Good trades and bad results added up to Bill Fitch's dismissal as head coach of the Houston Rockets.
"We just felt that we didn't make progress at the end of the year," General Manager Ray Patterson said. "We were playing under .500 ball with pretty good personnel. So we felt it was time for a change."The Rockets dismissed Fitch as head coach Monday with three years remaining on his contract, a package worth about $800,000.
The Rockets shipped Ralph Sampson to Golden State for Joe Barry Carroll and Sleepy Floyd and also got Purvis Short from the Warriors.
All owner Charlie Thomas had to show for it at the end of the season was elimination from the NBA playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. Some fans turned on Fitch during the season that included criticism of the head coach by all-star center Akeem Olajuwon.
"We think that we made good trades in getting Purvis Short, Joe Barry Carroll and Sleepy Floyd," Patterson said.
"They integrated into the ball club very well at the beginning of the year. We ran into a series of things where we lost ball games we shouldn't have lost."
Sampson criticized Fitch's coaching methods after he left and Olajuwon questioned his coach later in the season.
"All I know is that the players say they are afraid to make a mistake," Olajuwon said on March 5. "If they make a mistake, he takes them out. Nobody knows their role on this team. I don't know my role either."
Olajuwon could not be reached for comment Monday night but teammate Jim Petersen said Olajuwon's comments didn't cause Fitch's firing.
"I don't think Akeem has that ability to make a big decision like that," Petersen said. "What he says may have some impact but I'm sure Mr. Patterson and Charlie Thomas made their own decision."
Petersen, in Fitch's doghouse on several occasions last season, defended his former coach.
"I think if some of the players went in and talked to him one-on-one like I did and Cedric (axwell) they'd find there's method to what he does," Petersen said. "He's not a heartless man."
Fitch led the Rockets to the NBA finals in 1986 but the Rockets lost in the second round of the 1987 playoffs and were eliminated by Dallas in the first round this season.
Fitch could not be reached for comment.
The Rockets were on the brink of beoming an NBA power after the 1986 season with the "Twin Tower" lineup of Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson.
But Sampson's trade to Golden State broke up the tandem and the Rockets never were able to gain consistency the rest of the season.
Near the end of the regular season, bumper stickers were displayed in The Summit reading "Ditch Fitch."
Patterson said the Rockets felt the positions of head coach and personnel director should now be divided. Fitch held both jobs with the Rockets.
"The personnel director will have greater responsiblity in the area of free agents and we are doing more the European League and the Continental League."
Patterson said Rockets assistant coach Rudy Tomjanovich, a former Rockets forward, may be a candidate for the personnel position.