Merry Christmas, Scott Skiles?

The Chicago Bulls fired Skiles today and didn't even bother leaving a gift-wrapped bag of smelly, game-worn tube socks under the tree. Wow. That's cold.

A Christmas Eve firing isn't unusual. I was in my first season covering the Hawks five years ago when then-general manager Pete Babcock canned Lon Kruger. The crazy part of that firing, was that I had only taken two days off - Christmas Eve and Christmas - so that I could sneak in some time with my family in Kansas City. I could sense that Kruger was in trouble after the Hawks got trounced in Indiana in the last game before the holiday, but I just knew nobody would get fired then. Rookie mistake.

Skiles should have been worried, too. The holiday season touches Bulls general manager John Paxson in a special way. The last time he fired a coach - Bill Cartwright in 2003 - he did it on Thanksgiving.

Tis the season to be jolly, my . . .(AP Photo/Paul Connors)

I can't say that I'm too shocked about Skiles's firing, since the Bulls have been a disappointing 9-16 this season, with no hope of a U-turn in sight. When I was in Chicago last week, working on a story about how bad the Bulls are, Paxson declined to comment. Word had it that he wasn't in the best mood to talk about the team. Bad sign.

I asked Skiles his thoughts about an report that his intense style was beginning to wear on his players, as it did in Phoenix. Skiles didn't get defensive. He just said, "I hadn't heard it until somebody told me about [the story]," before walking away in a rush.

I don't think Skiles was the sole problem in Chicago. They have a number of concerns - Kirk Hinrich and the Bens (Wallace and Gordon) have been huge disappointments - but it's easier to fire the coach than it is the players, so Skiles had to take the fall. It's unfortunate, since Skiles had done so much to turn around the Bulls after that pitiful post-Michael Jordan funk that had Tim Floyd and Cartwright leading the team into obscurity.

"This was a difficult decision to make, but one that was necessary at this time," Paxson said in a release. "Scott helped us in many ways during his time with the Bulls; most importantly, he helped this franchise get back to respectability. I am appreciative of his hard work and the imprint that he left on our team."

But back to to the Bulls other problems. I know a lot has been made about the Kobe Bryant trade rumors, the contract extensions the Luol Deng and Gordon didn't sign and their tradition of slow starts. I spoke to an Eastern Conference scout last week who also mentioned that he noticed that the Bulls aren't a very close knit group. It's not that the guys don't like each other. They get along; there aren't any Deng-Gordon feuds or Andres Nocioni-Hinrich jealousies. They just have a bunch of individuals who don't really socialize or hang out with each other off the floor. That translates on the court, where the Bulls just didn't seem like a group of guys who played for each other.

Sometimes chemistry can be overrated, but if you look at the best teams in the East - Boston and Detroit - those guys really get along off the floor. The Bulls don't have that. And, according to some Bulls observers, Wallace misses the camaraderie he shared with the Pistons, which has led to much of his frustration in Chicago.

Yo, Dice. Don't laugh. Let's switch jerseys for a half. Okay, one quarter.(Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

But the central problem with the Bulls is leadership. They don't have one. I found it interesting last week that when a reporter asked Skiles where he looked for leadership on the floor, he said, "I'd rather not answer that."

That was an answer within itself.

But when I looked back over the past three seasons, the Bulls won 47, 41 and 49 games. Want to know why they won so many games in 2004-05 and 2006-07, but dipped in 2005-06? Antonio Davis and P.J. Brown.

Three years ago, the Bulls had Davis, who provided the glue, the veteran leadership and savvy that young team needed - especially when they spent the last month of the season without Eddy Curry.

Davis of course was shipped to New York along with Curry the following summer. Yes, the Bulls still had the talent to get back into the playoffs two years ago - and put a first-round scare into the Miami Heat - but the team didn't improve.

Last season, the Bulls signed Wallace and nearly won 50 games, but that was mostly because they had another player in the Davis mold in Brown. Brown was able to mentor Tyrus Thomas and help the Bulls get through some difficult patches - even when his name was mentioned in trade rumors most of the season.

