Christmas is almost here, which means that football is nearing its end and the NBA is about ready to begin its slow journey to the forefront of the North American sports landscape.
But hey, lets not forget the eggnog, the brightly colored strands of lights that accent our roof lines, and Santa Claus. Oh, and that other bearded fellow for whom the holiday was named after.
Much like how I don't get how most of the things commonly associated with Christmas relate to the birth of Christ himself, I don't get why on the day before the most celebrated religious holiday in North America, Chicago Bulls coach Scott Skiles was handed a lump of coal one day early.
Chicago general manager John Paxson fired Skiles Monday in a move that, by definition, is bullish.
Paxson, along with many fans, will tell you that the team Skiles coached was supposed to be much better than it was last year when it finished with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. They became to trendy pick to beat both the Detroit Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Central Division crown. Many pundits even pegged them as a dark horse to win the conference title. While such expectations might have been lofty ones to begin with and are even riskier propositions now, the goal of a run at the NBA finals is one that is attainable, even if the team 9-16 at this point.
The Bulls have been a notoriously slow to start each of the last three seasons, but have been equally well known for consistently solid play from then on out. The Bulls started the 2004-05 season going 4-15, but finished the year with 47 wins. They started the 2005-06 season in similar fashion before winning 12 of their final 14 games to clinch a playoff berth. In 2006-2007, they started 3-9 before going 46-24 over the last 70 games and then knocked off the defending NBA champion Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.
Successful finishes have been as much a part of Skiles' M.O. as the slow starts have been.
So if its not that, is it that Skiles doesn't know how to further develop the young players on his roster? Let's look:
- Luol Deng's numbers are about where they were at the end of last year.
- Ben Gordon's scoring average is down, but that's more of a product of his 38.5 field-goal percentage and while some blame could be laid on the coach's offensive scheme, Skiles doesn't bear all or even most of the responsibility for a seven-percent shooting dip.
- Kirk Hinrich's numbers over his four-year career have followed the same pattern as the Bulls themselves have - slow start, gradual incline, then peak at the finish.
- Andres Nocioni is putting up near spot-on identical numbers to last season while playing fewer minutes.
- 2006 lottery pick swapee Tyrus Thomas has been remarkably inconsistent, but the fact that his draft-day-deal counterpart LaMarcus Aldridge has blossomed leaves Paxson as the one looking bad, not Skiles.
- Joakim Noah hadn't even started SEC-play at Florida this time last year, plus big men develop more slowly than college guards or swingmen.
- Ben Wallace hasn't developed anything since he signed a four-year, $60 million contract with the Bulls in the summer of 2006, but the then soon-to-be 32-year-old undersized center doesn't really count as being young or, as Bulls fans are sure to tell you, talented.
It would be irrational to cite a lack of development among the team's young talent over two-months worth of games as a reason for Skiles to be shown the door, especially when he has a lengthy record of molding talent, not to mention that regression among young players has been minimal at worst.
So since a lack of player development would be an irresponsible thing for one of the league's most calculated general managers to fire Skiles over, could it be because he has lost touch with his team?
"I wouldn't say we stopped playing for Scott," Hinrich said. "Every time I go out there, I'm playing for my teammates, my coaches.
"He's a great coach," Deng said.
Both statements were made today.
So what then? Some kind of internal conflict?
No, it's just a knee-jerk reaction by a franchise that had so much success during Skiles tenure that it set its sights too high and forgot just how bad things were before he got there. And I'm not just talking about the fact that Skiles coached the Bulls to three-straight postseason appearances after Chicago had won more than 25 games only once in first five years after Michael Jordan left. I'm talking about a 41-year franchise history wrought with futility, a franchise history that features no conference championships and only one divisional title outside of the 12-year Jordan era. I'm talking about a franchise history that can claim on 11 winnings seasons in the 29 years without Jordan, and three of those winning seasons were achieved with Skiles at the helm.
The fact that Paxson said that the Bulls have yet to name an interim coach, let alone come up with any kind of a list of possible long-term successors, just adds an exclamation point to what can only be described as a move that lacks both foresight or hindsight. While I think this move is hasty and unfounded, it had better make sense to Paxson and had better not be change-for-change's-sake, or his fall should soon follow.
Like I said, this change at this time makes about as much sense to me as Jolly Old St. Nick becoming a more recognizable Christmas figure than the man for whom the holiday was originally celebrated.
While playing for the Orlando Magic, Skiles once said that "basketball is like religion. Many attend, few understand."
Congratulations to Paxson, the spoiled, fair-weather Bulls fans and everyone else whose short attention span and even shorter memory allowed them to forget the good times Skiles had brought them and the abysmal times that immediately preceded his arrival. Congrats to those who were calling for Skiles' head because he didn't get to the finals by year-four with one of the youngest teams in the NBA. You can now officially lump yourselves in with the season's next largest mass of ignorance: all those who think of holiday sales first, reindeer second, fir trees third an can't instantly tell you why the first six letters of the word Christmas are what they are.