Clippers fire Gentry, promote Johnson

Posted: Tuesday, March 04, 2003

LOS ANGELES -- Alvin Gentry's roster of young, talented players just kept losing, and that cost him his job as coach of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Gentry was fired Monday with 24 games left in another disappointing season. Assistant Dennis Johnson replaced him.

''With Alvin, he was just too nice,'' team vice president Elgin Baylor said. ''Dennis' personality is totally different. I think Dennis is more of an aggressive person.''

The Clippers took a five-game losing streak and a 19-39 record into Monday night's game against New Orleans. They're last in the Pacific Division and have blown 20 games when holding a fourth-quarter lead.

''These decisions are never easy, and this one is especially tough, because Alvin and I had a very good working relationship,'' said Baylor, adding that he consulted team owner Donald Sterling on Sunday night and was told it was Baylor's decision to make.

Baylor said he told Gentry a while ago that a coaching change might have to be made.

''Obviously, it didn't get any better. The last 10 games, we're 2-8,'' Baylor said. ''Alvin understood this. He expected it to happen sooner. He was around longer than he probably expected. I'd given him every opportunity to try to turn things around.''

Johnson, 48, won three NBA titles with Seattle and Boston during his 14-year playing career. He was in his fourth season as a Clippers assistant.

''This is totally awkward for me,'' Johnson said, noting that he was kept on the staff by Gentry, who replaced Jim Todd. ''It's not going to be easy.''

Baylor said Johnson will coach the team the rest of the season and will be a candidate for the permanent job.

''I think Dennis will do a very good job,'' he said. ''I think he'll get the players to play hard and give the effort every night.''

Reserve guard Quentin Richardson said the players can relate to Johnson because of his experience on championship teams, and because of his no-nonsense attitude.

''D.J. doesn't care what you think about him,'' Richardson said before the game against the Hornets. ''He's going to say what he thinks is right, and what he says pretty much goes.

''He's certainly got my vote.''

Gentry, 48, had a record of 89-133 since becoming coach before the 2000-01 season. Prior to that, he was 73-72 as coach of the Detroit Pistons. He also coached the Miami Heat, in between 10 seasons as an assistant with three NBA teams.

''I know that this has been a very difficult season to endure,'' Gentry said in a statement. ''I wish so much that I could have gotten this team into the playoffs. I do believe we have good people and good players on this team. I think the players must try to make something positive out of the remainder of the season.''

Gentry was the Clippers' fourth coach in six seasons. The team last made the playoffs in the 1996-97 season, under coach Bill Fitch.

''It's very disappointing,'' Baylor said. ''We expected a lot more. We felt we had a playoff-caliber team.''

The Clippers opened this season with a 5-10 record and slumped to 17-32 by the All-Star break. They frequently were booed at home, where they're 12-19.

Adding to the Clippers' woes have been numerous injuries, and questions about whether Sterling will keep the team together next season.

Starters Elton Brand, Lamar Odom, Michael Olowokandi, Corey Maggette and Andre Miller will be free agents after the season.

Brand, the team's leading scorer, has a stress fracture in his left leg and had missed three consecutive games entering Monday night. Olowokandi underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Feb. 3, and backup guard Keyon Dooling and forward Tremaine Fowlkes also are on the injured list. Odom missed 29 of the first 43 games with an ankle injury and a sore right wrist.

But Baylor refused to blame injuries for the team's poor play.

''This was taking place before Brand went out. We had people who were capable of keeping the ship afloat,'' he said. ''You're going to have injuries.''

Previously, Johnson was an assistant with the Celtics from 1993-97. He began his head coaching career with the La Crosse (Wis.) Bobcats of the CBA in 1999-00.

Considered one of the best defensive players in NBA history, Johnson won titles with Seattle in 1979 and Boston in 1984 and '86 during a 14-year playing career. Johnson was MVP of the NBA Finals in 1979.

After hosting New Orleans on Monday night, the Clippers begin a six-game road trip Wednesday at Washington.



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