Clippers fire Hughes as interim head coach

The Clippers wasted no time making their first offseason change,

firing interim head coach Kim Hughes on Thursday in the team’s

third major shake-up in 2 1/2 months.

The team said on its Web site that Hughes had been dismissed

and the search for a new coach was already under way, although

there were no leading candidates.

Hughes took over as interim coach for Mike Dunleavy on Feb. 4

after seven seasons as an assistant and went 8-25 the rest of the

way. The Clippers ended another losing season Wednesday night with

a 107-91 victory over the playoff-bound Lakers.

The Clippers finished with a 29-53 record, missing the

playoffs for the 15th time in 17 years. They were 8-33 on the road,

their worst mark away from home since 1999-2000, when they went

5-36.

Hughes’ tenure began with a five-game losing streak. There

were skids of eight and seven games, too. His contract was to

expire June 30.

“I loved it,” he said Wednesday night about his first head

coaching stint after seven years as a Clippers assistant. “It’s

fun, you’re working under stressful situations, your hands are tied

sometimes.

“I got the opportunity I wanted and deserved.”

Although Hughes didn’t know if he would be around next

season, the timing of his firing surely came as a surprise. He was

scheduled to conduct player exit interviews on Thursday and attend

coaches’ meetings on Friday.

“The difficult thing will be after Friday afternoon when

you’re done with the players’ exit interviews and the coaches, what

about me?” he said. “It will be tough then.”

Hughes was sanguine about working in such uncertain

conditions.

“It’s not a normal situation, but it’s OK, it’s what it is.

If I didn’t like it, I could leave,” he said.

Hughes said he tried to coax the best efforts out of his

players, and he didn’t hesitate in benching star Baron Davis for

missing a shootaround on the road. He was unusually candid with the

media and his players.

“My whole goal is to get the most out of them,” he said. “If

I’ve got to cajole them into doing something, if I’ve got to

embarrass them, so be it.”

The Clippers have nine free agents, and Hughes said he didn’t

get an honest effort from those players.

“But I understand that. With free agency, when you have nine

guys that are looking for No. 1 first, that’s human nature. Their

objective is to get a contract for next year first,” he said.

The team said the rest of the coaching staff would stay on at

this time.

“This season was an overall disappointment and certainly fell

short of both our expectations and what should rightly have been

anticipated by our fans,” team president Andy Roeser said in the

statement. “We will move deliberately and productively to regain

the successful competitive position we had all hoped for when this

past season began.”

The Clippers were doomed to also-ran status in the powerful

Western Conference a day before the season began when it was

announced that No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin had broken his left

kneecap in the final preseason game. He was sidelined the entire

season.

Dunleavy stepped down as coach to focus exclusively on his

general manager duties in early February, then he and the team

severed ties completely on March 8. Neal Olshey took over as GM.

Roeser said the return of five key players already under

contract, the team’s salary cap flexibility, facilities, and strong

fan base make the Clippers’ coaching job “extremely attractive.”