ORLANDO, Fla. – Johnny Davis was fired Thursday as coach of the Orlando Magic, who have lost six straight games and are on the verge of falling from playoff contention. Assistant Chris Jent was named interim coach.
“We work in a bottom line business,” general manager John Weisbrod said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to do everything possible to create the best opportunity for success.”
Davis was dismissed along with assistant coach Ron Ekker hours after Wednesday night’s 110-102 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, dropping the Magic to 31-33 and leaving them tied with Philadelphia for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The team, in the middle of a West Coast road swing, plays Friday at Seattle.
Davis told the Orlando Sentinel he was “surprised and disappointed” by the firing with just 18 games left in the season and the club still trying to make the playoffs.
“It caught me completely off guard,” Davis told the newspaper.
Jent, who spent two seasons in the NBA and was a member of the 1994 champion Houston Rockets, became a Magic assistant this season and is a head coach for the first time. He was promoted over assistant Paul Westhead, who coached the Los Angeles Lakers to the 1980 title and later coached the Denver Nuggets.
Davis was hired as coach on Nov. 17, 2003, replacing Doc Rivers when last season’s team was 1-10 and on its way to losing 19 straight. Later in the season under Davis, the team lost 13 straight, including an NBA-record seven straight by at least 15 points and finished 21-61.
In the offseason, the team traded All-Star forward Tracy McGrady to Houston. Orlando showed improvement before its recent slump.
Davis, a low-key coach, seemed to lose control of his players. In Sunday’s 98-82 home loss to New Jersey, the Magic received several technical fouls and scuffled with the Nets. Reserve guard DeShawn Stevenson booted the ball into the stands at the buzzer and forward Stacy Augmon squirted lotion on reporters in the locker room.
Davis’ overall record with the Magic was 51-84. He also coached Philadelphia in 1996-97, going 22-60 there.