Brown, of course, let his contract expire and doesn't appear to be in a rush to come back to the NBA. That leaves the Bulls with Deng and Hinrich as captains, and Wallace as the most seasoned player on the roster - which might not be a good thing.

Davis and Brown provided the calming influence and the necessary buffer between Skiles and the players.

Wallace is anything but a buffer. He clashed with Skiles from the time he arrived in Chicago - most publicly last season over a silly headband. And, even when Skiles backed off the headband rule, Wallace still wasn't giving the team much of anything this season.

Whether that's the result of age or effort, only Wallace can say. But when he was in Detroit, Wallace led with his hard-nosed, relentless play. He rarely opened his mouth, but when he did, his teammates responded. Now, he lacks the necessary energy, and his words don't even motivate himself.

My only issue with Wallace is that he hasn't a great relationship with many of his coaches since he became a star in Detroit. In his six years there, the Pistons had four coaches - George Irvine, Rick Carlisle, Larry Brown, Flip Saunders - and now the Bulls are looking for someone else to replace Skiles. For those counting at home, that's five coaches in less than eight seasons for Wallace.

While Paxson finds a replacement, he might want to give P.J. Brown another call - or look to acquire another leader in a trade. Now that his old nemesis Skiles is gone, maybe Jason Kidd wouldn't mind playing in Chicago. Just a thought.

By Michael Lee |  December 24, 2007; 3:53 PM ET
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hey mike this is a good report but i heard on and i went to the nba rumor central and it said washington was looking to get a deal for larry huges and can you talk about that please thanks

Posted by: brandon | December 24, 2007 4:10 PM

The above comment was answered in Ivan's posting - and it is an absurd notion.

Posted by: Howcome? | December 24, 2007 8:06 PM

Screw John Paxson....what an idiot

Posted by: Anonymous | December 24, 2007 8:06 PM

As a native of Chicago and fan of all Chicago Sports, firing Scott Skiles may be just what the Bulls needed. There is no doubt that the Bulls are a group of highly talented players capable of beating any team in the NBA. But Scott Skiles is just too much of a traditional style coach. He doesn't believe in really high scoring games, but well played defensive games. The top teams in the league are averaging over 100 points per game, even known defensive teams such as the Spurs and Pistons. The Bulls are very capable of playing good offensive basketball if a coach would allow them some freedom. Ben Gordon can fire three's with the best. We've seen this in his rookie and second year but not very much lately. They all seem to attack the basket and shoot less from the outside. If the Bulls are going to keep this team and try to win with this team, the next coach the choose better be willing to let these guys play. Is Don Nelson interested?

Posted by: A. Stingley | December 24, 2007 8:28 PM

"Heck, drafting Kevin Durant would have been good for this team too!!!! Why not draft Al Horford also? EG should have drafted all of them! Shocker!

Was DJ better than NY or DMac? I think not. Therefore, if you don't have the extra draft picks, then it's stupid to be talking about drafting this or that player also.

EG was gullible in assuming Gilby would ready for this season. Gilby screwed things up by overdoing his idiotic workout plan and setting himself back because his self promotion plans got ahead of his body responding to them.

If EG had known that Gilby wasn't going to be available, I'm sure EG would have drafted a PG.

Therefore, talking about drafting DJ and how well he did in summer league is monday morning quarterbacking and ain't worth sh!t. Get over yourself.

Posted by: DC Man88 | December 24, 2007 09:31 AM"

ok...first off, get over myself? what makes you say that? when did i ever give you the idea that i was all about myself? secondly, are you F@#ING serious? this is why people hate you and have no respect for you. you pull something out of your ass, and then shift focus on something completely irrelevant when people call you on it. it's a shame, because sometimes you actually do have a point. right when you might be credible, though, you start spouting off on "i told you so's" and personal attacks. i wish whoever is supposed to moderate this blog actually would follow through on their own policies.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 24, 2007 9:20 PM

"ok...first off, get over myself? what makes you say that? when did i ever give you the idea that i was all about myself? secondly, are you F@#ING serious? this is why people hate you and have no respect for you. you pull something out of your ass, and then shift focus on something completely irrelevant when people call you on it. it's a shame, because sometimes you actually do have a point. right when you might be credible, though, you start spouting off on "i told you so's" and personal attacks. i wish whoever is supposed to moderate this blog actually would follow through on their own policies.

