INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -Rick Carlisle was fired Wednesday after four tumultuous years as Indiana Pacers coach, following a season in which the team failed to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
The Pacers finished the season 35-47, their worst since 1988-89. Indiana was 29-24 shortly after the All-Star break, but lost its next 11 games to fall out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference. A loss to Detroit on April 3 clinched the Pacers' first losing season since 1996-97.
Carlisle's tenure was less about wins and losses and more about his struggle to manage a cast of talented, but volatile, characters. Carlisle always will be linked with Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson, the two most prominent players in the 2004 brawl between Pacers players and Detroit Pistons fans. That brawl started the unraveling of a team that was expected to make several title runs.
Team president Larry Bird said Carlisle has an option to return to the team in another capacity.
``We mutually agreed it was probably time for him to move on and us to move in another direction and put this behind us,'' Bird said at a news conference.
``He had a lot of ups and downs,'' Bird said. ``With some of the problems we've had over the past few years, it's been tough on everyone. He's been awfully good for this franchise.''
In the Pacers' first year under Carlisle in 2003-04, they went 61-21 for the best record in the NBA, and the club reached the Eastern Conference finals. Indiana started the 2004-05 season in similar fashion, winning six of its first eight games.
Then came Nov. 19, 2004.
Artest went into the stands after a Detroit Pistons fan he thought doused him with a beverage, and some of his teammates joined in the melee. Artest was suspended for 73 games and the playoffs, and teammates Jermaine O'Neal, Jackson and Anthony Johnson were given shorter suspensions.
The remaining Pacers clawed their way to a 44-38 record and the second round of the playoffs, but Pacers fans were upset that Reggie Miller's final season ended that way.
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