would be more excited about taking on an aging, loony, financially-overextended roster assembled by someone else.

Of course, I could be dreaming. Coach Allen, is that you?

Of course, the delay in naming a coach leaves open the possibility that the Blazers are mulling the candidate suggested in this column's online version last week: hip-hop god

Busta Rhymes


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