ATLANTA (AP) _ Walking into practice after a brief holiday, Atlanta Hawks guard Jason Terry wasn't prepared for the news: coach Lon Kruger had been fired.
Kruger was let go by the slumping Hawks, three days after the team lost by 15 points at Indiana. That was part of six losses in seven games, with all six by at least 10 points.
``I just thought he was joking,'' Terry said of hearing the news from Kruger. ``But then I could tell he was serious. I just gave him a hug and told him I hope he makes it back. He's a good coach. He deserves a spot in this league.''
General manager Pete Babcock had thought about making the move for a couple of weeks, but tried to talk himself out of it. The loss in Indiana convinced him the time was right.
``We just fell back into a poor effort,'' Babcock said. ``I didn't want to make a change on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and I tried to convince myself it still could work.
``But we're not maximizing our potential, and we needed to do this.''
Assistant Terry Stotts will take Kruger's spot, and Alex English was moved from director of player development to assistant coach.
Gar Heard, who joined the Hawks as an assistant shortly after Kruger was hired in 2000, also was dismissed. Atlanta is 11-16 this season.
``I guess when you talk about wins and losses, we haven't gotten the job done, and so it didn't really come as a surprise,'' Kruger told The Associated Press.
The news came hours after the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers, also owned by AOL Time Warner Inc., fired coach Curt Fraser.
The Hawks guaranteed a playoff spot to their season-ticket holders this season, a move initiated by Kruger. The team promised a $125 refund to all season-ticket holders if the team didn't make the postseason.
With offseason acquisition Glenn Robinson joining Shareef Abdur-Rahim and a healthy Theo Ratliff on the front line, it appeared to be a safe bet.
But during the recent skid, the effort has been lackluster, and Atlanta has lost ground in the chase for a playoff spot.
It falls to Stotts to get the players motivated.
``You have to motivate the players a lot of different ways,'' Stotts said. ``You have to do it however you can.
``That is the mandate from Pete, to play hard and give defensive effort.''
The playoff guarantee may have backfired a bit, but Kruger denied it put extra pressure on him or the team.
``It was something that I thought we needed to create a little enthusiasm. It helps call a little attention to the team,'' he said.
In a little more than two seasons, Kruger was 69-122 with the Hawks.
``The only thing I regret is that I didn't help these guys turn the corner,'' Kruger said.