Posted by: | December 24, 2007 09:20 PM "

F#ck you. As if I cared if people hate me or not. Have something credible to say or get lost...or in your case, keep posting like the anonymous b#tch that you are.

I hope Santa grants you your wish of bringing DJ Strawberry here so that you can pleasure your personal strawberry throughtout the rest of this NBA season.

Posted by: DC Man88 | December 24, 2007 9:54 PM

Man DC..still no life.

All that hate on Christmas Eve...

Posted by: Anonymous | December 24, 2007 10:55 PM

I LUV Gilby!

Posted by: DC Manwich88 | December 24, 2007 11:11 PM

DC Man88 responds to posts about the "village idiot." What does that say about his self image?

Posted by: | December 24, 2007 11:22 PM

Posted by: Anonymous | December 24, 2007 11:34 PM

Look, I don't understand all this leadership stuff as being the cause of the Bulls' struggles. I understand that it might contribute slightly. But a look at the statistics will prove that the Bulls' absolutely putrid performance on offense this year, combined with solid, but no longer stellar defense (as they had had in years past) is the underlying reason behind their decline. Using John Hollinger's team stats on, the Bulls have the worst offensive efficiency in the league (a stat that measures points scored per possession; by using a possession basis for measuring offensive stats, it removes the bias towards offenses such as the Warriors' and the Nuggets' who play at extremely fast paces). They also are currently 10th in the league in defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession, which also removes the bias against teams like Denver who play at very fast paces that cause their overall Points allowed per game to skyrocket simply due to the high volume of possessions), whereas they finished 1st in the NBA last year. Combine these two facts with the overall, pretty severe drops in player efficiency rating (Hollinger's stats) for Gordon/Hinrich/Ben Wallace and the Bulls' decline can be explained. Yes, the leadership (or lack thereof) may be influencing the team chemistry on the court and contributing to the horrific offense. But I wonder about the discussion about teams like Detroit and Boston as far as teams that enjoy each other's company off the floor and that correlating with their on-court performance. After all, isn't it possible that the off-court camaraderie is fostered by on court success? I recall seeing some bickering Pistons teams as the end of the last two seasons went up in smoke in the Eastern Conference Finals. Similarly, had the Celtics gotten out to a bad start, perhaps we would've heard more about how Allen/KG/Pierce weren't meshing on and off the court.

Posted by: Raj | December 24, 2007 11:39 PM

Yeah please tell us what you can about the Larry Hughes thing. He is making 12 million dollars a year and the Wizards salaries are --Roger Mason, DMC, Mike Wilks under 1 mill-- Opec (1.4 mill), NiYo (1.5), Bulletproof (2.5), DeBrick(3.3),Songaila (3.95), Haywood (5.00), AD (5.8), Etan Thomas (6.37), Gil (11.95), and Antawn (16.4).

Posted by: Emmet | December 25, 2007 12:32 AM

The Bulls seemed to lack a superstar who could put the team on its shoulders and carry it. Instead, they had to win with execution, which Skiles did a good job getting out of the team.

In contrast, I've always been frustrated with the Wizards because they don't execute as well as I see other teams do, but they rely on superstars and talent to win.

In the NBA, it seems that interestingly, talent often trumps execution. The Bulls are deep and have alot of intriguing young pieces, but Kirk Hinrich is not going to scare you. At the end of a game when you need a basket, Ben Wallace is not going to scare you, and as gritty as he may be, Nocioni is not going to scare you. They can all execute and are solid, solid players, but lack that extra special swag that Arenas or Butler or Jamison will give you.

