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LeBron apparently sensed change was near

CLEVELAND -- Paul Silas was hired to mentor the NBA's next
superstar. While he succeeded with LeBron James, his failure with
the rest of the team cost him his job.

Silas was fired as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday,
his team fighting for a playoff spot after leading its division
earlier this year. Longtime NBA assistant Brendan Malone was
appointed interim coach.

The dismissal came with 18 games left and the team clinging to
the fifth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. James seems to
have been the only player who saw the move coming.

"You could kind of tell the way the air was, how things were
going around here, there was going to have to be a change," said
James, who scored a franchise-record 56 points Sunday. "I didn't
know it was going to be this soon."

Silas told The Associated Press he was informed at a morning
meeting with general manager Jim Paxson and new owner Dan Gilbert.
Silas' son, assistant Stephen Silas, also was fired.

"They didn't think the team was performing as well as it should
be and they wanted to make a change," Paul Silas said.

Malone will coach Tuesday night's home game against Detroit. He acknowledged he's in a tough situation, taking over a team late in
the season that is expected to reach the playoffs.

"I'm still in a state of shock about what happened," Malone
said after a morning practice.

Despite James and fellow All-Star Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the
Cavaliers have slumped since the All-Star break. They have lost
nine of 12 and nine straight road games, including Sunday's 105-98
loss to Toronto when the 20-year-old James became the youngest NBA
player to score 50 or more points.

"We felt that if we didn't make this decision that we were
jeopardizing our ability to be a playoff team this year," Paxson
said.

Paxson criticized Silas' ability as a coach and motivator.

"We're 64 games into the season and we still don't have a
consistent rotation, substitution pattern, those type of things,"
Paxson said. "We didn't see that changing."

Gilbert took over the team just three weeks ago and said the
organization would be evaluated from top to bottom. He indicated
Silas was not creating the best environment for the players.

"We felt the change today was necessary. It's going to put us
in a better position to win," Gilbert said.

The Cavaliers entered the All-Star break at 30-21, then went
into a slide, the decline marked by personnel issues. The trouble
may have culminated Sunday when Silas benched starting guard Jeff
McInnis for Eric Snow, who didn't score. McInnis did not play.

Earlier this season, Silas threw Snow off the bench after the
two exchanged words in Detroit, a move that stunned the team
because Snow is a leader.

Last week, Silas was fined $10,000 by the team for a derogatory
comment about Utah forward Carlos Boozer, who left the team as a
free agent last summer. Gilbert said that had no bearing on the
firing.

The Cavaliers are the ninth team -- nearly one-third of the
league -- to make a coaching change since the start of the season.

Malone, in his first season with the Cavaliers, was the first
coach of the expansion Toronto Raptors, spending one season with
the team. He's been an assistant with New York, Indiana, Seattle
and Detroit in 19 years of NBA coaching.

Malone said he would use the same starting lineup Silas did
against Toronto. He did not say if McInnis would play.

James helped lead the Cavaliers to a 35-47 record last season --
an 18-game turnaround. Silas seemed to have the respect of his
players. The club, however, lost Boozer as a free agent, the first
sign of real trouble.

The Cavaliers started this season by staying in first place for
most of the first two months. Then injuries and inconsistency led
to losses.

"There was a change in our swagger, the way we performed,"
reserve Scott Williams said. "People would tell me they didn't
know what to do -- thinking too much, playing too tight."

The 61-year-old Silas spent 16 years in the NBA as a player,
winning two titles with Boston and one with Seattle. His coaching
record was 355-400 with the Los Angeles Clippers, Hornets and
Cavaliers. He joined Cleveland in 2003 after being fired by the New
Orleans Hornets, having led them to the playoffs four straight
times.

Silas was hired to be James' first professional coach. The
youngster entered the league at 18 and has soared from rookie of
the year last season to All-Star this year, but the rest of the
team has struggled.

That became apparent Sunday with the team's third straight loss.
While James had a career day, the Cavaliers were weak on defense
and the reserves were outscored 34-1.

"There was a lot of standing around watching LeBron," Paxson
said. "LeBron is a passer first, and he became more of a shooter
and that hurt our team."