Hawks tied for league's fourth worst record
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Hawks are starting over.
Terry Stotts has been fired by the Hawks' new owners, ending the longest current coaching tenure in the Eastern Conference after just 1½ seasons.
The move, first reported by ESPN's David Aldridge and the Atlanta Journal-Consitution on Thursday, was announced Friday.
A source told the paper that Stotts was informed of the club's decision Thursday night.
Stotts went 52-85, the third-worst winning percentage in franchise history. The Hawks finished 28-54 this season, missing the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
"It was obvious there was a lot of speculation after the season, but honestly, I didn't know which way it was going," Stotts told The Associated Press. "Having new ownership, there's always the possibility of change."
The Hawks and the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers were sold to a nine-person group of investors in March by Time Warner Inc., which took over the teams through mergers that gave it control of Turner Broadcasting.
"We believe it is important to change the direction of the Hawks' franchise," general manager Billy Knight said. "Our new ownership group is committed to building a winning product that contends for the NBA championship, and they have placed me in charge of hiring the best candidate possible to accomplish that."
The Hawks traded away stars Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Theo Ratliff in the middle of the season, leaving Stotts with a lineup of mostly journeymen players. Atlanta has only four players under contract for 2004-05 -- Chris Crawford, Jason Terry, Alan Henderson and Boris Diaw -- and the team will be more than $20 million under the projected salary cap.
The Hawks also have two first-round picks in June's draft.
Asked if the Hawks are starting over like an expansion team, Knight said, "It's fair to say that to a degree."
Knight said he hadn't talked to any potential replacements for Stotts, and didn't have any timetable for hiring a new coach. Knight also said he would be "shuffling" the team's front office, though he didn't provide specifics.
One of the team's new owners, Boston businessman Steve Belkin, said Knight already has a short list of candidates and could make a hire before the free agency period begins July 1.
"I think the new coach that we would be naming, if we do it before July 1, would be a significant draw to many of the free agents," Belkin said in a telephone interview. "I think the free agents will see our commitment to really build a strong franchise here."
Doc Rivers, a former Hawks player, might have been a candidate had he not taken the Celtics job.
Other names mentioned by the Journal-Constitution: Byron Scott, Mike Fratello and Lionel Hollins, currently an assistant coach with the Memphis Grizzlies. Knight was formerly the Grizzlies GM.
In another NBA coaching firing Friday, Tim Floyd was dismissed by New Orleans.
Five NBA coaches -- all in the Eastern Conference -- have lost their jobs since the regular season ended less than a month ago. Boston (Doc Rivers) and Philadelphia (Jim O'Brien) have hired replacements; Toronto is still looking for a new coach.
Stotts, who replaced Lon Kruger as coach in December 2002, said he was informed of the Hawks' decision Thursday night.
"There's no easy head coaching job in the NBA, every job has its own challenges," Stotts said. "You just do the best job you can.
"I think Billy Knight has the franchise in a great position to go forward, because there are so many possibilities with regard to the roster. It should be an exciting time around here, and I'm just disappointed I won't be a part of it."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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