Skiles gets pink slip from Bulls
By: By ANDREW SELIGMAN, AP Sports Writer
DEERFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The Chicago Bulls were sure this was their season to challenge for the Eastern Conference championship. If they do, it’ll be with a new coach.
The Bulls fired Scott Skiles on Monday, hoping to shake up a team with one of the worst records in the Eastern Conference.
“I felt like something was going to happen,” forward Luol Deng said. “I didn’t know whether it was players or coaches. But you could definitely feel there was something. It just didn’t seem like we were on the same page.”
The underachieving Bulls (9-16) have lost three of their last four and were booed throughout by the home crowd during Saturday night’s 116-98 loss to the Houston Rockets. Their next game is tonight at San Antonio.
With three straight playoff appearances after a long postseason drought, the Bulls’ expectations were soaring. Then, they dropped 10 of their first 12 games, and they’ve been unable to capture the intensity that catapulted them into the second round of the playoffs last season.
They’ve lacked a consistent inside scoring threat the past few years, and now, their perimeter players are off target. Chicago is shooting a league-worst 41.3 percent, which partially explains why it hasn’t been able to sustain a winning streak.
“I don’t have a long-term solution as of today,” Bulls general manager John Paxson said. “I’m disappointed in the way we’re playing, the way we’re competing, the energy or lack thereof that we’re playing with on the floor. I know expectations coming into the year were really, really high and we’re not even close to those. I honestly believe we’re a better team than we’ve played this year.”
The Bulls didn’t immediately announce a replacement for Skiles, who went 165-172 after replacing Bill Cartwright in November 2003. Paxson said he does not expect to hire a coach until after the season, with assistants Pete Myers or Jim Boylan likely taking over on an interim basis. Myers will coach the team against the Spurs.
Chicago is in a familiar spot with this season’s slow start.
The Bulls dropped their first nine in 2004-05 and were 4-15 before going on a surge that led to 47 wins and their first playoff appearance since the Michael Jordan era. They needed a late surge the next season to make it to the playoffs, winning 12 of their final 14 regular-season games to finish with 41 wins.
And with high expectations following the arrival of Ben Wallace, the Bulls promptly dropped nine of their first 12 last season before turning things around. They wound up with 49 wins and swept Miami to capture a playoff series, then lost in six games to Detroit in the second round.
There were no major acquisitions in the offseason. Instead, the most notable moves were the ones the Bulls did not make — contract extensions for Ben Gordon and Deng and a blockbuster trade for Kobe Bryant.
And Deng finally acknowledged the negotiations and trade talk may have weighed down the team.
“I keep saying the whole idea that the contract thing isn’t a big deal with me, but it’s getting to a point where I don’t know,” he said. “It’s not like I came in and said I’m not going to play hard. It’s a life-changing decision. When I made the decision, I decided that I’m just going to play. It became part of it because that’s what people kept talking about. We struggled and they kept coming up.”
He called Skiles “a great coach” but the effort wasn’t there — particularly the past few games. Whether this wakes them up or is just the start of a shake-up remains to be seen.
“It’s a lot on our shoulders right now,” Deng said.
Skiles and the Bulls nearly parted ways in June 2005. Instead, he agreed to a four-year, $16.5 million contract extension after talking with owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
“I wouldn’t say we stopped playing for Scott,” guard Kirk Hinrich said. “Every time I go out there, I’m playing for my teammates, my coaches. We should all be in this together.”
Now, the critical eye might turn toward Paxson, even though he built the Bulls into a playoff team.
He made a big splash before last season when he signed Wallace to a four-year, $60 million deal, but that move has not paid dividends. The same goes for the draft night trade in 2006 in which he sent the rights to LaMarcus Aldridge to Portland for Tyrus Thomas.
Aldridge is averaging 18.5 points and 7.7 rebounds, and Thomas has been in and out of the rotation.
“I never absolve myself from responsibility,” Paxson said. “We all felt confident we had a team that was going to be pretty good this year. Our players now are put in a position where they have to look in the mirror and see what they can do to get this back on track. The message wasn’t being received by them. A lot of the pressure is on them right now.”