Clippers fire interim coach Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers have fired interim coach Kim Hughes, who was 8-25 since taking over for Mike Dunleavy in early February.

Though the move was widely expected after the franchise finished just 29-53 this season, Hughes said Thursday that he hadn't expected the decision to come down so swiftly.

"I was surprised,'' Hughes said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon with ESPNLosAngeles.com. "It's not that I have my head in the sand. It's just that I'd hoped, maybe wished, I'd get the summer to come up with a game plan and come back for training camp.

"But I fully understand their point of view. In my meeting with [general manager] Neil Olshey and [president] Andy Roeser, who was on a conference call, they said that [owner] Donald Sterling wanted to go in another direction.

"I understand that. I don't have any regrets. I was given a chance to coach an NBA team, which is something I've always wanted to do. Whether I was put in a position to fail or not is a moot point. I could've turned the job down. But I would do it again in a heartbeat. I really had fun doing it, even under difficult circumstances."

Hughes was under contract through the end of June and had planned to conduct exit meetings with the players and staff Thursday and Friday, then assist in scouting for the draft and free agency.

Though he was a little surprised by the swiftness of the move, Hughes said he thanked Roeser and Olshey for making the move now so that he can start his job search immediately.

Four years ago he beat prostate cancer and learned quite dramatically what life is like away from the NBA.

"When I got sick, I wasn't working and it drove me crazy," Hughes said. "I do better when I'm busy, when I'm working."

Hughes said that beating cancer is a key reason he was able to weather what was a challenging, sometimes frustrating experience.

"This wasn't tough. What George Karl is going through is tough,'' Hughes said of the Denver coach, who underwent radiation treatments for throat cancer. "I pray for him every day. I know he's struggling, but I know he can't wait to get back out there. "

Hughes said he leaves the Clippers with positive, but mixed feelings. He loved his experience as head coach, but was disappointed in the attitudes of some of the Clippers players, particularly free agents he perceived as "looking out for No. 1" by trying to keep their offensive statistics up at the expense of defense and team basketball.

"If somehow we could make them understand how special the vocation they've chosen and how special it is, we'd have a much better product," Hughes said.

"Maybe I need to complain more or say more, maybe I need to send more e-mails to [NBA commissioner David Stern]. He's a really smart guy and I know he wants to improve the product.

"Because something clearly needs to be done."

The team said the rest of the coaching staff would remain in their positions for the time being, but that a search for a new coach has already begun. Roeser and Olshey will lead that search.

In a news release announcing Hughes' firing, the Clippers stated: "There are no leading candidates. In order to maintain the ability to take advantage of the widest sample of available and quality coaches, there will be no stated completion timetable. When and if it is deemed appropriate, the Clippers Communications Department will issue official progress updates. Any speculative information concerning the search which appears in the news media or emanates in a form not directly attributed to the Los Angeles Clippers should not be considered valid or reliable."

Sources with knowledge of the club's thinking said that the team is in no hurry to find a new coach, but would act quickly if the right candidate came along. It is conceivable the Clippers could wait until after the draft in late June and even into early to mid-July, after the free-agent signing period has begun, to hire a new coach.

Early speculation had focused on veteran coaches Larry Brown and Jeff Van Gundy, but Brown said this week he won't coach for anyone other than Charlotte owner Michael Jordan.

However, there are some within the organization, sources indicated, who feel the team would be best served by hiring a young coach who could relate better to the team's two young stars, Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin, and whomever it drafts this season. If the team goes in that direction, look for Mark Jackson, current assistant John Lucas and several other up-and-coming assistant coaches to be considered.

"We appreciate Kim's contributions during his time here especially over the last two and a half months," Roeser said in a statement. "But we also know that our responsibility is to do what is in the organization's immediate best interests for its ability to move forward.

"This season was an overall disappointment and certainly fell short of both our expectations and what should rightly have been anticipated by our fans. We will move deliberately and productively to regain the successful competitive position we had all hoped for when this past season began."

Ramona Shelburne is a writer and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.