Also, I think having Skiles as a coach scared off new acquisitions. Especially after the really silly headband controversy. You need to learn to pick your battles and Skiles was being pretty stubborn. Kobe Bryant is going to play for Skiles? No way. Jason Kidd play for Skiles? Nope.

Posted by: Oakton, VA | December 25, 2007 1:12 AM

I like Skiles and agree defense is the bulwark of winning ball, but his style stultifies the development of young on-floor leaders in this generation of generally less stringent coaches.

Posted by: noramorse | December 25, 2007 3:42 AM

larry hughes is in Cleveland or did I miss the trade?

Posted by: pea | December 25, 2007 7:42 AM

hmm, salary aside if the Wizards wanted Larry Hughes, they could trade Pecherov. Equal value right? Before I get lectured on guards and forwards, I mean the Wizards would get few good games from Hughes. About as many good games as Pecherov whom we haven't seen on the court yet. On a dollar basis, how about Butler and Songaila for Hughes? Or Pecherov, Thomas and Songaila for Hughes? See what I mean - there does not seem to be a way to get Hughes back even if Ernie wanted him back.

Posted by: rgz | December 25, 2007 9:23 AM


Posted by: DARGREGMAG@AOL.COM | December 25, 2007 9:59 AM

I don't see what the problem would have been if he had fired Skiles a couple of days later after Christmas. Man, that's lame.

Posted by: charlie | December 25, 2007 10:50 AM

Any chance Skiles would take an assistant job to come here? I always hated the Bulls (post Jordan) since they were Wiz rivals as they both tried to rebuild then contend, but I did love the way they played defense. Eddie Jordans offense and Skiles defense would be a killer combination. Merry Christmas all!

Posted by: Anonymous | December 25, 2007 3:18 PM

gil, LH, caron, and twan? sounds pretty damn nice.

Posted by: swaggerrr | December 25, 2007 6:04 PM

That is an interesting thought anon 3:18, but I wonder if Skiles would be allowed to take the job or would the Bulls have to be compensated in some way? Also how would that effect the chemistry of the coaching staff. There seems to be better chemistry with Ayers on there than with Bill Berry.

Posted by: George Templeton | December 25, 2007 6:48 PM

Ivan please give me information on the larry huhes coming to Washington thing.

Posted by: brandon | December 26, 2007 1:22 AM

Grasping at straws..Grasping at straws..Will this Wizards team ever get on the same page? One grows weary of this rag tag bunch of mediocre players. Besides Butler and Arenas..who is there to waist another dime or minute on this year?

No real PG. certainly NOT Mason. Not Young. No real center... Oh yeah there is Haywood. On a good day..they might play him..Somebody - please tell me what the Wiz are supposed to be doing???

Posted by: Anonymous | December 26, 2007 1:42 AM

Holiday downer. You've forgotten to drop a dime on Antawn Jamison. No call for despair, if you like basketball, the Wiz are an interesting team, and something of an unknown commodity without Arenas. The playoffs are achievable but past the first round highly questionable without Arenas. They are competitive with Daniels at point, Butler, Jamison are legit players, Haywood and Stephenson keep surprising and the younger players are at least playing and getting experience.

Posted by: myshkin | December 26, 2007 10:06 AM

Hope everybody had a great Christmas. Looks like a few of the posters need to get a life. Can't even stop the idiocy during the holiday. Very sad.

As I catch up on this post hoops site it looks like a common theme the last few days is team chemistry and comraderie:
1/ Da Bulls don't have it though talented and that cost SS his job.
2/Larry Hughes wants to come back to the Zards and leave the Cavs because he misses the guys.
3/And now Wilks says that he sees a tight team that clearly gets along on and off the court and says it is unique in the league.

As I have said before props to Jordan and Grunfeld. Grunfeld gets guys who are not knuckleheads. Jordan creates or allows the Jamison, Caron, Daniels, Gilbert leadership to fall into a unique core that somehow seems to work. The best player is not the leader. But it works somehow.

