Only time will tell if firing Lucas was a Smart move

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - Looking for some advice, Keith Smart sat down with his college coach a few years ago and asked for some tips on how to be successful.

"He told me, 'Make sure you are prepared and make sure you are organized,'" Smart recalled.

Bob Knight's wisdom has come in handy for Smart, who might want to give his old coach a call for some more pointers.

Fixing the Cleveland Cavaliers won't be easy.

Smart was named Cleveland's fourth coach in four years Monday, replacing John Lucas (pictured, above) who was fired after going 8-34 and failing to develop the Cavs' younger players.

"We've been pretty much the laughingstock of the league," said guard Bimbo Coles. "It has been a circus or a zoo around here. We need someone who is positive and energetic and someone who can teach. That doesn't mean just talking about it. Keith is the perfect person for the job."

Lucas, fired 1½ years into a three-year, $9 million contract, couldn't make winners out of the lowly Cavs, so Smart is getting a shot.

He's made a big one before.

Smart is best known for making the game-winning jump shot for Indiana in the 1987 NCAA championship game against Syracuse. He 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.

The 49-year-old Lucas went 37-87 in his brief tenure with Cleveland, which has been coached by Mike Fratello, Randy Wittman, Lucas and now Smart since 1999.

Lucas 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, who have the league's worst record at 8-34, are coming off a 1-5 West Coast road trip where they were blown out in several of the losses.

Aside from the record, Paxson was most 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."

Paxson also fired assistant coach Jerry Eaves.

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."

Smart will have 40 games to see if he can give the Cavs some.

"I'm not worried," he said. "It's not brand new. I know I'm prepared for it. I can't have any fears or worries. I feel so comfortable. It's like riding my motorcycle. It's natural for me."

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