With the backing of -- or perhaps at the insistence of -- team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who doesn't want to miss out on playoff revenue, GM John Paxson on Monday held Scott Skiles responsible for the last-place club's 9-16 start.


When most of us look at the Chicago Bulls, we say: "They have some nice role players, but they jack up too many 3-pointers, have no go-to guy, need an interior presence and lack on-court leadership. They aren't legitimate contenders."
 When general manager John Paxson looks at his Bulls, he apparently says: "I've built a championship team. If only we had a championship coach."
 So with the backing of -- or perhaps at the insistence of -- team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who doesn't want to miss out on playoff revenue, Paxson on Monday held Scott Skiles responsible for the last-place club's 9-16 start.
 "Expectations coming into the year were really, really high, and we're not even close to those," Paxson said. "I honestly believe we're a better team than we've played."
 In other words: Blame the project foreman, not the architect.
 For most of the previous three seasons, Skiles coaxed hard, smart, selfless play out of his guys. It wasn't enough to erase memories of Michael Jordan's dynasty gang, but at least they made the playoffs and didn't embarrass Reinsdorf.
 This year, however, the players seemed to tune out the intense, outspoken Skiles. And with ugly losses piling up, players going through the motions, United Center natives growing restless and the season slipping away, Skiles was sacrificed to the basketball gods.
 Assistant Pete Myers is expected to coach Wednesday's game at San Antonio, with fellow assistant Jim Boylan taking over for the rest of the season. Although the usual retreads -- Larry Brown, Rick Carlisle, Doug Collins -- will be discussed incessantly for the next several months, Paxson said: "I don't have a long-term solution as of today."
 Come up with a good one, Pax. You're on the clock now.
 A few weeks ago, I called the Bulls "just good enough to get the coach fired." So Monday's news was less of a shock than it was a clear signal: This John Paxson's team.
 Having canned two coaches (Bill Cartwright, we hardly knew ye) and having changed the roster 100 percent in less than five years, Paxson no longer will get a free pass just because he's a good guy or because he was a fine radio analyst or because he hit the title-winning 3-pointer in 1993.
 What have you done for us lately, Pax? Not much.
 Luol Deng, the guy Paxson couldn't bear to include in any Kobe Bryant deal, is a soft 18-point scorer who needed weeks to recover mentally from the trade rumors. Ben Gordon is a one-dimensional gunner who rejected a five-year, $50 million contract -- one Paxson and Reinsdorf must have been out of their minds to have offered.
 Had he been willing to give up Donyell Marshall, Paxson could have traded up in 2003 to draft Dwyane Wade instead of settling for Kirk Hinrich. In 2006, rather than select Brandon Roy or LaMarcus Aldridge -- who have resurrected the Portland franchise -- Paxson pulled off a draft-day deal to pick immature Tyrus Thomas and acquire nonentity Viktor Khryapa.
 Many lauded Paxson for making Ben Wallace the richest non-scorer in basketball history during the 2006 offseason, but I and a few other observers insisted the Bulls hadn't addressed their major shortcomings and therefore failed to join the Eastern Conference elite.
 While Wallace's impact has been negligible and his salary will be a drain on the franchise, Tyson Chandler, a 7-footer Paxson couldn't wait to unload, is averaging a double-double for a good New Orleans team.
 With the Bulls desperately needing a difference-maker, Paxson whiffed on Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol. Yes, it takes two to trade, but it must be hard to deal with a GM who overvalues every player on his roster.
 After getting his walking papers, the classy Skiles told the Chicago Tribune: "Hardly a day goes by that I don't demand accountability and stress results. Today was my day to be held accountable. This is a great organization. John is great to work with. ... I just wish we could have figured things out this season. I won't look at my time here as failure, but the end game is."
 Just as I didn't weep for Tim Floyd (fired in 2001, also on Christmas Eve) and Cartwright (canned just before Thanksgiving 2003), I don't feel sorry for Skiles. He has millions of Reinsdorf's dollars coming to him, and he almost surely will land another job next season.
 For the Bulls, this was change for the sake of change. Though they won't win the East or even a division title, they're only two games out of a playoff spot with two-thirds of the season remaining.
 "Hopefully, we can salvage this season," Hinrich said. "Maybe this is exactly what we needed."
 Cold? Sure, especially considering Skiles' support of the mistake-prone point guard. But pro sports is a cold business -- for GMs, too.
 From this day forward, the team's success or failure is on John Paxson.
 If the Bulls win: Hooray for Pax! And if they lose: Thanks for the memories, pal, and enjoy your return to the broadcast booth.
 Mike Nadel (mikenadel@sbcglobal.net) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com .