Cavs fire Lucas

Posted: Tuesday, January 21, 2003

CLEVELAND -- John Lucas couldn't make winners out of the Cleveland Cavaliers, so Keith Smart is getting a shot.

He's made a big one before.

Lucas was fired Monday by the Cavs, who at 8-34 have the NBA's worst record, an apathetic fan base, complacent players and an assortment of other problems.

''We've been pretty much the laughingstock of the league,'' said guard Bimbo Coles. ''It has been a circus or a zoo around here.''

Lucas, who was in his second season with the Cavs and had another year remaining on a three-year, $9 million contract, was replaced by Smart.

Smart, best known for making the game-winning jump shot for Indiana in the 1987 NCAA championship game against Syracuse, inherits the league's youngest team and all of Lucas' headaches.

''I told the players, we have an open book,'' said the 38-year-old Smart, who spent three seasons as a head coach in the CBA before joining the Cavs as an assistant. ''We're starting fresh.''

Smart will make his debut at home on Tuesday night against Orlando.

He's the league's second-youngest coach behind Golden State's Eric Musselman, who coached Smart in the CBA.

''I'm going to tell him the pressure has just intensified moving one chair over,'' said Musselman, who planned to call Smart.

The 49-year-old Lucas went 37-87 in 1 1/2 years in Cleveland. He wasn't bitter about being replaced and said he's proud of what he did accomplish.

''My time was up,'' Lucas said. ''It was time to move on. There were tough circumstances. But I tried to do the best job I could with what I was given. It didn't work out. I gave every ounce of energy I had and put my heart into it. It wasn't good enough.''

Cavaliers general manager Jim Paxson was disappointed in his team's lack of development under Lucas and decided to make the coaching change before things got worse.

The Cavs are coming off a 1-5 West Coast road trip where they were blown out in several of the losses. On Saturday, Cleveland made a season-high 30 turnovers in a 97-80 loss to Denver, the league's second-worst team with just 10 wins.

Despite the record, Paxson was more concerned that the Cavs weren't showing any signs of progress, and that Lucas didn't have a plan to turn things around.

''I didn't see any change coming, and this road trip reinforced that,'' said Paxson, who has been troubled by the team's play over the past month. ''I don't feel like our players felt like they had a chance to win.

''We do have the worst record in the NBA, but I think we have a better team than that. We should be more competitive than we have been.''

Paxson met with Lucas on Monday morning to tell him he was being dismissed. Assistant coach Jerry Eaves also was fired, while another assistant, Ron Ekker, was retained.

Coming off their third straight 50-plus loss season, the Cavs were resigned to devoting this season to rebuilding by developing their young roster.

During the summer, Cleveland traded point guard Andre Miller. In addition, high-priced veterans such as Shawn Kemp, Lamond Murray and Wesley Person were dealt so the Cavs could play their kids.

Lucas, though, was constantly juggling his lineups and didn't provide the consistency Paxson sought.

''We have talent on this team,'' Paxson said. ''It's young, but we do have talent. We've got a good group. I don't think this team needs discipline. It needs more structure, consistency and direction.''

Lucas was named the Cavs' 13th head coach in June 2001, replacing Randy Wittman. He came to Cleveland after spending three seasons as an assistant in Denver.

A former NBA point guard and No. 1 overall draft pick, Lucas had hoped his enthusiasm would help compensate for the Cavs' inexperience, but in the end there was only so much he could do.

The Cavs have been slowed by injuries, forcing Lucas to rush young players such as second-year center DeSagana Diop and undrafted free-agent guard Smush Parker onto the floor.

Lucas also was hampered by the franchise's reluctance to play 7-foot-3 center Zydrunas Ilgauskas more than 35 minutes per game. Ilgauskas has had five surgeries on his feet.

Lucas also had at least two run-ins with leading scorer Ricky Davis. Lucas was forced to suspend Davis for one game earlier this season for arguing with teammates and selfish play.

Davis bolted from the practice floor on Monday before he could be asked about Lucas' firing.

Coles said the losing was taking its toll.

''It got to the point that our young guys didn't want to come to the gym,'' Coles said. ''If you've got 19 and 20-year-olds who don't want to play, you've got problems.''

Lucas' season got off to a rough start. He was suspended for the first two games by the NBA for involving high school star LeBron James in an offseason workout.

Lucas is the third coach fired by the Cavs since 1999. Mike Fratello and Wittman were let go when they were unable to resurrect a franchise that has not gotten past the Eastern Conference finals in its 33-year history.

Cleveland was Lucas' third stint as an NBA head coach. He spent two years with Philadelphia and two with San Antonio.

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