Changing the culture of a team is very, very difficult and the Zards have gone from a team 4-5 years ago where folk were selfish and wanted to leave to what we are seeing now. Props to EG and EJ.

Posted by: BmoreRev | December 26, 2007 10:40 AM

I've got to agree with B-Rev, Changing a team's culture can be very difficult if not darned near impossible with quarenteed contracts in the NBA.

The Wizards used to be a revolving door of a roster that featured alot of disfunctional parts that didn't fit. The present tough patch with injuries is something that many teams encounter from time to time.

But I don't see a roster that should be blown up and the need to start over. Contrary to what would seem to be the sentiment on this board, which really is the work of a small number,if not one, negative posters. The Wizards really have displayed alot to be excited about even with a complete rash of injuries.

Posted by: GM | December 26, 2007 1:21 PM

I wish someone would have just said: LARRY HUGHES IS NOT COMING TO WASHINGTON!!!

Posted by: Rob P | December 26, 2007 3:17 PM

I have stated in here multiple times when the Bulls and then the Cavaliers were getting their media and pundit props that I thought the Wiz had a more talented core group of players. I think the gap is even wider now bc I think we have real talent on the bench this year and we are showing a willingness to play some D.

By the way, this injury bug is starting to worry me. I don't care how good a player anyone is, if you can't stay healthy it does not matter.

Posted by: Rob P | December 26, 2007 3:24 PM

Sorry to hear of Skiles getting fired. He was a very good coach, got his teams well prepared. His teams played hard and very well on defense (until this year). On offense they always lack a real post presence and thus live or die by the jump shot. But Scott worked well, given those limitations, by setting up good plays to get good open shots. He often won games by outcoaching other teams.
So his players did not like his hard-nosed style and tuned him out. And the coach takes the fall everytime. It sucks but is a fact of life in the NBA, the overpaid, underachieving babies on most teams can get the coach fired. Skiles will coach and coach successfully somewhere again someday. Its the Bulls loss.

Posted by: cwb3 | December 27, 2007 9:30 AM

The only surprise here is that Paxson waited this long to fire Skiles. He has a well deserved rep as a guy who rides his players hard. He has to in order to get the most out of them, but his hard-charging style also leads to early burnout. This has been coming for a while.

"I wonder if Skiles would be allowed to take the job or would the Bulls have to be compensated in some way?"

George, the Bulls can only demand compensation (or block him from taking another job) if he quits with time left on his contract. Since they fired him, he's no longer bound by any terms of his deal with Chicago. he can take any job he wants.

As for him coming to D.C. as an assistant ... it's unlikely and probably not a good idea. He and Eddie on the same staff would likely result in a power struggle the team doesn't need. The only way I see it happening is if Grunfeld is looking to push Jordan out and wants "his guy" in place. But even then I can't see Skiles as his preferred choice. Skiles' style is best suited for young, rebuilding teams, not a more veteran squad like the Wiz. There's going to be some coaches fired before next season starts. My guess is he'll have more than one head coaching option.

I wouldn't be surprised to see him in NY next season.

Posted by: kalorama | December 27, 2007 12:39 PM

Skiles was the scapegoat in Chicago but that doesn't mean none of it was on him.

He wasn't the one how failed to sign 2 starters to extensions (Deng and Gordon) while showing the money to Heinrich (before he was a RFA), Nocioni and Wallace. He didn't dangle half the team in talks with the Lakers either. Those 2/3 situations caused more harm than anyone is admitting.

Wallace was supposed to be the all-effort anti-star player that lead by example. he's been acting more like a spoiled star since he got his ring. He clashed with Flip Saunders for not getting the ball enough. He chose more money over a great situation in Detroit. he clashed with Skiles over a headband (which was dumb on Skiles part too). And to finish it all off he's been playing half-hearted ball and pouting. hard to say who has gone down quicker after getting paid, he or Shawn Alexander of the Seahawks. Its that bad.

Posted by: Monte | December 27, 2007 1:31 PM

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