Eddy Curry can tell when his lethargy is putting Bulls coach Scott Skiles over the edge. "He gets loud, he gets red," says Curry. "It's tough when he gets mad at you and gets in your face because it makes you feel really small."
Skiles's apparent frustration with his 22-year-old center has created an impression that the two have a poor relationship, which both deny. "He definitely helped turn my career around," Curry says of Skiles, who is in his second season with the Bulls. "I think I was going to have a nice career before him, but I think with him it really solidified my spot here in Chicago and in the NBA."
At week's end Curry ranked fourth in the league in shooting (52.9%) and was averaging a team-high 15.9 points in just 28.6 minutes to help the young Bulls (37--31) contend for their first postseason since Michael Jordan's 1998 departure. Curry experienced an epiphany during his exit meetings with Skiles and G.M. John Paxson after last season. "They really just put it all on me, told me it was up to me what I did [in the] summer, how important I was for us to be successful and what I had to do to help the team," says Curry.
While the 285-pound Curry has gotten stronger and improved his work ethic, he was still turning the ball over 2.6 times per game through Sunday. Even worse, he was averaging only 5.4 boards because he hasn't learned to use his quick feet and long arms to chase down rebounds. "To be 6'11" and have a high vertical leap and great hands and not be a great rebounder--that's something he needs to make a priority," says Skiles.
It's clear that Skiles's demands are having a positive impact. "He forces Eddy to use his head and be accountable in all respects: weakside help, rebounding, free throw shooting," says 36-year-old Antonio Davis, who starts alongside Curry at power forward. "It's not good enough that he's out there as a scoring threat." While he occasionally grumbles when Skiles benches him for being passive, Curry is adamant about remaining in Chicago, and Paxson has no intention of letting him go. The Bulls can re-sign Curry and Tyson Chandler as restricted free agents this summer and still be under the cap when Davis's $13.9 million salary comes off in 2006--07.
That's bad news for the rest of the league, as Curry demonstrated last Friday when he scored a team-high 16 points and rallied Chicago to a 94--86 come-from-behind win at Boston in a potential first-round preview. It was the Bulls' fourth straight victory and their second without team leader Kirk Hinrich, sidelined by a left hamstring strain. The following night Curry led Chicago again with 27 points in a 100--96 win over the Pacers.
"Curry is turning into one of the better post players in our league right now," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers before the loss. What might Curry become in five years? "He could be the best big man in the league," said Rivers. "There's not a lot of other guys, and if he stays in condition, he's going to keep improving."
JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES (CURRY)
Challenged by his coach, the 22-year-old Curry has responded with hard work.