CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls are starting over. Again.
Bill Cartwright became the latest casualty in the Bulls' seemingly endless rebuilding project, fired Monday after a 4-10 start. The team that began the season with such high expectations -- maybe even the first playoff run since the dynasty days -- looks like so many other versions of the HorriBulls.
All indications point to former Phoenix head coach Scott Skiles as the leading candidate to replace Cartwright, after Orlando did not hire Skiles last week to replace Doc Rivers. Pete Myers is serving as the interim head coach.
"There's no question that this team has underachieved, and probably for many reasons. Is it a coaching problem? I don't think so," Myers said in Dallas, where Chicago plays the Mavericks on Tuesday night.
"These kids got to tie up their shoestrings a little tighter," Myers said. "I told the guys today that it's time for you all to pull that mirror out now. We've changed coaches, now you guys are going to take the heat. Now you have to stand up."
If they don't, more changes are likely. Trade rumors were already swirling around the team, with talk over the weekend of a deal with Toronto for Jalen Rose.
While that trade hasn't happened, general manager John Paxson has made it clear he's not happy.
"The team is underperforming and we have to find ways to win, period," Paxson said. "I am not satisfied with the team's start this season and changes have to be made. This represents the first change, but not necessarily the last."
Chicago has been abysmal since the Michael Jordan dynasty was dissolved after winning its sixth NBA title in 1998. The Bulls have lost 292 games since, and have started and scrapped several rebuilding plans along the way.
But this was supposed to be the year everything turned around.
Chicago finished 30-52 last year, a nine-game improvement.
Prep-to-pros projects Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler were expected
to build on the progress they made at the end of last season, and
Scottie Pippen's return added veteran leadership.
Instead, the Bulls lost three of their first four games by an
average of 27 points, including back-to-back 30-point blowouts.
They share last place in the Central Division and have lost five
straight, including Sunday night's 110-99 loss to the Sacramento
Kings near Cartwright's hometown of Elk Grove, Calif.
They've struggled offensively and been lax defensively --
particularly galling to the defensive-minded Cartwright and Paxson. Curry has often looked lost, while Chandler has been limited by a back injury.
"It's tough because me returning here was really because of a guy like Bill Cartwright and wanting to see him do well and succeed as a coach," Pippen said. "It's a little bit of a failure on my part, not being able to help hold him in there for the long haul.
"I also think it's a failure on our part as a team that we
didn't give Bill the uplifting that he needed to be successful as a coach."
No, all this team did was give Cartwright a headache. Jay Williams, the No. 2 pick in the 2002 draft, is out until at least the 2004-05 season with severe injuries sustained in a June motorcycle crash. Jamal Crawford and Rose whined after Cartwright took them out of the starting lineup Nov. 8 at New Orleans.
Pippen is feeling the effects of his 38 years. And few players seem to remember -- or care -- that this is a team game, not a video version highlighting one person.
And Cartwright paid for it. He told his players Monday morning, and then Paxson met with the team.
"[Paxson] was really tough on the guys," Myers said. "He told
the guys, 'The days are over with that we respond to you all. From
this day forward, you all are going to have to respond to us.' I
thought it was a great message."
Cartwright was 51-100 since replacing Tim Floyd as the Bulls
head coach Dec. 28, 2001. He was a Bulls assistant for six years before that and was an integral part of Chicago's first three championship teams.
A first-round pick by the New York Knicks in 1979, the center was traded to the Bulls before the 1988-89 season and helped make them one of the NBA's best defensive teams. He averaged 13.2 points
and 6.3 rebounds in his 15-year career, and was valued as much for his presence and quiet leadership as his skills on the court.
"I knew there would be difficult times in this job, but none is harder than replacing a friend," said Paxson, a teammate on the first three title teams.
"I admire his hard work and his efforts and loyalty here. He will always be a Bull."
Cartwright has one year left on a three-year contract worth
about $4.5 million.
Paxson said he hopes to name a replacement within the next week. Former Orlando coach Doc Rivers has been mentioned as a possible replacement, but the Chicago native is working as a TV analyst and has said he won't coach again this year.
Former Bulls coach Doug Collins' name also has been floated, but
Collins has said he's not interested. Current assistant Ron Adams
and Chicago native Isiah Thomas are other possibilities.
"I still feel very strongly this team can turn it around,"
Pippen said. "Every night has to be a night of us getting better. You have to continue to step forward and gradually get better and get this franchise moving in the right direction."