Portland has lost seven of nine

PORTLAND, Ore. -- For all his popularity among the players
and the fans, Portland Trail Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks
ultimately didn't have the wins.

Cheeks was fired Wednesday morning, after the Blazers had lost
seven of their last nine and tumbled to 22-33.

"Our players liked Mo a great deal, but sometimes a fresh voice
might ignite them to go in a different direction," Blazers general
manager John Nash said.

With Portland's chances of making the playoffs dwindling, the
Blazers appointed Kevin Pritchard, the team's director of player
personnel, as interim head coach.

While not entirely giving up on the playoffs, Pritchard's
appointment indicated the Blazers were going to focus on evaluating
their younger players.

"I'm not going to mislead anybody. It's a long uphill battle to
get to the playoffs from where we're at -- 11 games under .500,"
Blazers President Steve Patterson said.

The Blazers are in 12th place in the Western Conference, six
games back of the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth and final
playoff spot. They went 41-41 last season, missing the playoffs for
the first time in 22 years.

With the loss to the Pistons, Cheeks leaves the Blazers with a
162-139 record. He was in the final year of a four-year contract
worth an estimated $12 million.

Cheeks, who played in the NBA for 15 seasons, was hired by
Portland in 2001 to replace Mike Dunleavy, who was also fired.

The Blazers hardly made Cheeks' tenure easy -- on and off the

There were several players cited for marijuana possession, and
forward Qyntel Woods was investigated in a dog fighting scandal.

While generally popular among his players, Cheeks had a couple
of high-profile verbal run-ins with former guard Bonzi Wells and
current forward Darius Miles. Both players served suspensions for
their actions.

Former Blazer forward Rasheed Wallace also drew unwanted
attention to the team two seasons ago when he threatened a game
official on the loading dock of the Rose Garden.

Cheeks never shied away from questions about his team's
misbehavior, bringing him the respect of fans and reporters who
covered the team.

He endeared himself to many in April 2003 when he came to the
rescue of a 13-year-old girl, Natalie Gilbert, who forgot the words
to the national anthem before a playoff game against the Dallas
Mavericks. Cheeks went to her side and helped her with the words.

Both Patterson and Nash said it was with great regret that they
broke the news to Cheeks on Wednesday morning at the team's
practice facility.

"We were kind of hoping in January and February that we'd gain
some momentum -- but that didn't happen," Nash said.

Pritchard, who was hired by the Blazers in August after serving
as a scout for the San Antonio Spurs, was asked if he thought the
role as interim coach was an audition.

"This is not the role and not the career path I want to take,"
Pritchard said. "That said, I would do anything to help this