Turmoil-ridden Sonics show Westphal the door

  • JIM COUR / Associated Press
  • Sunday, November 26, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports


Associated Press

SEATTLE – Paul Westphal, locked in continual disagreements with some of his star players, was fired today as coach of the Seattle SuperSonics.

The team named Nate McMillan, one of Westphal’s assistants and a former Sonics player, as interim head coach.

The Sonics are 6-9 so far this season, Westphal’s third as coach.

“The Sonics are a much better team than their current record,” said team owner Barry Ackerley. “We are committed to helping this team achieve its true potential this year as the Sonics have some of the best talent in the NBA.

“Paul Westphal is a good person and a fine coach. But we felt that a change was necessary to help the Sonics achieve their goals for the season.”

Ackerley said team President and General Manager Wally Walker made the decision to fire Westphal.

In a statement, Westphal thanked Ackerley for hiring him as coach.

“They have been great people for whom to work,” he said. “I would also like to thank Wally Walker, my staff and the players who gave it their all.”

The dismissal comes only days after a flare-up in Dallas between Westphal and all-star guard Gary Payton. Payton reportedly told Westphal in the huddle during a Mavericks game that he didn’t care “about this game anymore. You all can suspend me for the rest of my career.”

The next day, Walker announced he was suspending Payton for at least one game “for conduct detrimental to the team.” Hours later, Walker lifted the suspension, saying Payton had apologized.

Westphal also has had differences with forward Vin Baker, Payton’s teammate on the U.S. Olympic team. The coach criticized Baker for being overweight and out of shape last season and, in the off-season, was part of an effort to trade Baker to the New York Knicks in a four-team deal.

On Nov. 6, Westphal offered to resign amid player complaints about him. Walker said Westphal was frustrated by his team’s bickering and insubordination but that players had talked Westphal out of quitting.

With the addition of Patrick Ewing, the Sonics were expected to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference this season.

Instead, Seattle has struggled with inconsistency through its first 15 games.

Ewing is Seattle’s first legitimate center since Jack Sikma left after the 1986 season. Besides Ewing, the Sonics have Payton and fellow Olympic gold medalist Baker, as well as young-and-improving Rashard Lewis and top draft choice Desmond Mason. Ruben Patterson and Brent Barry are key players, too.

McMillan played 12 seasons with the Sonics and has been an assistant coach the past two years. He is the all-time team leader in assists and steals.

Westphal, in the final year of his contract, compiled a 76-71 record with the Sonics. He inherited a team that won 61 games in 1997-98 under George Karl, but the Sonics failed to make the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 1999 season. They made the playoffs last year but were eliminated in the first round by Utah.

In 1993, Westphal coached Phoenix to the NBA Finals. Three years later, after 33 games that season, he was fired by the Suns.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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