Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Milwaukee Bucks and Skiles "Mutually Part Ways"

The Milwaukee Bucks have been hot and cold to start the 2012-13 NBA season.  The Bucks won 6 of their first 8 games but proceeded to lose 7 of their next 9 before they won 4 in a row to push their record to 12-9.

Just when it looked like the Bucks had some positive momentum, they lost 7 of their next 11 including their last four (@ Detroit, v. San Antonio, v. Houston, and @ Indiana) to drop their record to 16-16 overall (9-8 at home and 7-8 on the road).  Sadly for the Eastern Conference, a .500 winning percentage is actually good enough for a playoff spot so if the season were to end today, the Bucks would be the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference.  A record of 16-16 (14-8 against Eastern Conference and 2-8 against Western Conference) seems fitting since the Bucks have had some impressive wins (@ Boston twice and v. Miami) to go along with some horrible losses (@ Charlotte, @ New Orleans, v. Cleveland, and @ Detroit).

Despite currently being a playoff team (I know lots of things can change over the next 50 games), the Bucks and head coach Scott Skiles "mutually decided to part ways".  According to a report by's David Aldridge, Skiles told the Bucks he was not interested in signing an extension with the organization despite being in a contract year, which was probably a proactive move by Skiles to hasten his exit.  Apparently Skiles has long disliked the current roster, despite the presence of a number of quality front court defensive players.

Following the Los Angeles Lakers firing Mike Brown and Brooklyn Nets firing Avery Johnson, the Bucks and Skiles "mutually deciding to part ways" marks the third head coaching change of the 2012-13 NBA season.  The Bucks appointed assistant coach Jim Boylan head coach for the rest of the season, Boylan becomes the 12th head coach in franchise history.

Skiles compiled a 162-182 (.471) regular season record as the head coach of the Bucks, which is a worse winning percentage than his all-time regular season coaching record of 443-433 (.506) in charge of the Phoenix Suns, the Chicago Bulls, and the Bucks.  Here is a yearly breakdown of Skiles's coaching record as head coach of the Bucks:
2008-09: 34-48, missed playoffs
2009-10: 46-36, 8th seed & lost in 1st round to the Atlanta Hawks in seven games
2010-11: 35-47, missed playoffs
2011-12: 31-35, missed playoffs
2012-13: 16-16

Skiles made 6 playoff appearances in 13 seasons as a head coach so far but only once in 5 seasons as a head coach of the Bucks.  Skiles' post-season record is even more lackluster than his regular season record going 18-24 (.429) while only winning two playoff series ever as a head coach.

The Bucks should not be surprised that it ended this way.  Skiles did a similar thing on his way out of Phoenix in 2002.  Instead of sticking around, Skiles wore out his welcome and was fired.  The same thing happened in 2008 when Skiles was fired by Chicago.  This is not the first time that Jim Boylan replaced Skiles as head coach, Boylan replaced Skiles as the head coach of the the 2007-08 Chicago Bulls.

Skiles is a detailed oriented, defense first coach so he might actually be a better fit as a college head coach (assuming he can pander to top recruits and parents which feels like a stretch) or even better as a defensive assistant coach for a top NBA team with a well revered head coach (i.e. Gregg Popovich or Doc Rivers).

Current Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was considered the defensive guru as an assistant coach under Doc Rivers for the Boston Celtics, which was Thibodeau's sixth organization as an assistant.  Finally Thibodeau got his own head coaching gig when he took over for the 2010-11 NBA season.  Although it seems like step back, it might make more sense for Skiles to become a Thibodeau-esque defensive assistant coach, which is not only a lucrative job but also comes with a lot less stress than being the head coach.

If Skiles really wants to continue as an NBA head coach, he might as well turn into the Bain Capital of NBA franchises.  Skiles should only sign two-year contracts where he toughens up teams before he wares out his welcome, which he obviously did as a head coach in his three previous jobs, then move onto his next head coaching (project) job.

Leaving Boylan out of consideration, sadly Skiles is one of the best five coaches in franchise history.  Here is my hierarchy of head coaches in franchise history (worst to best): Mike Dunleavy, Frank Hamblen, Larry Krystkowiak, Chris Ford, Terry Stotts, Terry Porter, Scott Skiles, Del Harris, George Karl, Don Nelson, and Larry Costello.

The Bucks sit at an odd crossroads on a number of fronts, which means owner Herb Kohl has a number of short-term (management composition) and long-term (whether to sell the franchise) decisions.  The Bucks just lost their head coach and general manager John Hammond, despite being named the NBA Executive of the Year in 2009-10, is in the last year of his contract.  Although it might not help Hammond's job security, the Bucks might as well go young since that is the only way that they are going to improve for the long haul.  That means the Bucks need to keep Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden, Joel Przybilla, and Marquis Daniels on the bench while making sure Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb, John Henson, Larry Sanders, and Ekpe Udoh get lots of playing time.

Besides deciding whether to commit to a youth movement, an even bigger decision looms over the back court since starting point guard Brandon Jennings is set to be a restricted free agent this off-season and starting shooting guard Monta Ellis holds an $11 million player option for next season.  The Bucks have a hard time attracting stars so early indications are that the Bucks will match any offer that Jennings receives.  That leave what to do with Ellis.

There are questions whether a no defense, high volume shooter like Ellis is even worth keeping long-term, especially if the Bucks keep a similar player like Jennings long-term.  If Ellis exercises his option that allows the Bucks to delay making a decision.  If Ellis declines his option, I would let him leave via free agency unless he will sign for a the mid-level exception (I know there is almost no chance of this happening) so the Bucks do not have a John Salmons 2.0 situation.

As a borderline playoff team, the Bucks continue to sit in NBA No Man's Land, which is the worst place to be.  With a chance to shed some expensive contracts (Ellis, Beno Udrih, Samuel Dalembert, and Drew Gooden) over the next 18 months, the Bucks have to see what players currently on rookie contracts are potential franchise players.  If the Bucks determine none are even potential franchise players, they might as well go into full tear down mode.

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