November 24, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Eddie Jordan was fired as coach of the Washington Wizards on Monday after opening the season 1-10 without injured starters Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood.

"That's an unacceptable record, obviously," team president Ernie Grunfeld said at a news conference to introduce director of player development Ed Tapscott as interim coach. "We had to do something. The way we're losing games was unacceptable."

The Wizards' record matches the worst start in franchise history; the only other time the team was 1-10 was in 1966, when it was called the Baltimore Bullets. The final straw for Jordan appears to have been a 122-117 loss Saturday night to the undermanned New York Knicks, who had only seven players available.

"We lost games we were supposed to win -- especially that one," second-year guard Nick Young said.

Tapscott ran his first practice as an NBA head coach Monday morning and vowed to place a strong emphasis on defense -- something Jordan repeatedly promised, too. Washington is allowing 103.5 points per game, which ranks 27th in the 30-team league.

"We've been a little sieve-like, letting people go down the lane," Tapscott said. "Our philosophy will be: 'Protect the rim and the lane."'

He will coach the team for the rest of this season. Grunfeld said he'll "evaluate everything" in the offseason.

While never before a head coach in the pros, Tapscott has plenty of front-office experience, including as president and chief operating officer of the Charlotte Bobcats and, before that, as vice president of player personnel and basketball operations for the Knicks in the 1990s. He coached at American University in the 1980s.

"We all respect him," co-captain Antawn Jamison said. "We know he has a great basketball IQ."

Associate head coach Mike O'Koren also was fired Monday.

"It just felt like we were going in the wrong direction," Grunfeld said. "If felt a little stale."

Jordan was in his sixth season with the Wizards and led the team to the playoffs each of the past four -- the longest postseason streak for a Washington coach since Dick Motta did it from 1976-80. Under Jordan, though, the team made it past the first round only once.

In September, shortly before the start of training camp, the Wizards picked up a one-year option to keep Jordan under contract through the 2009-10 season. That, along with the injury-depleted roster, were reasons Jordan's job was thought to be safe -- and why Monday's move came as something of a shock, despite the team's record.

"It's surprising. I don't think any of the players saw it coming," Haywood said.

Jordan leaves as the Eastern Conference's longest-tenured coach and No. 3 in the NBA behind Jerry Sloan of the Utah Jazz and Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.

"This was an extremely difficult decision because I'm personally very fond of Eddie," Wizards owner Abe Pollin said in a statement released by the team. "He helped bring our franchise back to the playoffs. ... I will forever be grateful for his dedication and hard work. However, sometimes circumstances force changes. Our team is not performing to my expectations and I felt it was time to make a change."

Jordan came into this season with a 196-214 mark with the Wizards, but that included a rebuilding 25-57 record in his first season. Since then -- with a fast-paced offense built around Arenas and also featuring All-Star forwards Jamison and Caron Butler -- Jordan helped turn the Wizards around.

He was the East's coach at the 2007 All-Star game.

But the Wizards have struggled to even be competitive at times this season, with Arenas recovering from his third operation on his left knee in 11/2 years, and with Haywood out for perhaps the entire season after surgery on his shooting wrist.

Washington opened 0-5, then beat the Jazz at home to avoid the first 0-6 start in franchise history. That victory, though, was followed by another five-game losing streak.

The only NBA team with a worse record is the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are 1-13 and fired coach P.J. Carlesimo over the weekend.

Tapscott's debut will come Tuesday night, when Washington hosts the Golden State Warriors.

He joined the Wizards' front office in August 2007 after spending a year as an analyst for the team's television broadcasts. He was fired in 2006 by the Bobcats.

Tapscott was an assistant to current Maryland coach Gary Williams at American University in the 1970s and became head coach in 1982. In eight seasons at AU, Tapscott finished with 119 victories.

"This is not the end of the season. This is not the end of the world," Jamison said. "We've got to move forward."

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