Denver Nuggets Fire Coach Hanzlik
Apr. 20, 1998
DENVER (AP) _ Bill Hanzlik's first season as coach of the Denver Nuggets was one of the worst in NBA history. There won't be a second.
The Nuggets fired Hanzlik on Monday, one day after completing an 11-71 season, leaving the team rebuilding again and looking for its eighth coach this decade.
For almost the entire season, the Nuggets were a threat to surpass the league's worst record ever _ 9-73 by the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers.
They managed to avoid that dubious record by two games and they did it with rookies and journeymen.
Hanzlik, 40, who has two years remaining on the contract he signed before the season, won't be around for the next effort at rebuilding, after being dismissed along with assistants T.R. Dunn and Brian Winters.
``The Nuggets franchise must move forward and put this disappointing season behind,'' vice president and general manager Dan Issel said. ``We will continue to evaluate every level of the organization and focus on returning the Nuggets to respectability in the NBA.''
Issel's hiring, on March 25, seemed to seal Hanzlik's fate. Issel replaced Allan Bristow, who had hired Hanzlik, his good friend, but then became the first victim of the horrible season was he was fired in February.
``Bill Hanzlik is a good man,'' Issel said. ``Bill Hanzlik was basically thrown into a no-win situation. Is it fair? Probably not.''
Before the season, the Nuggets had devised a master plan in which they jettisoned most of their veterans, made room under the salary cap and acquired draft picks.
In a series of questionable personnel moves that followed the loss of center Dikembe Mutombo in 1996, Mark Jackson, Dale Ellis, Ricky Pierce and Ervin Johnson departed last spring.
Forward Antonio McDyess was shipped off to Phoenix in October for draft picks after the Nuggets balked at his salary demands.
Those who remained to start the season included LaPhonso Ellis, Eric Williams, Bryant Stith and Johnny Newman.
Ellis was slowed by his recovery from a torn Achilles' tendon, although he played well toward the end of the season. Williams blew out a knee in the fourth game of the season, and Stith missed more than 40 games with foot and ankle problems.
Rookies Bobby Jackson, Danny Fortson, Eric Washington and Tony Battie were forced into significant playing time, with varying degrees of success.
The team became something of a league laughingstock, as well as an afterthought in the sports-crazy city of Denver.
``Playing Denver is like playing a high school team,'' Chicago's Dennis Rodman said during the season. ``This is the worst team in the history of basketball.''
Nuggets players said they were not surprised by the firing.
``Not really _ the way we played this year and the way things went,'' Jackson said.
``I think it was just a situation where we just trying to compete and compete and we knew we were just undermanned, and frustration set in,'' forward Joe Wolf said.
There has been speculation that the team would try to draw a big-name coach _ George Karl and Phil Jackson have been mentioned _ to turn the team around. With salary cap room and a lottery draft pick, as well as the talented Ellis, there may be a way to resurrect the team.
Hanzlik _ who had no head coaching experience but had been an assistant for six seasons, the most recent with the Atlanta Hawks _ was the Nuggets' seventh head coach of the 1990s. He replaced Dick Motta, who was fired after the previous season.
Hanzlik was a popular player with Nuggets who kept close ties to the community even while coaching elsewhere.
He averaged 7.2 points a game in 11 seasons in the NBA, the final nine in Denver. His best season was 1986-87, when he averaged 13 points and 3.5 rebounds.