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Changing course:Bucks fire Porter

Changing course:Bucks fire Porter

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ST. FRANCIS - About six weeks ago, Larry Harris and Terry Porter had a long, serious discussion about the future of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harris, the team's general manager and the person who hired Porter almost two years ago to be the Bucks' head coach, told Porter he intended to fire two of his assistant coaches: Mike Schuler and Jerome Kersey.

Harris' decision stunned Porter, who had been coached by Schuler during his playing days with the Portland Trail Blazers and who had been a teammate of Kersey's with the same team. The two were friends on and off from the court.

"When he first mentioned it, along with some other things that were discussed, I said I needed to sleep on it,'' Porter said after he and Harris appeared at a season-ending press conference at the Cousins Center May 6. "I think he was waiting for me to give him an answer on the spot.

"But it was a very difficult time for me. It was the first time it had happened to me. Last year I lost two assistant coaches, but they moved on to new jobs. (Sam Mitchell became Toronto's head coach and Jim Todd became Mitchell's assistant).

"This was a totally different thing. These were two guys who I had the longest friendship with.''

Porter reluctantly went along with Harris' decision to fire Schuler and Kersey.

Wednesday afternoon, Porter and Harris met again to discuss the future of the Bucks' basketball operation. This time, Porter didn't have any input on what Harris wanted.

The Bucks announced Porter's dismissal after the meeting and then held a hastily-called press conference in which Harris but not Porter appeared. In a press release, Porter said, "Obviously, I am disappointed by the decision. However, I am grateful to Senator (Herb) Kohl and Larry Harris for the opportunity they gave me."

Harris, who gambled in hiring Porter considering he was only the third assistant coach on the Sacramento Kings at the time and had no head coaching experience, said the decision to release Porter was necessary after he evaluated "the whole process.''

Harris didn't divulge specific reasons for his decision, but said it didn't have anything to do with whom the Bucks will select in Tuesday night's NBA draft - center Andrew Bogut of Utah or forward Marvin Williams of North Carolina. Harris also said his decision had nothing to do with Porter's relationship with star guard Michael Redd, who'll become one of the NBA's hottest free agents this summer.

"I really feel this was in the best interests of the organization,'' Harris said. "I felt it was the right thing to do.''

At the press conference in May, Harris praised Porter and noted how Porter had made significant strides as a head coach in justifying the firing of Schuler and Kersey. Harris said he was fully supportive of Porter and that he and Porter would "sink or swim together.'' Harris added, "It was never about Terry Porter and whether he'd be coming back. I hired him. I want him to succeed.''

So, what occurred since then to prompt Porter's firing?

"Everyone is allowed to change their mind,'' Harris said. "That's what I've done. É It was not a coach or a name. It was the whole process.''

Porter has been on shaky ground since early last season and appeared to be on the brink of being fired after the Bucks finished with a 30-52 record and out of the playoffs after making them the year before with a 41-41 mark.

Instead, the Bucks' hierarchy pulled what some NBA observers claim was a power play by firing Porter's two assistants with supposedly the hope Porter would resist the decision and resign.

Porter's status with the team became even shakier in recent weeks when he and Harris compiled a list of approximately 10 assistant coaching candidates but then had marked differences on who should be hired.

Porter, 42, is expected to pursue another head coaching job, even though the final year of his contract with the Bucks will be honored. It is believed Portland may have interest in Porter. Porter played the first 10 years of his 17-year pro career with the Blazers.

Harris insisted he hasn't contacted anyone about the job, but it is known Harris has a high regard for Philip "Flip'' Saunders, who was fired by the Minnesota Timberwolves and is being courted by several NBA teams.

There also are some people in the Bucks' front office who feel equally strong about Terry Stotts, a former Bucks assistant coach under George Karl who is an assistant coach for Golden State.

Some other names that have surfaced are Seattle coach Nate McMillan and Eric Musselman, a former Golden State head coach who is now an assistant with Atlanta.

Harris, noticeably downcast at the press conference, acknowledged firing Porter was the hardest decision he's made as a young general manager.

"It's not even close,'' Harris said. "There's been nothing of this magnitude.''


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