Rebuilding Bulls still have losing foundation

ON THE NBA

January 25, 2004|By MILTON KENT

On a certain level, Scott Skiles knew what he was getting into when he took over as Chicago Bulls coach after Bill Cartwright was fired in late November.

The Bulls, as constituted, are a weird amalgam of the very young (Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry) and the graying before your eyes (Scottie Pippen and Antonio Davis).

But Skiles may not have realized just how difficult it will be to change the culture of losing that has festered around the United Center in the six seasons since the Bulls last raised a championship banner.

The losing streak is at six and the Bulls have landed with a thud near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

"There's no question, young or old, if you're in a situation where you're constantly getting beat, that's when things start to go a little bit wrong in a game, it's easy to give in to that," Skiles said before a recent game in Washington.

"I know that we've done that on occasion. You can see it in the reaction of our players. You have to fight that environment and try to create a new environment and hope that as time goes, the wins come and attitudes change."

That's a nice theory, but it hasn't come to pass yet. Former Bulls point guard John Paxson, now the team's general manager, was seen giving a passionate lecture after a practice last week.

Pippen, the last playing vestige of the glory days when the Bulls won six titles in eight years, declared last week in the Chicago Sun-Times that his teammates had reached the point where "winning and losing are the same."

The Bulls suffered perhaps their worst loss of the season last Monday in Washington, where, after leading by 15 at halftime and shooting 56 percent in the first half, Chicago scored just 25 points in the second half and lost to the Wizards, 93-83.

"It's not like we were up 18 against the Lakers or Kings and they put a run together," guard Jamal Crawford said. "We were up 18 against the Wizards. We have to finish those games."

Curry, the 6-foot-11 third-year forward, has drawn the bulk of criticism in the Windy City. The fourth overall pick in the 2001 draft, Curry has shown flashes of promise but has largely been inconsistent, with his conditioning and effort being called into question.

"So far we know what we've got," Skiles said. "We've got a very skilled big man who struggles with his conditioning, and has been part of a Bulls team that has racked up a huge amount of losses in the time that he has been here. It is what it is. That's not just a knock on Eddy.

"I've said it before about everybody that has been a part of it while it was happening. I don't know that there's a big mystery all of a sudden about what Eddy is or anybody else. That's why we know everybody has to improve."

After being thought of as the future of the franchise, Curry and Chandler, as well as Crawford, have been placed on the trading block. That improvement had better come fast.

Quiz

Not surprisingly, the Los Angeles Lakers appear five times on the list of the 10 teams with the most assists in a season, including first and third. Which team had the second most?

Viva Las Vegas?

The Baltimore metropolitan area is larger than seven cities (Portland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, New Orleans, Memphis) that have NBA franchises as well as another that lost a team and is about to get another next year (Charlotte).

Yet, when it comes to expansion -- which isn't officially on the NBA radar screen -- hearts beat loudly for a city that is smaller than any of the nine listed above: Las Vegas.

"As far as expansion cities in the U.S., Baltimore possibly, but my first bet would be Las Vegas," Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said to a Baltimore reporter during a conference call last week. "It's one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., and I think it could absolutely support a sports team."

That notion was seconded by Sacramento Kings owner Gavin Maloof, whose family owns a hotel and casino in the desert city.

For the record, NBA commissioner David Stern has said he believes the league should expand in Europe before considering an American city, and not before the end of the current decade.

So long as the dilapidated 1st Mariner Arena remains as the city's indoor arena, the issue of expansion and/or relocation of a franchise is moot. Still, it would be nice if someone of vision got Baltimore ready to compete with Las Vegas and any foreign locale when the NBA gets ready to expand again, or if a team decides to pick up stakes.

`Assets' staying put

Don't look for Cuban or the Maloof family, whose respective rosters are loaded with European players, to enthusiastically send any of their international talent off to play for their national teams in competition.

"The more I think about it -- Gavin and I -- we're against it," Joe Maloof said. "It's too dangerous. We pay these guys tremendous salaries and to have one of them injured in one of those games would be devastating to our fans, would be devastating to the league and to us."

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