Cavaliers fire coach John Lucas

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - John Lucas was fired Monday as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the NBA's worst record and have shown few signs of development this season.

The 48-year-old Lucas, who was in his second season with the Cavs and had another year remaining on his contract, was replaced by assistant Keith Smart.

The Cavs are 8-34 and have just returned from a 1-5 West Coast road trip. Cleveland blew second-half leads in several of those games, and the players on the NBA's youngest team were not showing the kind of progress general manager Jim Paxson had been looking for.

Paxson said the road trip was the culmination of problems he had seen over the last month.

"We were not making the kind of progress that we should be making at this point of the season," he said at a news conference at Gund Arena. "I felt that the development was not where it should be, both from an individual and team standpoint."

Paxson said he met with Lucas (pictured, above) on Monday morning. Assistant coach Jerry Eaves also was fired, while another assistant, Ron Ekker, was retained.

It is the first NBA head coaching job for Smart, who is in his third season in the Cavs' organization.

Smart has three years of head coaching experience in the CBA. He is best known for hitting the winning shot for Indiana in the 1987 NCAA championship game against Syracuse.

Cleveland, coming off three straight 50-plus loss seasons, had devoted this season to rebuilding with its young roster. During the summer, the Cavs traded point guard Andre Miller to the Los Angeles Clippers for forward Darius Miles. In addition, the team had dumped other high-priced veterans such as Shawn Kemp, Lamond Murray and Wesley Person, in recent years in hopes of turning things around.

But Lucas was having trouble getting results with the young team, and Paxson had seen enough.

"I'm still hopeful that this team will have an identity by the end of the season. That was one of the goals, but I think I owed this to (owner) Gordon (Gund) and the players to make this change now," Paxson said.

"We have talent on this team. It is young, but we do have talent. We have a long way to go to turn it around, but I'm hopeful we can do that."

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

The former NBA point guard 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 this season by injuries to several players, including veterans Tyrone Hill and Bimbo Coles. In addition, third-year center Chris Mihm has missed most of the season with a hamstring injury and rookie guard Dajuan Wagner missed the first 14 games after being hospitalized with a bladder infection.

That has forced 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, and the Cavs don't want to risk him getting hurt again.

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.

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 with the Cavs.

Lucas is the third coach fired by the Cavs since 1999. Mike Fratello and Randy 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.

Lucas had a 37-87 record in 1½ seasons with the Cavs, his third stint as an NBA head coach. He spent two years with the Philadelphia 76ers and two with the San Antonio Spurs.

Lucas played 14 seasons in the NBA after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 1976 draft by the Houston Rockets. He played for six teams before finishing his career with the Rockets in 1990.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)