Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Struggling Nuggets fire Bzdelik

by Associated Press, from Foxsports.com
Jeff Bzdelik was fired Tuesday as coach of the Denver Nuggets, who are on a six-game losing streak and struggling despite the addition of Kenyon Martin this season.

Assistant Michael Cooper was appointed interim coach.

"Right now, I really felt the team needed a change," general manager Kiki Vandeweghe said. "Sometimes it's nothing the head coach is doing wrong. It's just that a change of voice sometimes is the positive."

Bzdelik is the first NBA coach to be fired this season. Denver was expected to move near the top of the Western Conference after signing Martin, an All-Star power forward. So far, however, the Nuggets have been hurt by injuries and inconsistency.

The Nuggets started the season without power forward Nene and have used 10 different starting lineups, with star forward Carmelo Anthony missing the past five games with a sprained ankle.

Shooting guard Voshon Lenard, Denver's only legitimate outside shooting threat, was lost for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon in the opener.

Denver opened the season 2-5, won 10 of its next 12 games and has lost eight of its last nine, dropping to 13-15 after a 104-101 loss to Golden State on Monday night.

And it wasn't just the losses — it was the way the Nuggets were losing.

Denver lost six games by at least 14 points and was lethargic in several others. The Nuggets have struggled defensively, particularly inside, and that has prevented them from utilizing their fast-break offense, one of the keys to their success last year.

The low point came in a nationally televised 19-point loss to Cleveland on Dec. 3. Bzdelik said he wasn't sure which team was going to show up from game to game and even questioned whether his team was in shape — suggesting the Nuggets may have been tuning him out.

"I didn't feel like the team was responding the way we had hoped," Vandeweghe said. "These things don't happen overnight, it's an evolution. I can't pinpoint when this trend started, but it started a while ago."

Bzdelik was a longtime assistant and scout under Pat Riley in Miami and New York before getting his first head coaching job with the Nuggets in 2002. Though Denver struggled to a league-worst 17-65 record in his first season, Bzdelik was credited with turning the Nuggets into a hardworking, defensive-minded team.

A roster overhaul and the addition of Anthony made all the difference last season. The Nuggets improved by 26 games to 43 wins - the sixth-best turnaround in NBA history — to reach the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

Through all the success, Bzdelik wasn't able to get any security from the front office. General manager Kiki Vandeweghe refused to give Bzdelik a contract extension last season and it seemed the only reason he was back this year was because of a contract clause that called for his option to be picked up if the Nuggets reached the playoffs.

It was a situation that may have had Bzdelik, 73-119 in just over two seasons with Denver, looking over his shoulder.

"Do I think I'm responsible? Yes, I take responsibility," Vandeweghe said. "At the end of the day I take responsibility for all the things that go on here. These are my decisions and some of them are not fun decisions to make."

Cooper, a member of the Los Angeles Lakers' "Showtime" teams of the 1980s, coached the Los Angeles Sparks to two WNBA championships and a finals appearance in four years before joining the Nuggets as an assistant this season.

"This is tough, but my goal now is to get us playing a little better," Cooper said. "We'll concentrate on defense and just try to continue the winning ways this team ended last season and sort of started with at the beginning of the season."

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