A captain always goes down with a sinking ship? Not exactly.
Standard moral(e) protocol makes guiding his crew and passengers to safety a top captain’s priority. If necessary, descending with the ship falls under that umbrella of responsibility, however rare that may be in the age of GPS, AIS, and radio communication.
Nevertheless, the cliché remains popular, especially in the ever-scrutinized sports world. If a team ship is sinking, the coach captain should go down with it. But what if that voyage carries on, with the captain spared?
After a 4-9 start, the S.S. Milwaukee Bucks has sprung a few leaks. Its captain, coach Scott Skiles, is facing a fan base (and potential locker room) mutiny. Dissatisfaction with Skiles’ leadership is justified and predictable; even the best coach’s seat gets hot when losing becomes the standard. But would firing Skiles at this crossroads solve anything now or later?
The offense is predictably stagnant (96.9 OffEff – 24th), they give more whistles than they get (-11.19 FTR Differential – 30th), and the Bucks receive more press for locker room interviews than on-court accomplishments. Add in a traditionally tough-turned-popcorn muscle defense (101 DefEff – 20th), and it’s tempting to ask, “Oh captain, my captain, you’ve been drinking, what happened?”
It’s incredibly easy to demand Skiles walk the plank, but he isn’t rotating slowly on defense, opting for contested threes, or committing indefensible turnovers. Skiles has a knack for understanding where the hot hand sits on his rotation, which generally possesses no clear cut upgrade in ability from positions 3 and 10. A coach plays the cards he’s dealt, and in a league where success is often dependent on having an ace in hand and on the board before the turn, Skiles is holding (at best) a pair of Jacks.
His rosy coaching qualities (master of defense, equal player treatment, solid lineup recipes) do have thorns (intensity wears on players, never coached a top 20 offense). But if Skiles is canned, Phil Jackson isn’t walking through the door. Neither is George Karl, Stan Van Gundy, Doc Rivers, or Scott Brooks. Someone on-staff would take over for the remainder of 2012, the defensive-oriented philosophy would remain, and the team would still be watching the playoffs in May.
I’m not advocating indefinite tenure for Skiles; rather, firing a decent coach one month into a shortened season would be knee jerk. John Hammond is more likely to shake up the roster, understanding that the Bucks’ season has a while to go before time catches up and the white flag rises.
Hammond may call Skiles into his office for “The Talk” this season, and it will probably be when the time is right. I’m all for a suit shake up if the Milwaukee Bucks are honest about the impending rebuilding process. But it’s far too early to support that position for any reason beyond the frustration shared amongst all Bucks fans. There’s ample time for Skiles to lead his crew and passengers to safety, and he deserves a fighting chance to do so before the ship is officially sunk.