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Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Updated: December 29, 10:56 AM ET
Nuggets off to 13-15 start

Associated Press

DENVER -- Denver Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe fired coach Jeff Bzdelik in the midst a lackluster season that started with so much promise.

He may not have had a choice.
Jeff Bzdelik
Bzdelik is done in Denver after going 73-119 in over two years.

By refusing to renew Bzdelik's contract last season, Vandeweghe left the coach dangling and looking over his shoulder at just about every turn. Not getting the full support of the general manager had to undermine some of Bzdelik's authority.

And it certainly didn't help that the Nuggets hired Michael Cooper, who takes over as interim coach, as an assistant in the offseason.

"This is a game of rumors, innuendo and things like that," Vandeweghe said Tuesday after letting Bzdelik go. "Sometimes that's fun and keeps everyone's interest. Sometimes it works negatively. In this case, it was made very clear. Everyone on the inside understood the exact situation."

It still had to be hard on Bzdelik.

He took over one of the league's worst teams in 2002 and though the Nuggets tied for the worst record his first year, they were much better defensively and became known for their hardworking ways.

A roster overhaul and the addition of Carmelo Anthony made a huge difference last season. Denver improved 26 games to 43-39 in the sixth-best turnaround in league history, reaching the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

None of it seemed to help Bzdelik's status.

Vandeweghe refused to address Bzdelik's contract situation all last season and it seemed the only reason the coach was back this year was because of a contract clause that called for his one-year option to be picked up if the Nuggets made the playoffs.

"None of us have any guarantees on tomorrow," Bzdelik said. "I've seen coaches with five or six years left on their contract and get let go and players not responding to them. So I was proud of the effort our players had exhibited over the last several games."

Bzdelik might not have helped the situation.

After a nationally televised 19-point loss to Cleveland on Dec. 3, Bzdelik questioned whether his team was in shape and he has said on numerous occasions that his team wasn't giving full effort. Those aren't exactly the comments of a coach who has the ear of his players.

"I didn't feel like the team was responding the way we had hoped," Vandeweghe said. "These things don't happen overnight, it's an evolution. I can't pinpoint when this trend started, but it started a while ago."

The next question is, who's next?

Cooper was hired to be an assistant and not Bzdelik's replacement, and is only supposed to fill the role while the Nuggets search for a full-time coach. Then again, he could be the best fit for the job.

One of the best defensive players in NBA history, Cooper could impart some of his knowledge to a team that has been defensive lacking. He's also got plenty of experience.

A member of the Los Angeles Lakers' "Showtime" teams that won five NBA titles, Cooper was an assistant GM and assistant coach with the Lakers and later led the Los Angeles Sparks to consecutive WNBA titles.

"We may not have all the answers on Day 1," Vandeweghe said. "Michael has all the qualities to be an excellent head coach in this league and lead a championship drive. For today, I thought we needed to make a change and Michael was the best person."