Isiah Thomas was fired Wednesday as coach of the Indiana Pacers, a surprise move by new team president Larry Bird that came only two months before the start of the season.
Thomas, an NBA Hall of Famer, led the young Pacers into the playoffs in all three of his seasons, but they were knocked out in the first round each year.
"The major thing was looking at the team, how it finished up last year," Bird said in Indianapolis. "I came in with an open mind. I never thought we would be releasing our coach."
Indiana had the best record in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break this past season, making Thomas the All-Star coach, but went 14-19 the rest of the season and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Boston.
Bird also said there were other problems with Thomas.
"I spoke to him one day in a meeting, and I talked to him one day on the phone. The communication wasn't really there," Bird said.
Thomas said he was looking forward to working with Bird.
"I was disappointed that Larry and I didn't get a chance to work together," Thomas told the Associated Press. "I truly felt we would have been good together. I'm disappointed we don't get a chance."
"I said I'm disappointed he didn't give himself an opportunity to know me," Thomas said of their conversation early Wednesday at Conseco Fieldhouse after flying in from Puerto Rico. "I think he would have liked me had he got to known me."
Bird said his first choice to replace Thomas was Rick Carlisle but added that no deal had been reached.
Carlisle and Bird's relationship dates to the 1980s when the two were teammates with the Boston Celtics. Carlisle also was an assistant for Bird from 1997-2000, but was passed over by Pacer chief executive Donnie Walsh in favor of Thomas.
Carlisle spent the last two seasons as coach of the Detroit Pistons before being fired in May.
The Pacers were 131-115 in the regular season under Thomas.
Jermaine O'Neal, the Pacers' best player, said he would not have re-signed with Indiana this off-season if he had known Thomas was going to be fired.
Visibly angered and upset by the move, O'Neal said he will address the situation with the Pacers' front office next week after the Olympic qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico ends.
"Am I disappointed? I'm extremely disappointed for multiple reasons," O'Neal said. "I was told he would be here before I re-signed.
"If your boss told you your ace is going to be there for you if you come back, and once you come back not even a month later he's not there, that hurts. That hurts a lot. He was more than a coach to me. He was like a father."
Walsh said he agreed with Bird's decision.
"The best thing for us and the best thing for Isiah was to do this now," Walsh said.
"When I hired Isiah, I thought he was the right man for the job at the time and he was. But as our team has evolved, the decision was made that it's time to go in a different direction. We appreciate what Isiah has done in his three seasons here."
Bird and Thomas were contentious rivals from their days of leading the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons to NBA titles in the 1980s.
When he was hired July 11, Bird walked off the podium at a news conference and shook hands with Thomas -- but neither smiled.
The Golden State Warriors signed free-agent swingman Calbert Cheaney.... Former USC guard Elias (Larry) Ayuso signed a one-year contract with the San Antonio Spurs. Ayuso ranks fourth in career three-point field goals for the Trojans. Since graduating in 1999, he has played in the Continental Basketball Assn., Europe and for the Puerto Rican national team.