Bulls fire coach Skiles; replacement expected to be named after season

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- 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.

"Hardly a day goes by that I don't demand accountability and stress results," Skiles told the Chicago Tribune. "Today was my day to be held accountable."

Skiles told also the newspaper that he wasn't bothered by being fired on Christmas Eve.

"The fact that it's Christmas Eve is neither here nor there," Skiles told the Tribune. "The timing doesn't bother me. I'm not destitute."

It seems the players weren't caught off guard, either.

"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
Wednesday 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 lineup.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this story.