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February 4, 2010

Dunleavy sheds a job

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 9:42 pm

Tuesday night, I was standing with a gaggle of reporters in the bowels of the United Center, holding my digital recorder in the general vicinity of Mike Dunleavy‘s mouth. He didn’t really say anything interesting, certainly nothing to indicate that his tenure as the Clippers’ coach was about to end. In what is being termed a “mutual decision,” Dunleavy is stepping down as L.A.’s coach after a little over 6-1/2 years on the Clippers’ bench.

Dunleavy is retaining his position as the team’s general manager for the time being. Dunleavy told NBA.com, “I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the ideal time for me to direct my efforts toward the many personnel opportunities that lie before us, such as the trade market, the Draft and the free agent process. We fully expect to be active and productive on all those fronts.”

Dunleavy’s time as head coach in L.A. featured a rare high point in the history of the league’s worst franchise. In 2005-06, Dunleavy guided a veteran squad led by Elton Brand, Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley to 47 wins. In the postseason, the Clippers beat Denver in the first round–the only playoff series the franchise formerly known as the Buffalo Braves has won since moving West 32 years ago. The Clips went on to push Phoenix to seven games in the West semifinals.

The following season, the Clippers slipped to 40 wins as Cassell and Mobley began to show their respective ages. Then Brand was injured, wrecking the 2007-08 season, the first of two straight dismal seasons so typical through Clipper history. However, the losing landed the Clippers the first pick in last summer’s draft, which Dunleavy used to take potential franchise player Blake Griffin, who has missed all of his rookie season because of an injury.

Despite the injury to Griffin, the Clippers have been much improved this season behind the development of young stars Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon. With a fair amount of cap space available after the season, Dunleavy will be in a good position to pursue a marquee free agent–though whether or not he can get one to commit to the Staples Center’s lesser tenant is an open question. However, if Dunleavy was leaning towards giving up his coaching reins, then it makes sense to do so now, before trade deadline, so he can lay the foundation for a crucial few months for the franchise’s future. (Though some would argue that if he really wanted to help the franchise, it would the GM’s chair that he vacated.)

His replacement is Kim Hughes, who was in his sixth year as one of Dunleavy’s assistants. In his playing days, Hughes was a good shot-blocking and rebounding center in both the ABA and the NBA. He’s an unknown as a coach, since he has no experience as a head man. Given his history with Dunleavy, though, it’s unlikely that there are going to be any major changes in the Clippers’ style of play.

UPDATE: Kevin Pelton weighing in. To me, the big surprise is not that Dunleavy stepped down as coach, which has been the subject of speculation for more than a season. It’s not even that he is continuing as coach. No, what seems most interesting here is the Clippers choosing Hughes over John Lucas, the former head coach in San Antonio, Philadelphia and Cleveland who was added to Dunleavy’s staff before this season. The presumption was that Lucas was being put in position to take over when and if Dunleavy left the bench. Instead, L.A. went with the less experienced Hughes. That would seem to increase the likelihood that the Clippers look outside the organization for a permanent solution this summer.

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