Don Casey was fired Wednesday as coach of the New Jersey Nets in the first move of an expected housecleaning by the team.
General manager John Nash and president Michael Rowe also are in danger of losing their jobs after the Nets (31-51) missed the playoffs for the second straight year. Principal owner Lewis Katz said no decision has been reached on their futures.
Casey, who never got the Nets turned around after replacing John Calipari on March 15, 1999, went 44-68 in 1 1/2 years.
"It was a very difficult decision to make because Casey had been a friend of mine for more than three decades," Katz said.
By making the move a week after the end of the regular season, the team will save $1.3 million, since the second year of the contract Casey signed on June 25 was not guaranteed.
Katz also announced New Jersey would hire a director of basketball operations.
Hall of Famer Julius Erving, an executive vice president with the Orlando Magic and a former Net, is being considered for that new position, the Orlando Sentinel reported Tuesday.
There are also several candidates for the coaching job, including NBA great Isiah Thomas; St. John's coach Mike Jarvis; Utah coach Rick Majerus; Lenny Wilkens, who recently quit as coach of the Atlanta Hawks; former player Maurice Cheeks; and former Net Rick Mahorn.
The Nets will probably try to get a high-profile coach to improve their tarnished image, which is what they tired to do last year.
Casey will stay with the Nets doing charitable and community work.
There was no immediate word on the status of assistant coaches Jim Lynam, Eddie Jordan and Mike O'Koren.
The firing of Casey, 62, has been expected for weeks, not only because the injury-plagued Nets struggled this season but also because Katz was reportedly under pressure from YankeeNets, the joint operation that oversees the Nets and Yankees.
The sports and entertainment regional power was concerned about securing future TV contracts if the Nets were not an attractive product.
New Jersey showed potential at times this season, but the team could not overcome a 2-15 start and a 2-14 finish, which was capped by a season-ending 11-game losing streak.
A big part of the problem was injuries. Former All-Star center Jayson Williams missed the entire season because of a knee injury and broken leg on April 1, 1999, in game against Atlanta. Shooting guard Kerry Kittles was bothered all season by a knee injury.
Casey also could not get his team to win close games. It was 10-24 in games decided by five points or less.
Still, Stephon Marbury and Keith Van Horn helped the Nets post a 27-22 record in the middle of the season, a run that got New Jersey within striking distance of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
However, late-season injuries to Marbury and Kittles ended their playoff hopes.
"I want to thank the Nets ownership for giving me the opportunity to coach the team," Casey said. "I strongly believe the Nets have a bright future."
Casey spent much of the last week fending off questions about his expected firing.
Since joining the NBA in 1976, the Nets have changed coaches 12 times, including five times since 1989. They have made the playoffs 10 times in that period, making it past the first round only once and never past the second.
The head coaching job was the second for Casey in the league. He took over the Clippers from Gene Shue during the 1988-89 season and went 41-85 in 1 1/2 years.
A former coach at Temple, Casey joined the NBA in 1982 as an assistant with Chicago and then spent a year as a head coach in Italy. He joined the Clippers in 1984, went to Boston for six years after being released by the Clippers and then joined Calipari's staff in 1997.
New Jersey made the playoffs in Calipari's second season, but Calipari was fired after the team got off to a 3-17 start in the lockout-shortened 1999 season. Casey took over and the team played well down the stretch, posting a 13-17 record.
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