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NBA INSIDER

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: While his peers are vacationing or keeping office hours, San Antonio coach John Lucas has started his summer "internship," coaching the Miami Tropics in the U.S. Basketball League.

Most of the players, including former Mavericks star Roy Tarpley, are recovering substance abusers, as is Lucas, who runs a chemical-abuse program in Houston. Lucas: "This is part of what I do and who I am. It's not all about winning. As long as these guys don't drink or do drugs, I'm happy."

There's another reason: Lucas needs the experience.

Lucas: "I spotted a lot of those coaches a lot of time. I stepped in with limited experience and this helps me gain experience. Maybe next year, I'll be a little better coach."

A BIT PEEVED: Knicks forward Charles Oakley is upset with his limited offensive role and says he wants out.

Oakley: "I don't know if I'll be here next year. I want to play more, but I'm not going to kiss no one's butt. Ain't no problem me being in there, hurting my team by taking a crazy jump shot."

Gee, you think he's referring to John Starks?

ON THE ROAD: With his hiring by the Pacers, Larry Brown becomes the only man to coach each of the four teams that merged into the NBA from the ABA 17 years ago: Indiana, Denver, New Jersey and San Antonio.

FOR SALE: ONE "HOT ROD': Cleveland forward John "Hot Rod" Williams has let it be known he will re-do his enormous contract if someone will trade for him and promise him a prominent role.

"He doesn't feel like he's accomplishing what he's capable of accomplishing in Cleveland," said Williams' agent, Mark Bartelstein. "He's been kind of relegated to the role of sixth or seventh man, and we really feel he could be an All-Star in this league in the right setting."

REMEMBER WHEN? Fifteen years ago, Suns coach Paul Westphal was a high-scoring Suns guard. And Bulls coach Phil Jackson was a reserve forward for the Knicks.

Westphal, in fact, was the biggest gunner in the NBA in the 1977-78 season, averaging 30.34 shots per 48 minutes. And Jackson made Basketball Digest's All-Benchwarmer team that season. Jackson played 63 games but averaged just 10:33 minutes.

THIS AND THAT: Only five times in 46 years has a team been swept in the NBA Finals. The last was Detroit beating the Lakers in 1989. Since the Lakers beat the Pistons in seven games in 1988, the Eastern Conference is 18-4 in NBA Finals games.

HE'S THE BOSS: Former Suns coach/current Suns executive Cotton Fitzsimmons is the front-runner for the Cavaliers' job. One problem: His wife, Joanne, doesn't want him to coach again.

Actually, that's not a problem, Cotton says: "I can do whatever I want to do."

Other names connected to the job: Nets assistant Paul Silas and University of Utah coach Rick Majerus. The only other vacant coaching job is the Clippers'; former Bucks and Rockets coach Del Harris reportedly is the leader.

_ Compiled by Mike Huguenin

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