It was Colonel Mustard with the candlesticks in the observatory.
Like a game of Clue, Gery Woelfel’s column today on the future of Scott Skiles made sense on multiple levels. Until a few weeks ago, all signs pointed to Skiles leaving the Bucks. He put his house up for sale, he used veterans over youngsters (as a true short-timer would), and his protracted meeting with owner Herb Kohl and general manager John Hammond ended with a surprise announcement that Skiles would be back for another year as head coach — albeit one of the highest lame-duck order.
It’s not hard to picture a comical view of a bizarre negotiation where the two sides can’t agree to terms on the money with the end result being Skiles ‘hiring’ for one more season. As Woelfel writes,
An NBA official told me the other day that Skiles was so convinced he was toast in Beer Town that he cleaned out his office after the season… The scuttlebutt was that Skiles was going to agree to a buyout on the one year remaining on his contract for approximately $4.5 million.
So the Bucks wanted a new coach, Skiles wanted a new job (or no job at all), and yet the two sides now still hold hands because they couldn’t agree on how much money he should get for walking.
Skiles is slated to make $5 million in the final season of a four-year contract that was extended to a fifth year in October 2010.
The happy ending would be for a third party to enter the scene. If someone else wanted Skiles, the Bucks would certainly not object. (Though, to be fair, the Bucks did object when the Blazers wanted to talk to GM John Hammond, who is also a lame duck.) Enter the Orlando Magic, who this week fired their head coach, Stan Van Gundy. Again, from Woelfel:
Those who know Skiles well insist he would crawl to Orlando to be the Magic’s coach. Skiles not only has a house in the Orlando area but he played five years with the Magic while becoming one of their most beloved players ever.
More importantly, Skiles is one of (owner) Richard DeVos Sr.’s all-time favorites.
All the evidence points to one conclusion. The coach wants out, the owner doesn’t want to pay him, and a new owner sits waiting to bring home an old flame. What could go wrong? Should we peek in the secret envelope after guessing the culprit, weapon, and room?
(And heck, if we’re piecing together puzzle bits, we may as well bring Van Gundy back to Wisconsin to replace Skiles.)
But hold on for just a second.
Remember that tall fellow who opined for Van Gundy’s firing in the first place? He’s still in Orlando, and a locker room housing both him and Skiles could bring NBA disfunction to new levels. If Scott Skiles had trouble communicating with Andrew Bogut, how will he fare with Dwight Howard, a player who changes his long-term career plans daily? Skiles has a reputation as a great X’s-and-O’s strategist, but he also has a track grating on his players’ nerves over time. For the Magic, is Skiles a step in a different direction from Van Gundy?
The shorter answer is ‘no’. Even if DeVos maintains a lasting affection for Skiles, there are other ex-players about whom he feels the same way — including Brian Shaw. Inexperienced as a head coach, the Pacers’ Shaw is the typical young assistant on the verge of getting a top job. He has a reputation of dealing with big egos; Kobe Bryant favored him when he was a Lakers’ assistant. And as a player, Shaw spent seemingly half his career following around Shaquille O’Neal as Shaq’s favorite point guard, including a pair of years in Orlando.
The next Magic head coach won’t have an easy time dealing with Dwight Howard, but if someone possessed a sufficient resume for dealing with NBA divas, it would be Shaw, not Skiles.
In 1994, the Magic traded away Scott Skiles and signed free agent Brian Shaw to be their backup point guard shortly after. Shaw got the job Skiles coveted then, and he’s a more likely candidate to get the job for which Scott Skiles now pines.
A lot will depend on Orlando’s choice of a new general manager, as well as on the timing of the end of the Pacers season. But in the meantime, don’t expect the Magic to be solving the Bucks’ lame duck riddle anytime soon.