DEERFIELD, Ill. -- The Chicago Bulls were sure this was their season to challenge for the Eastern Conference championship. If they do, it'll be with a new coach.
The Bulls fired Scott Skiles on Monday, hoping to shake up a team with one of the worst records in the Eastern Conference.
"I felt like something was going to happen," forward Luol Deng said. "I didn't know whether it was players or coaches. But you could definitely feel there was something. It just didn't seem like we were on the same page."
The underachieving Bulls (9-16) have lost three of their last four and were booed throughout by the home crowd during Saturday night's 116-98 loss to the Houston Rockets. Their next game is Wednesday at San Antonio.
With three straight playoff appearances after a long postseason drought, the Bulls' expectations were soaring. Then, they dropped 10 of their first 12 games, and they've been unable to capture the intensity that catapulted them into the second round of the playoffs last season.
"I don't have a long-term solution as of today," Bulls general manager John Paxson said. "I'm disappointed in the way we're playing, the way we're competing, the energy or lack thereof that we're playing with on the floor. I know expectations coming into the year were really, really high and we're not even close to those. I honestly believe we're a better team than we've played this year."
A message was left seeking comment from Skiles.
The Bulls didn't immediately announce a replacement for Skiles, who went 165-172 after replacing Bill Cartwright in November 2003. Paxson said he does not expect to hire a coach until after the season, with assistants Pete Myers or Jim Boylan likely taking over on an interim basis. Myers will coach the team against the Spurs.
• MLB -- In Cleveland, Indians pitcher Juan Lara, who was nearly killed in a car accident last month while coming home from a game in the Dominican Republic, underwent two surgeries Sunday.
The Indians said the 26-year-old's spine was stabilized, and he also had an arm fracture repaired. The operations were performed by Dr. Jeff Lawton and Dr. Doug Orr at the Cleveland Clinic.
Lara sustained life-threatening injuries when the SUV he was driving was slammed into at an intersection by a motorcycle on Nov. 24. The motorcycle's driver and passenger were killed instantly.
Lara had severe brain trauma, a fractured spine, two broken ribs and a punctured lung in the crash. Doctors kept Lara in a medically induced coma for weeks before fitting him with a halo vest to support his neck.
• In New York, the New York Yankees did accomplish something this year: They lowered their luxury tax for the second straight season.
The Yankees were hit with a tax bill of $23.88 million by Major League Baseball in a notice sent to teams late Friday, pushing them over the $100 million mark since the penalty for profligate spending was introduced in 2003.
The only other club that must pay the competitive-balance tax, as it is formally known, is the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, who owe $6.06 million.
Checks are due at the commissioner's office by Jan. 31.
• NHL -- In Orchard Park, N.Y., fighting heavy wind and blowing snow, NHL work crews completed the initial phase of converting Ralph Wilson Stadium into a hockey rink for next week's Winter Classic outdoor game.
"The process of building the ice has begun," NHL spokesman Jamey Horan said Monday. Crews spent the past 24 hours surveying and protecting the field, unloading equipment and establishing refrigeration lines in preparation for the Buffalo Sabres' game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on New Year's Day.
The game will be the NHL's second played outdoors and the first in the United States after the Oilers played the Montreal Canadiens at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium on Nov. 22, 2003.