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(Reuters) - The free-falling Denver Nuggets fired head coach Brian Shaw on Tuesday, replacing him for the rest of the season with his assistant coach Melvin Hunt.
Denver have lost six consecutive games and 19 of their past 21 for a 20-39 record this season that has them sitting 13th in the 15-team Western Conference and well out of the playoff race.
"I want to sincerely thank Brian for his time with our organization," Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said in a statement. "You won't find a better guy than Brian and he is one of the brightest basketball minds I've ever been around.
"Unfortunately things didn't go as we hoped, but we know with his basketball acumen that he has a very bright future ahead of him.
Shaw, 48, was hired as Nuggets head coach in June 2013 to replace George Karl, the reigning NBA Coach of the Year, and compiled an overall record of 56-85 (.397) with the team before being relieved of his duties.
There had been intensifying speculation this season that Shaw had lost the respect of his players and on Monday he described the team as a "laughing stock" after a practice.
Hunt is in his fifth season as an assistant coach with the Nuggets, having moved to Denver after spending five years as an assistant with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"This season our management staff has remained patient and supportive as decisions of this nature are never taken lightly," said Connelly. "Patience is encouraged, as long as the organization continues to show progress toward a greater goal.
"However, competing for championships is our goal, and therefore we decided to make this decision now and look forward to conducting an extensive head coaching search upon the season's conclusion."
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue