September 24, 2009 at 1:00 am

Terry Foster: NBA Insider

Shock personnel are bullish on Bill Laimbeer

Bill Laimbeer left the Shock early this season, and is now an assistant for the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Elizabeth Conley/The Detroit News)

Shock coach Rick Mahorn peeked from inside his office and listened to guard Katie Smith talking about former coach Bill Laimbeer.

"I lovedplaying for Bill Laimbeer," she said. "I lovedworking with him."

Mahorn screamed: "Why don't you put the knife further in my back."

"Oh, shut the heck up, Rick," she hollered back.

They both howled with laughter at the give and take.

But seriously, both agree Laimbeer willbecome a great NBA coach.

Laimbeer, who resigned as Shock coach after just three games this season, is an assistant with the Timberwolves.

"You hear a lot of detractors who say he can only coach women's basketball," Mahorn said of his former teammate.

"Bill, to me, is going to be a great head coach in any league. He was a great coach in the WNBA and he will be a great head coach in the NBA if he's given that opportunity. He's very smart and determined. All he wants to do is win."

Laimbeer won three WNBA titles in six years, but could not land an NBA job.

Still, coaching women and men pose different challenges, and Laimbeer must now prove he can make the switch.

"Bottom line is he wants to win," Mahorn said. "A good coach wants to win championships and he doesn't accept anything different. He plots and he's always looking for plans to devise next year."

Mahorn even compared Laimbeer to strong-minded NBA coaches like Pat Riley, Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich.

"You look at these guys and they are not out to scare people; they are simply good at what they do," Mahorn said. "It is good to have a guy who is strong because that pushes you. You don't want to be complacent."

Fruit toss

Who should we blame if the Lakers don't repeat as champs?

It sounds like free-agent pickup Ron Artest wants to take responsibility before even taking the court with his new team.

"That is exactly what should happen if we don't repeat," Artest told reporters in Los Angeles. "They won last year and I'm the new addition. The fans expect to repeat. Everybody in L.A. expects a second ring. And if we don't, then yeah, they should point it right at me, throwing tomatoes and everything."

Money talks

The first informal contract talks between players and owners were described as "cordial and productive," but no proposals were made as the sides exchanged information.

It's going to get ugly when the NBA asks players to take less than the 57-percent cut they get from all revenues.

"Maybe the optimism will change once we get into that type of conversation," union president Derek Fisher told a group of New York reporters. "But it is very evident that everyone in the room has the same goal. That's to keep trying to grow the game into the number one sport in the world."

By the numbers

18 Points by Euro championship MVP Paul Gasol in final for Spain

$100,000

Purse for proposed Michael Jordan-Bryon Russell 1-on-1 game

A new look

Coaching changes in the NBA for 2009-10:

Team 2008--09 coach 2009--10 coach
Detroit PistonsMichael CurryJohn Kuester
Minnesota TimberwolvesKevin McHaleKurt Rambis
Philadelphia 76ersTony DiLeoEddie Jordan
Sacramento KingsKenny NattPaul Westphal
Washington WizardsEd TapscottFlip Saunders

Center of attention

Five big men who will have a productive 2009-10 season:

  • Dwight Howard, Magic: He is a dominant force inside. If only he could add a little Patrick Ewing to his game and be more accurate from 15 feet, he'd really be something.

  • Amare Stoudemire, Suns: Shaq is no longer around, and if Stoudemire can remain healthy he should be very productive. The only thing that will slow him is the Suns' more deliberate tempo.

  • Mehmet Okur, Jazz: He floats beyond the 3-point line and can work inside. He's not a great defender, but good enough in the West.

  • Shaquille O'Neal, Cavaliers: OK. He's a shell of what he used to be, but will be energized playing with LeBron James. He won't put up big numbers but will contribute important numbers.

  • Al Jefferson, Timberwolves: He should be higher, but how will he rebound from injuries? He is the Timberwolves' best option and can fill it when he is healthy and motivated.

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