Early in the 2011-12 season, Skiles was asked a post-game question about how much coaching was a part of the Bucks’ struggles.
“100%,” he responded. “Isn’t that always the case?”
Skiles has received quite a bit of flack over the past couple of years, both deserved (end of game play calling) and undeserved (on-court talent, having the same problems everyone does with Stephen Jackson). Still, he’s clearly a good coach in a bad situation, and he’s smart enough to recognize it.
The Bucks are a shell of their former stout defensive self. The organization’s competitive scale is tipping much closer towards the ground than the sky. The talent gap is miniscule from spots 1-10. Skiles can juggle a melancholy lineup fairly well, but an offensive genius and team architect he is not.
If the rumors are true and Skiles gets to start his Summer of Scott in the next month, the Bucks will be in quite a precarious situation. Skiles’ fate as coach has long been tied to the direction set forth by GM John Hammond, who is being courted by the Portland Trail Blazers in an unusually public fashion. The team’s on-court play can’t be the only reason Skiles wants to leave Milwaukee.
If Skiles goes, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Hammond duck out before the door closes, which could be devastating for the Bucks’ future. Firing a coach and or general manager because of failure is one thing; seeing both leave willingly is something quite different.
When I was in middle school, our entire class was de facto signed up for band class. That meant choosing an instrument and an instrument dealer. The school gave us two options: one gargantuan company (ironically, pitched by a gargantuan man) that offered a plethora of instruments for a very cheap rate, and one smaller local company that gave a much more timid sales presentation and cost a little extra. Most of us (by “us” I mean “our parents”), went with the bigger, cheaper dealer with more musical options.
If Skiles and/or Hammond bolt, the Bucks are left with two major vacancies, no superstar salesman, an impatient, casual fan base, and limited sculpting clay. Even with everything that has happened in Orlando, most NBA coaches would jump at the chance to build a team around Dwight Howard. It’s hard to say the same thing about the Milwaukee Bucks, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
If the anti-Skiles faction of the Bucks’ fan base is expecting Mike D’Antoni (ugh), Stan Van Gundy (yes!), or Nate McMillan (meh), prepare to be disappointed. The most likely Skiles replacement is someone in-house and unproven (Jim Boylan, Sidney Moncrief), someone lacking big name recognition, but filled with potential (Kelvin Sampson, Michael Malone – not a bad choice at all), or a familiar face and indifference-inducing resume (Flip Saunders, Sam Mitchell).
At the end of the day, there will be a handful of coaching and general manager openings this offseason, and it feels like the Bucks are that second musical instrument salesman: selling limited assets at a higher cost and hoping a few coaches take a flyer.