Portland, Ore. Former Kansas University men's basketball player Kevin Pritchard has taken over as interim head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers after Maurice Cheeks was fired Wednesday.
Pritchard was the director of player personnel for Portland, which has lost seven of nine games and is in danger of missing the playoffs for the second straight years.
"It's a sad day," general manager John Nash said at a news conference. "Maurice Cheeks is a very, very good coach. He's an equally good person."
Nash said he spoke earlier in the day with Cheeks, who was "very professional but also seemed very disappointed, as anyone would be in this type of situation."
Cheeks, near the end of a four-year contract estimated at $12 million, was popular with the players and fans. But when the losses mounted, he was believed on the way out.
Portland's latest defeat came Tuesday night, 103-93 to the Detroit Pistons. The Blazers (22-33) are in 12th place in the Western Conference, six games behind 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.
Cheeks leaves the Blazers with a 162-139 career record. A phone call to his home Tuesday morning went unanswered.
Cheeks, who played in the NBA for 15 seasons, was hired by Portland in 2001 to replace Mike Dunleavy, who was also fired. Pritchard was hired by the Blazers in August after working as a scout for the San Antonio Spurs.
When Cheeks came to Portland he was expected to turn around a team beset by internal bickering and trouble on the court. The problems, however, continued.
Some players had been cited for marijuana possession. One of them, forward Rasheed Wallace, was suspended by the league for seven games for threatening a game official on the loading dock of the Rose Garden. Forward Zach Randolph was suspended by the team for punching Ruben Patterson during practice, bloodying his face.
Wallace was traded to the Pistons, who won the title with him last year.