Assistant Jent will finish season as coach

Updated: March 18, 2005, 10:58 AM ET
Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. -- In the midst of a six-game losing streak, the Orlando Magic decided it was time for a shake-up.

Johnny Davis
Johnny Davis was 51-84 in his two seasons at Orlando.

Coach Johnny Davis was fired Thursday, with the Magic moving closer to falling out of playoff contention. Assistant Chris Jent was named interim coach.

"Certainly, it's not the way we would like things to play out," said general manager John Weisbrod, who signed Davis to a two-year deal in 2003.

Davis was dismissed along with assistant coach Ron Ekker hours after Wednesday night's 110-102 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, dropping the Magic to 31-33 and leaving them tied with Philadelphia for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

"I still feel like we have our fate in our own hands, but I don't know how much longer we would have had that if we didn't get some kind of a jolt," Weisbrod said via conference call from Seattle, where the team is in the middle of a West Coast road swing.

"If I had thought our team was less capable than I think it is, then it would have been easier here down the stretch to accept our fate. ... But I happen to think an awful lot about our team."

Davis, a low-key coach, seemed to lose control of his players. In Sunday's 98-82 home loss to New Jersey, the Magic received several technical fouls and scuffled with the Nets. Reserve guard DeShawn Stevenson booted the ball into the stands at the buzzer and forward Stacey Augmon squirted lotion on reporters in the locker room.

"We're in trouble. We haven't won for like a week or so," Magic guard Steve Francis said after Wednesday night's game. "This is definitely our lowest point of the season. We just need to get back to playing the up-tempo style of game that we're used to."

Davis told the Orlando Sentinel he was "surprised and disappointed" by being fired with just 18 games left in the season and the club still trying to make the playoffs.

"It caught me completely off guard," Davis said.

He wasn't alone.

Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said he was ``absolutely shocked'' by the firing.

"At this late date, I'm just very, very surprised. A team right there in the playoff hunt, tied for the eighth spot on March 17th, I don't know what to say about it," Van Gundy said. "Not much in the NBA surprises me, but this does, coming on March 17th with a team tied for a playoff spot."

Jent, who spent two seasons in the NBA and was a member of the 1994 champion Houston Rockets, became a Magic assistant this season. Though he has no head coaching experience at the pro level, Jent was promoted over assistant Paul Westhead, who coached the Los Angeles Lakers to the 1980 title and later coached the Denver Nuggets.

"Certainly we looked at all our options," Weisbrod said. "I thought that Chris was a stronger departure, stylistically, from what Johnny was. I think Paul would have been closer to the same."

Weisbrod said any search for a permanent replacement will wait until the end of the season, but added that the 35-year-old Jent is the "crown jewel of our staff."

"I think the timeline is obviously accelerated and the circumstances are extremely difficult -- and that part will be a hardship -- but I think he's an extremely bright guy and he knows the players," Weisbrod added.

Davis was hired Nov. 17, 2003, replacing Doc Rivers when the team was 1-10 and on its way to losing 19 straight. Later in the season under Davis, the team lost 13 straight, including an NBA-record seven straight by at least 15 points, and finished 21-61.

In the offseason, the team traded All-Star forward Tracy McGrady to Houston. Orlando showed improvement before its recent slump.

Davis' overall record with the Magic was 51-84. He also coached Philadelphia in 1996-97, going 22-60 there.

Orlando is the seventh team to make a coaching change this season, following Memphis, New York, Denver, the Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota and Portland.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press