Bull's-eye on Paxson now
It's not quite a Christmas Eve tradition in Chicago, but Scott Skiles isn't the first Bulls coach to leave his post on Dec. 24.
Tim Floyd, remember, resigned as Bulls coach on Christmas Eve 2001.
There are two big differences, though.
No. 1: Floyd resigned and Skiles was axed.
No. 2: Floyd managed to generate at least a little sympathy when he trudged away after posting a 49-190 record in his never-had-a-chance attempt to follow Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan. That exit was a somber scene. This time? Don't expect much of that PC stuff you'd normally hear about how sad it is that this happened on a family holiday. There won't be any such outcry coming from the Bulls' locker room.
The Bulls' players and coaching staff simply weren't family anymore if they ever were. It wasn't just Ben Wallace and Tyrus Thomas constantly clashing with Skiles; Bulls sources say that two of the foreigners we don't hear much from in the domestic media -- Andres Nocioni and Thabo Sefolosha -- were equally miserable with Skiles always grinding on them, just to name two.
Not to suggest that this was anything new. In Phoenix and then Chicago, Skiles has always coached the same way.
Yet that approach, as everyone knows, can last for only so long. You have to credit Skiles for getting so much scrappy play out of players who have always chafed under him, but asking the Bulls to dig their way out of a third miserable start in four seasons proved one huge request too many. In 2004-05, Skiles' Bulls went from 0-9 to 47-35. In 2006-07, Chicago zoomed from 3-9 to 49-33. But it became increasingly clear, with flat-line performances like Saturday's 18-point home loss to a Houston team in its own funk, that this was going to be a lasting crisis.
Turns out that the constant Kobe Bryant trade speculation in November and the "Ko-be, Ko-be, Ko-be" chants from frustrated fans at the United Center were a secondary distraction to the tension between coach and players. These Bulls, who rely so much on effort and energy to offset their lack of an All-Star closer, simply weren't going to muster the fire to rally again. Not if Skiles stayed.
That's why the Bulls, after sending out repeated signals privately in recent weeks that they wouldn't even consider a coaching change until the offseason, did it now without a proven replacement lined up. At 9-16, Bulls management finally realized it could no longer wait if this group hopes to at least reach the playoffs in a season when so much more was expected.
It probably would have happened sooner, actually, if Skiles didn't have one more season after this one on his contract from an owner (Jerry Reinsdorf) never fond of paying guys not to work.
Bulls assistant Jim Boylan, I'm told, is likely to replace Skiles as interim coach. But the one to really watch from here is Bulls general manager John Paxson.
It was natural in troubled times for the media to focus, until now, on Skiles and the perpetually iffy state of his relationships with players. But that buffer is gone for the GM. Unless there's a sudden turnaround in the standings or a high-profile hire like Rick Carlisle, Pax will be hearing more and more about the Bulls' ongoing failure to trade for a low-post scorer and how Wallace is aging so quickly while Tyson Chandler flourishes in New Orleans and how much more LaMarcus Aldridge could have helped this team than Thomas after the Bulls chose Thomas over Aldridge in the draft.
Changing coaches on Christmas Eve (or whenever) won't magically fix all of the above. Which means Paxson will wake up Christmas morning wearing Skiles' old bull's-eye.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.