Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. - Mike Dunleavy was fired as coach of the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night, taking the fall for an underachieving team that failed to win a playoff game despite an NBA-record $89.7 million payroll.

Dunleavy met with team president and general manager Bob Whitsitt for about three hours Tuesday, and Whitsitt announced the coach's dismissal during an evening news conference.

The Blazers, plagued by suspensions and infighting, lost 17 of their final 25 games, including a 3-0 sweep by the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

The day after Portland was eliminated, Whitsitt took much of the blame, acknowledging that several of his roster moves had backfired. But he would not give his coach a vote of confidence.

After receiving assurance from owner Paul Allen that his own job was safe, Whitsitt spent much of last week meeting with the players, and at least one reportedly said Dunleavy should go.

Earlier in the day, after Dunleavy and Whitsitt finished their meeting, Blazers co-captain Scottie Pippen lamented the "tough situation" Dunleavy was put in.

"You hate to have to start over, but it was a very disappointing season and, as it always goes, coaches get fired and not players," Pippen told KGW-TV.

Dunleavy, 47, had one year left on a five-year, $12 million contract he signed in 1997. He's rumored to be a candidate for the vacant job in Cleveland. Dunleavy has known Cavaliers general manager Jim Paxson for years, and Paxson was Whitsitt's assistant GM during Dunleavy's first season in Portland.

Dunleavy was 190-106 in four seasons with the Blazers. He was selected the league's coach of the year in 1999, when the Blazers went 35-15 in the lockout-shortened season and won the Pacific Division title.

But like Rick Adelman and P.J. Carlesimo before him, a winning record wasn't enough to save Dunleavy's job. His teams went just 18-18 in the playoffs, reaching the conference finals in 1999 and 2000 before falling to the Spurs and Lakers, respectively.

Last season, the Blazers were only a few points away from reaching the NBA Finals. After winning two straight games against the Lakers to force Game 7 in Los Angeles, led by 15 with 10:28 to go but then missed 13 consecutive shots. The Lakers ended up winning by four and went on to capture the title.

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