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The big kahuna in East is. . . . Stotts

Last summer, Terry Stotts wasn't even sure if he would be coaching the Hawks when training camp began. The pending sale of the team pretty much saved his job.

A few months later, Stotts has the most tenure of any coach in the Eastern Conference.

Last week's firing of Byron Scott in New Jersey and the resignation of Jim O'Brien in Boston increased the number of coaching changes to 14 in the 15-team East since the end of last season.

"Honestly, it's a crazy set of circumstances. I'm not sure what it says about our coaching profession," said Stotts, who was hired to replace Lon Kruger on Dec. 26, 2002. "It's a reality of our profession, and you never like seeing it happen."

Stotts remains somewhat in limbo as the sale of the Hawks drags on, with an investment group headed by Steve Belkin working to finish its purchase of the franchise from AOL Time Warner. A league spokesman had no estimate Friday on when the sale will conclude.

When the deal closes, Stotts _ along with a few Hawks players, most notably Shareef Abdur-Rahim _ could be on their way out of Atlanta. The Hawks entered the weekend at 14-33, half a game ahead of the last-place Bulls in the Central Division.

The turnover in the East has been so sweeping that Bernie Bickerstaff, hired Oct. 16 as coach of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats for next season, technically has more tenure than six of the conference's coaches: Stan Van Gundy of Miami, Johnny Davis of Orlando, Scott Skiles of Chicago, Lenny Wilkens of New York, Lawrence Frank of New Jersey and John Carroll of Boston.

Warriors coach Eric Musselman's late father, Bill, was a coach, so Musselman understands the way the business works, though he believes stability breeds success.

"I thought my dad did pretty well in Minnesota (22-60 as an expansion team, 29-53 in 1990-91) and he was only there two years. It took them seven years to equal that many wins," Musselman said.

The NBA coach with the most tenure is Jerry Sloan of the Jazz, now in his 16th season. Second is Flip Saunders of the Timberwolves, in his ninth season. There have been 161 coaching changes since Sloan took over for Frank Layden with the Jazz on Dec. 9, 1988.

STILL KINGS: Sacramento coach Rick Adelman was concerned about making the playoffs when he discovered the team would be without Chris Webber to open the season.

The Kings have not only survived during his absence, they have the best record in the conference. This isn't a better team without Webber. But it has done better than expected because center Brad Miller has exceeded expectations, Peja Stojakovic has taken his game to the next level and Bobby Jackson consistently delivers in the clutch.

"Our goal is to stay within shouting distance and be right there so when we are full strength, we can be fighting for one of the top four seeds," Adelman said. "We want to try to stay ahead of the Lakers so we have a chance to win the (Pacific) Division, which gives you at least the second seed. It's not too early to start talking about that."

And it's not too early to start talking about Webber's return. He resumes working out with the team Monday. By the end of the week Adelman hopes to have a timetable for his return.

AROUND THE RIM: David Stern begins his 20th year as commissioner today: "It's like riding a bull. You just follow it. That doesn't mean we don't follow a business plan. What I say is you always head in a general direction and then be opportunistic." The Lakers are on the road for 12 of their 15 games in February. The Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony might play the lead role in upcoming film project called Playground.

_ Information from the Associated Press and Dallas Morning News was used in this report.

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