Editor's note: As part of "The Stein Line" every Monday, ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein takes you around the league for the latest news in "Coast to Coast."
Fast as Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has managed to settle on John Paxson as Jerry Krause's replacement, as if he knew exactly who he'd hire were Jerry Krause to ever leave, it only lends more credence to the theory that Krause was forced out -- and that the deteriorating health Krause cited was the easiest way to make the parting seem mutual. Monday's press conference to introduce Paxson comes just one week after Krause resigned suddenly.
Don't expect that kind of pace in Houston, where the Rockets are only just beginning to absorb the sting of Sunday's playoff elimination. It is still too early to know for sure if Rudy Tomjanovich will be back to coach the Rockets next season, but we can tell you this -- there will be no force out there, no matter what you've heard. Health concerns would be the only factor that prevents Rudy T. from returning to the bench.
Whether Tomjanovich was ever really at risk for dismissal is debatable. Steve Francis, however, has heard sufficient whispers and was moved in recent days to offer multiple unprompted statements backing Rudy T.
It's nonetheless hard to imagine Rockets owner Les Alexander firing Tomjanovich in any circumstance, after Rudy's 33 years with the franchise, and it's wholly implausible now, given the sensitive health situation.
Fact is, in spite of this season's penchant for losing to lesser teams, the Rockets were in position to claim the West's No. 8 spot when Tomjanovich left the team indefintiely on March 26 to focus on his treatments for bladder cancer. The Rockets are only 4-6 since under interim coach Larry Smith, with their energy and responsiveness to Mr. Mean on a downward slope, but that doesn't change the fact that Rudy was as good as ever this season, integrating Yao Ming with a training camp and without a dependable veteran or two to help the process along.
There is a chance that Tomjanovich will be forced to move into a front-office role with the Rockets if doctors determine weeks from now that his body can no longer withstand the rigors of bench life. But you can bet the only way Rudy T. would leave the club -- and his current post, since he certainly wants to keep coaching -- is if he feels he has to make that decision for his well-being.
Musselman's offseason workout
The Warriors play host to the Lakers on Wednesday night in a bid to win the season series with the champs and lock them into the sixth seed. Workaholic coach Eric Musselman then plans to take some time off.
"Going to San Diego on Thursday," Musselman said, "and I'll be back Monday morning in the office."
Musselman will take four days to reflect on a season that exceeded even his own optimistic forecasts, to return to start planning the next phase of Golden State's attempt to halt the league's longest playoff drought. It's at nine seasons and counting now, after Friday's elimination in Phoenix. Part of Musselman's plans call for him to visit each of his players in the offseason for one-on-one workouts and heart-to-heart chats.
As for the season that's ending in the next 72 hours, Musselman naturally wishes it wasn't.
"No question, we exceeded everybody's expectations," he said. "We came in knowing it was going to be really difficult. We started off 1-6 and we sat on the plane coming back from a road trip and (assistant coach Hank) Egan says, 'Let's get to 22. Let's get 22 wins (one more than last season). We started winning and thought maybe we could get to 28. Then 30 becomes a number. And then all of a sudden our confidence grew and we never talked about a number after that.
"We started talking about playoffs. Our players started talking about playoffs. As we got closer, we feel like we were part of a playoff race. We were outsiders, but we were. It gives us a lot to build on this summer."
The fear, of course, is that Gilbert Arenas will sign in Denver or Miami to kickstart the next unraveling. In the West, which isn't getting any easier, the Warriors can't afford to lose arguably their best player. Much as they (and everyone else) now love Earl Boykins, the Warriors need to keep Arenas and keep adding to what they have. Dependable size, proven perimeter shooting and veteran leadership are a few areas of concern.
"We need to figure out a way to re-sign Gilbert," Musselman said. "If not, I hope there's a Plan B."
For a workaholic like Musselman, it'll be tough to rest easy until he knows Arenas' fate. Of course, since he's also an optimist, Musselman likes Golden State's chances, believing that the franchise's fortunes are changing just as his did.
"I feel like I'm the luckiest guy in the world, and that dreams do happen," said Musselman, who went from little-known assistant to Coach of the Year contender in one season. "A couple years ago I was sitting behind the bench in Orlando. I just wanted a seat on the bench so I didn't have to look around the other assistants."
Jermaine to join Team USA next
Sacramento's Mike Bibby and Utah's Karl Malone officially joined Team USA on Monday, as ESPN.com reported they would in February. With Stu Jackson, the NBA's liason to USA Basketball, letting it slip on a national conference call last Thursday that Philadelphia's Allen Iverson has also been extended an invitation, that puts the focus on the frontcourt.
That's where Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal is apparently next, to join Malone and San Antonio's Tim Duncan as the only big men under contract. USA Basketball continues to hope that Minnesota's Kevin Garnett will accept a standing invite, but there was never going to be hesitation from the Pacers' O'Neal, who is bursting for the chance to atone for his role in the United States' sixth-place finish at last summer's World Championships in Indy.
"It was an awful time for myself and I know for Reggie (Miller), to not only lose for my country but to lose on the court we both play on," O'Neal said. "That made it even more embarrassing. (Being re-selected) would mean a lot."