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After Skiles' exit, what next for Bulls?
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 12/26/2007 4:55 AM

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Tonight in San Antonio, it will be Pete Myers. By the time the Bulls host Milwaukee on Friday, it will most likely be Jim Boylan.

But the new Bulls coach should already realize that only a small portion of the current mess was actually Scott Skiles' fault. There were too many mental barriers infecting the team at the start of the season, and once things went badly, Skiles' efforts to correct the flaws only made them worse.

The team's highest-paid player, center Ben Wallace, has not been productive. Several others seemed to lose all confidence.

Ben Gordon has been walking around like he's just been visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future, who told him to expect to be paid the mid-level exception next summer if he can't bring his shooting percentage above 40.

The first thing the Bulls needed was an unexpected kick in the mouth, and they got that with Skiles' firing Monday. There was no practice on Christmas, just a flight to San Antonio for tonight's game.

So with some time off, here are a few suggestions for the next Bulls' coach to consider before taking the reins:

Feel free to experiment

Skiles resisted suggestions from his staff to bring Gordon off the bench and play rookie center Aaron Gray earlier in the season.

Gray finally got his chance last week and played very well in three of the four games. Gordon, meanwhile, figures to go back to the sixth-man role he played so well as a rookie.

It could be seen as a demotion, but if Gordon can simply get into a hot shooting streak at least once a game, he'll be an extremely valuable player who commands an excellent salary on the free-agent market.

With Thabo Sefolosha playing poorly, this might be the time to try Luol Deng at shooting guard. But the Bulls also desperately need a floor leader. Last year they had P.J. Brown to provide leadership on the floor. But now, the only player who seems capable of grabbing hold of the team and settling people down is Adrian Griffin, who rarely plays but looked good during recent garbage minutes.

How about a starting lineup of Hinrich, Deng, Griffin, Wallace and Smith? The Bulls could play off Deng at the start of games, then bring Gordon, Nocioni, Gray, Tyrus Thomas and Chris Duhon off the bench. Fourth-quarter playing time would be merit-based.

Treat everyone as equals

It's hard to blame Skiles for being loyal to the veteran players who had a proven track record. But let's face it, Skiles' devotion to Wallace and Hinrich is what helped get him fired.

The beginning of the end for Skiles might have been when he played Wallace all 48 minutes in a loss to Dallas on Dec. 3. Wallace grabbed 8 rebounds, one every six minutes, and the rest of the players must have thought their coach had lost his marbles.

A healthy and productive Wallace would be great for the Bulls. He can still dominate games on occasion, but if Wallace isn't getting the job done, don't play him.

It was a telling scene when the Bulls came to life in a win at Washington last week the moment Gray entered the game. The players like Gray as a person and were convinced that his combination of passing skills and low-post scoring would make the game easier. That night, anyway, they were right.

Of course, the equal-treatment edict should extend to all the regulars. Even among their best players this season, Nocioni has hit a slump the past three games, and Deng has had a few no-show performances.

Loosen the reins

This might be easier said than done, but for some reason the players felt restricted on the court and it showed in their uninspired play.

Whenever someone had a breakout game, that player inevitably gave credit to the act of not thinking so much on the court. Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas may have delivered this statement on the same night.

"You could see guys were thinking out there instead of just playing hard," Gordon said. "Most nights, we really couldn't get on the same page. I think as a team, you're not going to win that way. You can't just have certain guys show up and certain guys not show up. We have to be on the same page."

It will be interesting to see what happens tonight against the Spurs. With Myers filling in, the Bulls may get a little more autonomy to create their own style of offense. If they respond by sharing the ball and shooting with confidence, there may be hope for this season after all.

Vary the offense

The offense did adapt under Skiles. There were times in the past when the Bulls ran pick-and-rolls on 30 consecutive possessions, but this season there were more screens set for Gordon and opportunities for Deng to score near the basket, which he's actually done well.

But the team needs more ways to move the ball inside and out, as opposed to dribbling along the perimeter and handing the ball off.

One of the most obvious needs is to take advantage of Thomas' athletic skills. There is really no excuse for failing to execute three alley-oop dunks per game, but that's something the Bulls rarely even attempted this season. Try setting some back screens once in a while or try anything besides telling Thomas to look for opportunities within the standard offense.

Bring the noise

Another requirement is less practical, but the Bulls should lobby the NBA to install a dribbling horn at the United Center. If a single player dribbles the ball for as many as eight seconds, the horn would sound and that player would know he is ruining the offense.

If they can set off sonic blasts during pregame introductions in Cleveland and Detroit, the dribbling horn should be only a minor intrusion. Draw up the proposal today.

Today's tipoff

Bulls vs. San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center, 7:30 p.m.

TV: Channel 9

Radio: WMVP 1000-AM

Update: The Spurs have cooled off lately, losing four their last six after a 17-3 start. But they have just 1 home loss, which happened last week against Phoenix. Tim Duncan is the team's third-leading scorer at 18.6 ppg, trailing PG Tony Parker (20.0) and SG Manu Ginobili (19.2). Ginobili is not expected to play tonight because of sprained ligaments in his left index finger.

Series history: The Bulls have actually had decent luck with the defending champion Spurs, going 2-2 over the past two seasons, including a road win in November 2005.

Next: Milwaukee Bucks, on Friday at the United Center, 7:30 p.m.

-- Mike McGraw