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Grunfeld responded this summer by picking up Jordan’s contract option for a sixth season, extending him through the 2009-10 season.

Despite being fired, Jordan is still owed a little more than $8 million over the rest of this season and next.

The contract extension came four days before the team reported to training camp in September and was unprompted by the coach - Jordan had not discussed his future with Grunfeld or team owner Abe Pollin.

“Eddie has done an outstanding job and has been instrumental in making us a perennial playoff team, so we are pleased to reward that success by picking up the option on his contract,” Grunfeld said at the time. “We are very excited about the upcoming season and feel that this team is ready to progress to another level under Eddie’s leadership.”

But this season got off to a difficult start, thanks in part to the knee surgery that will keep Arenas out until January and the wrist surgery that sidelined Haywood.

The All-Star tandem of Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler at forward played well, averaging 20.3 points and 9.1 rebounds and 20.2 points and 6.8 rebounds, respectively. Only second-year guard Nick Young also averaged double-digits in scoring.

Otherwise, Jordan had only a collection of hobbled and underachieving veterans and slowly developing young players at his disposal. He drew strong efforts from his players, but he just couldn’t find a way to win.

“Not in our wildest dreams did we ever think we would be 1-10,” Jordan said after Saturday’s loss. “But we don’t have losing habits. You respect the game, you play hard, you help your teammate, you protect your teammate, you play with confidence, you understand what the coaches are telling you, try to follow directions. We have all that. We just haven’t won.”

Grunfeld cited the team’s poor execution on defense and inability to close games as a big reasons for the change. He didn’t blame Jordan completely for the woeful start, but he said he is confident he made the right decision.

In Tapscott, Grunfeld has someone he trusts greatly because of his experience and extensive basketball background.

Grunfeld in 1991 hired Tapscott as one of his front-office assistants when he was general manager of the Knicks. Tapscott went on to hold interim president and general manager duties in New York and served as the president and chief executive operating officer of the Charlotte Bobcats from 2003 to 2006.

“He’s a very respected basketball man, has been in basketball close to 35 years, in the professional ranks close to 16, 20 years,” Grunfeld said. “He’s an outstanding communicator, very good motivator, understands X’s and O’s, and I feel he’s going to do a very good job for us.”

The players also were shocked by the news.

“I don’t think any of the players saw it coming, even though we weren’t playing well,” Haywood said. “Right now, we’ve been decimated by injuries, and that has a lot to do with the situation Coach Jordan was put in. It’s surprising that Eddie’s no longer here, but we understand this is a business of this game, and a lot of times these things happen. As a team, we have to see what’s going on and move past it.”

Said Jamison: “The players are 1-10. The coaching staff did a great job of getting us prepared. We just didn’t get the job done.”

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