Bobcats fire coach Mike Dunlap after 1 season
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Mike Dunlap is one and done with the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Bobcats fired Dunlap as coach Tuesday after a single season.
The Bobcats went 21-61 under Dunlap, finishing with the second-worst record in the NBA ahead of only the Orlando Magic. Charlotte won just seven games in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, but tripling last season’s victory total and a three-game winning streak to close the season weren’t enough to save Dunlap’s job.
Bobcats president of basketball operations Rod Higgins said he and general manager Rich Cho met with players and Dunlap before approaching owner Michael Jordan and asking him to make a coaching change.
“The change was allowed,” Higgins said.
Dunlap struggled at times with game management, transitioning from the college game to the NBA and handling professional athletes, often benching veteran players for weeks at a time after they’d irritated him in some way.
Higgins said player input was “a part of the process, but not the only indicator.”
During one point in the season Dunlap feuded with veteran guard Ben Gordon during a practice, and his micromanaging approach didn’t always sit well with some of the more experienced players on the roster.
“I just don’t think he was a great fit,” general manager Rich Cho said. “Probably best that we go in a different direction.”
In a statement Tuesday night, Dunlap took the high road, thanking Jordan and the entire organization for the opportunity as well as the fans for their support.
“I am very proud of the effort and hard work that the players demonstrated throughout the season,” Dunlap said. “I am looking forward to the next chapter in my coaching career.”
The move means the Bobcats will have a third head coach in three seasons.
The Bobcats hired Dunlap last June after he had been working as an assistant at St. John’s, the first person to make a direct move from an assistant coach at the college level to a head coaching position in the NBA.
Dunlap replaced Paul Silas, who was fired after the Bobcats went 7-59 in 2011-12, the worst winning percentage in NBA history at .106.
The Bobcats got off to a surprising 7-5 start, but even Dunlap said at the time he “didn’t trust” the record. The Bobcats would go on to lose 18 straight games and quickly regain their spot at the bottom of the NBA standings, where they would remain until closing with three wins and moving ahead of the Magic.
Higgins cited the team’s inconsistent play as one of the reasons Dunlap was released.
“You can characterize the season in different buckets,” Higgins said. “We started pretty strong and we finished pretty strong. But through the middle part of those two buckets we had some inconsistencies. So when Rich and I reviewed the season we came to the conclusion we needed a change.”
Dunlap entered training camp with a desire to push his young players physically, and three- and four-hour practices became the norm. Dunlap talked early in the season about disrupting teams with three-quarter presses, but those plans were quickly abandoned.
The Bobcats were outscored by 757 points this season, more than any team in the NBA.
Defensively, the Bobcats allowed 102.6 points per game, the second-most in the league, and they were the NBA’s worst shooting team at 42.5 percent.
Nuggets coach George Karl, Dunlap’s former boss in Denver, said Dunlap was on his way to Hawaii after hearing the news.
“About 80 percent of Mike Dunlap is sad and despondent because he wants to continue coaching in the league,” Karl said. ”(But) there will be a piece of him that is relieved. In general, we get paid a lot of money to do a very difficult job. Sometimes it’s not a thankful job.”
After the season, Dunlap sounded like a man politicking to keep his job.
“I never thought that we were going to blink our eyes and have 35 wins,” Dunlap said last week. “I thought it was always going to be a slog. We’re slowly moving this thing around and again, what’s perspective? The worst team in the history of the NBA (last season), all right, so how do you go from seven wins to, say, 40 wins? That’s pretty tough to do.”
The Bobcats interviewed 10 candidates last summer for the job.
Now that process will start all over.
“In the NBA, you’re not surprised by a lot because so many different things happen,” Higgins said of the decision. “It’s the business.”
With the Bobcats getting another top-five draft pick this year and having up to $21 million to spend under the salary cap, Higgins and Cho don’t believe there will be a lack of interested candidates in the position.
“Since the release our cellphones have been blowing up,” Higgins said. “It lets you know that there is interest in this job, a high level of interest.”
Higgins said it’s too early for a list of candidates but indicated he wants a coach who’s a great leader, able to develop players and great with Xs and Os.
When asked if the team is looking for a candidate with more NBA experience this time around, Cho was non-committal.
“I don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves,” Cho said. “We want to find out the best fit.”
AP Sports Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver contributed to this report.