CLEVELAND, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- John Lucas, who has struggled guiding one of the NBA's youngest teams, Monday was fired as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, ending his two-year tenure with the club.
Under the 49-year-old Lucas, Cleveland was just 8-34 this season, the worst record in the league. Cleveland appears headed for its fourth straight 50-loss season.
Assistant Coach Keith Smart will take over for the remainder of the season. Assistant Coach Ron Ekker will stay on, as will Mike Bratz, the team's Director of Player Personnel, who will join Smart on the bench as an assistant for the balance of the schedule. Assistant Coach Jerry Eaves was dismissed with Lucas.
"Every assistant coach wants to come into a position where he becomes a head coach in the NBA," said Smart. "Unfortunately, you don't like to come into it this way. However, this is the nature of the business and now I have a job to do. I have to go about my business and try to make sure we have a productive team on the floor. I look forward to the challenge. I think my experience of already having been a head coach, that it's not something brand new, just that the level's a little different, but for the most part I've dealt with a lot of the things that I'll face already."
In 2001-02, the Cavaliers went 29-53 and finished seventh in the Central Division. The team traded point guard Andre Miller in the offseason and infused the lineup with young players like Darius Miles, draft picks Dajuan Wagner and Carlos Boozer, and rookie Smush Parker.
The Cavaliers have battled injuries this season. Wagner missed the first month of the season with a bladder infection, Miles was sidelined three weeks with patellar tendinitis, and Bimbo Coles has been out since early December with a quadriceps contusion.
Recently, Tyrone Hill, one of the few Cavs to provide an inside presence, went down with a right hand contusion.
Even with the changes this season, Cleveland has shown little progress, and has dropped seven of its last eight games.
"I just felt the team did not progress to where it should be," said Senior Vice President and General Manager Jim Paxson. "At the same time, there was no indication that things would get any better."
As a head coach, Lucas never has lasted more than two years at any of his three stops. He guided San Antonio to a 94-49 mark in 1992-94 before taking over in Philadelphia, where he was 42-122 from 1994-96.
Lucas had one year left on his contract.
Smart, 38, joined the Cavaliers in 2000 as an assistant coach and Director of Player Development. He does have head coaching experience, having guided the Fort Wayne Fury in the CBA for three seasons.
Smart, who is best known for hitting the decisive shot in the 1987 NCAA Championship Game against Syracuse, played briefly for the San Antonio Spurs in 1988-89.
"I learned a lot from being here with Coach (Luke) Luke and with (former Cavs head coach) Randy Wittman, so I've got to take what I learned from those guys, apply it to my personality, and put it into the way I want to teach and the way I want to do things," Smart said. "I want to make sure that every day we have a purpose, that we have a focus on what we want to get accomplished. I kind of think that's the way I've always approached things: prepare for the future, but focus all of my energy on today."
One player is skeptical about Cleveland's future.
"I like Keith, but he won't be able to turn this team around by himself," said center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.