The Clippers, floundering near the bottom in their first National Basketball Assn. season in Los Angeles, fired Coach Jim Lynam Wednesday morning and replaced him, at least for the time being, with assistant Don Chaney.
At a Sports Arena press conference about six hours before the Clippers' game with the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night, General Manager Carl Scheer cited the Clippers' 22-39 record as the reason for Lynam's dismissal. Chaney will coach the team for the final 21 games.
A decision on a permanent coach will be made after the season, but Chaney is considered the top candidate. Lynam, 43, was in the final year of his two-year contract and will be paid for the next six weeks. Chaney has not yet negotiated a new contract.
"This move gives us an opportunity to view the team under Don Chaney's direction and see how it responds," Scheer said. "We have a lot of problems, and I'm not expecting Don to be a miracle worker. It will give us a new direction and a fresh approach. It was my opinion that the team was not moving in a positive way."
Chaney, 38, played in the NBA for 12 years and was on the Boston Celtics' championship teams in 1969 and 1974. After retiring in 1980, he was an assistant with Detroit for three seasons and had been Lynam's top assistant the last two seasons.
"This is a big moment for me," Chaney said. "It's similar to winning the playoffs."
Lynam ended his two-year reign as the Clippers' coach with an overall record of 52-91. Last season at San Diego, the Clippers finished in the Pacific Division cellar with a 30-52 mark. Going into Wednesday night's game, they were six games behind Utah for the last Western Conference playoff berth and had lost six straight games and 17 of their last 20.
The Clippers have the worst record in the NBA since the halfway point of the season. Lynam's final two games as coach were losses on consecutive nights to Golden State and Kansas City, two of the four teams with worse records.
After Sunday night's overtime loss to the Kings at the Sports Arena, Scheer seriously began considering a coaching change, he said. Tuesday afternoon, Scheer met with Clipper owner Donald T. Sterling, president Alan Rothenberg and general counsel Arn Tellam.
"It was a unanimous decision," said Scheer, who added that Sterling had not ordered a change. "We all reviewed where we are going and what needed to be done."
Wednesday morning, Scheer called in Lynam, Chaney and Brad Greenberg--the club's other assistant coach--and told them the news. Greenberg, who played for and coached with Lynam in college, will remain as Chaney's assistant.
Although his job security had been in question since early in the season, Lynam said Wednesday afternoon from his Manhattan Beach home that his firing was "mildly surprising."
A week ago Wednesday, after the Clippers had lost to Houston, Scheer said he called Lynam at home and said that barring "unforeseen circumstances," Lynam would not be replaced, at least until the end of the season April 14.
At that time, Scheer had said: "I told Jimmy not to worry about being replaced. . . . It would take 46 straight blowout losses and a riot in the locker room for me to replace Jimmy now."
Explaining his startling reversal, Scheer said at Wednesday's press conference that the losses to Golden State last Saturday and to Kansas City Sunday had convinced him that the team was in need of immediate change.
"I had hoped to be able to wait until the end of the season," Scheer said. "That had been my objective. But I weighed the direction the club was going and I felt it wouldn't be in the franchise's best interest to keep it going the same way. When you have a guy in a coma, you look for signs of life. But in our case, the machine showed a flat line.
"This, obviously, was not an easy decision. It's one I've wrestled with for a long time." Lynam said he had not felt misled by Scheer's vote of confidence.
"It was mildly surprising," he said, sounding upbeat as usual. "You know that (being fired) was a possibility. But the timing of it was surprising to a slight degree. I think the problem in Carl's mind was that, lately, we had not won games in which we have played well enough to win.
"I really can't honestly say that I felt more pressure than any other NBA coach feels. Everybody has pressure to win, and I certainly felt that."
In his 14 years as an executive in the defunct American Basketball Assn. and the NBA, Scheer has earned a reputation as a general manager who does not meddle in daily coaching decisions. About two weeks ago, though, Scheer met with Lynam and made several strong suggestions. Scheer told Lynam to pick up the tempo offensively and to use rookie guard Lancaster Gordon, who had spent most of the season on the bench.