LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mike Dunleavy stepped down as the Los Angeles Clippers’ head coach Thursday, retaining his job as general manager.
Assistant coach Kim Hughes will be the interim replacement for Dunleavy, who has led the Clippers to just one winning season since taking over the star-crossed franchise in 2003.
The Clippers abruptly announced the moves in an afternoon news release, saying the decision was voluntary and mutual. Los Angeles (21-28) has lost five of six heading into Saturday’s home game against San Antonio, with another once-promising season in danger of slipping away.
“It just seems clear that the team needs a fresh voice, and we hope that our players will respond in a positive way,” Clippers president Andy Roeser said in a statement.
Despite a talented roster including Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and Marcus Camby, the Clippers are in 12th place in the Western Conference. Los Angeles dropped a season-worst seven games under .500 with six losses on a just-completed eight-game road trip.
Perhaps the Clippers Curse has a bit to do with it as well: Blake Griffin, the No. 1 overall pick in last summer’s draft, will miss the entire season after breaking his kneecap in Los Angeles’ final preseason game.
Dunleavy, who said he had “several conversations” recently with owner Donald Sterling about the Clippers’ direction, is the winningest coach in franchise history — admittedly not a high bar to clear on a team with just two winning seasons in 30 years and only one playoff series victory since moving to Los Angeles in 1984.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the ideal time for me to direct my efforts toward the many personnel opportunities that lie before us, such as the trade market, the draft and the free agent process,” said Dunleavy, who added GM duties to his coaching responsibilities in 2008. “We fully expect to be active and productive on all those fronts.”
Hughes, a former ABA and NBA player who has never been a head coach, has been Dunleavy’s assistant since the start in Los Angeles. He spent several years on the Nuggets’ bench before joining the Clippers, and has been a scout in Denver and Milwaukee.
Dunleavy was 215-325 in 6 seasons on the bench, and Los Angeles made the playoffs just once in his first six seasons, getting within one game of the Western Conference finals in 2006. The Clippers haven’t been back to the playoffs since, winning just 42 games in the past two seasons.
Dunleavy played for Philadelphia, Houston, San Antonio and Milwaukee during his career, but the Brooklyn native’s entire coaching career has been downhill from his debut season with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1990-91, when he reached the NBA finals. After just two seasons with the Lakers, he coached four losing seasons in Milwaukee before a moderately successful four-season run with the Portland Trail Blazers.
After hiring Dunleavy in 2003, the much-criticized Sterling showed considerable patience, extending the coach’s contract through 2011 after that sole playoff run — and even sticking with him through the Clippers’ 19-63 misery of a 2008-09 season.
Dunleavy’s record as a personnel executive is actually fairly solid, which made his failures as the Clippers’ coach even more glaring. He replaced Elgin Baylor as the Clippers’ top basketball executive before last season, uprooting Baylor from a job he had held since 1986.
Despite adding Rasual Butler and Craig Smith to a well-stocked roster that still should have ample salary cap space to sign a major free agent this summer, the Clippers have struggled even to reach .500 this season.
“As we approach the trade deadline, the NBA draft and the upcoming free agent period, our team is very well-positioned from a salary cap standpoint,” Roeser said. “Mike’s experienced input will be vitally important as we continue to develop our young talented nucleus and shape our team’s future.”