Skiles relieved of job, disappointing Bulls season

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Merry Christmas, Scott Skiles. By the way, you're fired.

That was the stunningly mixed message the Bulls coach received just before 10 a.m. Monday as his team was about to begin a Christmas Eve practice.

General manager John Paxson called Skiles in and told him he was being relieved 25 games into his fifth season with the team. Skiles' record with the Bulls was 9-16 this season and 165-172 overall, although he had overseen a return to respectability with a playoff-series win last spring for the first time since the Michael Jordan era ended in 1998.

"I'm obviously disappointed in the way we were playing, competing, the energy or lack of," Paxson said in a hastily arranged news conference at the Berto Center. "I know expectations were really, really high, and we're not even close to those.

"But I believe we're a better team than we've played this year. Our guys have proved that in the past. They're young and should be coming into their own as players."

Paxson acknowledged it was an awkward time to fire a coach, although Tim Floyd was pressured into resigning as Bulls coach six years earlier to the day.

"Anytime you do this, it's never one person's fault," Paxson said. "Scott did a terrific job for us for several years. We needed somebody at the time to get us organized, accountable as an organization, get people accountable and teach them the right way.

"Scott's a demanding guy. That's one of his great strengths, and it was good for us. But anyone watching us play right now ... we're not the team we need to be. Our goal is to get back into this."

That was part of the reason for the questionable timing, even as Skiles' family had come from Indiana for a holiday celebration. After the Bulls play Wednesday night in San Antonio—a difficult task no matter who the coach—they have one of their softest stretches of the season with two games against the Knicks (yes, Isiah Thomas outlasted Skiles) and games against Charlotte, Sacramento, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. They also face Portland and Orlando.

With the Bulls only a few losses behind the teams as high as fourth in the Eastern Conference, Paxson believed it was too soon to give up on the season.

Paxson said assistant Pete Myers would coach Wednesday's game. Top assistant Jim Boylan, who interviewed for the Pacers' job last summer, is to meet with Paxson on Wednesday, skipping the San Antonio trip to interview for a job that's likely to last only for the rest of this season.

"It's slipping away from us too fast," Paxson said. "We're 25 games into this. I still think we can find a way to get back into this thing and try to get into the playoffs, develop our young guys, do the things we need to do on the court. I'm going to come up with a short-term plan."

Connection broken

So why couldn't Skiles do that?

Clearly the disconnect between Skiles and the players and Skiles and management has been building.

It came to a head after Saturday night's blowout loss to the Houston Rockets at home, the second straight game in which it appeared the Bulls had given up.

Paxson met with Skiles, although it was said to be little more than a discussion of the team. But among several players, a feeling had been growing that Skiles had given up on the team. Not that he wasn't working at it, but he was losing faith in the Bulls' ability to perform at a higher level, and the players knew it.

No one player got Skiles fired, although it was instructive when Ben Wallace was asked Monday how he would characterize his relationship with Skiles. Wallace laughed.

"How would I characterize my personal relationship with any coach?" he said.

Wallace is said to have told Paxson last week, "He quit on us, so we've quit on him."

Thus apparently the reason for the timing.

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