The answer, in all its honesty, all its brevity, typifies Scott Skiles’ approach.
Skiles, who was introduced as the Milwaukee Bucks’ latest coach on Monday, had been asked some four years ago about what it would take for then-Chicago Bulls center Eddy Curry to improve his rebounding. Keep in mind that Skiles was in his third month on the job in Chicago, in the midst of a season that had been surrendered weeks before. Curry was supposed to be a cornerstone of the franchise’s rebuilding process.
So, rather than prattle on about the sort of toughness and intensity it took to compete in the paint, or the timing and touch that in-game experience would eventually provide, or pay lip service to the work of a 21 year old who needed a boot up the rear but wanted only some warm encouragement, Skiles got straight to the point.
What could Eddy do to make himself a better rebounder?
Skiles was, as he often is, right. The forthright response was downright astonishing in its own way, and it sums up everything you need to know about Scott Skiles the coach:
At first, he’ll tell you exactly what you need to do, without pretense, and without agenda. And though you might not like it, you know that this upfront approach is exactly what you need. You’ll learn from it, you’ll improve for him and you’ll get better.
And then, once the mistakes have gone away, the pretense and agenda will set in, because Skiles will have gone looking for other ways to busy himself. He’ll lose focus and you’ll lose interest. And by then, it will be time to move on.
Skiles has a guaranteed four-year contract with Milwaukee, and that’s a pretty good move for both sides. Scott will need the bulk of the 2008-09 season to work through the kinks of a Bucks team that has hasn’t had a respected locker room voice since…well, I don’t have to go all the way back to Larry Costello, do I? Mike Dunleavy came close and Don Nelson wore fish ties, but it’s a pretty slim list.
The newest Milwaukee coach might not do wonders in his first year, but he will improve the team. And in his second year, even with the same rotation (immovable contracts being what they are) that won just 26 games for Skiles’ good friend Larry Krystkowiak, a playoff appearance is likely. Skiles is that good.
And, with time and growth and eventual lottery picks and the guiding hand of a new GM (well-regarded NBA lifer John Hammond) who isn’t married to anyone on Milwaukee’s roster, the Bucks will eventually double up that 26-win mark during Skiles’ term. In fact, move the expected plan up a year and nobody would be surprised that he could have this team in the playoffs next year. Again, he’s that good.
The trick is going to have to come on the defensive end. The Bucks are essentially the polar opposites of what Skiles inherited in Chicago because Milwaukee is far and away the worst defensive team in the league and an underachieving offensive team. The Bulls were loafing, talented, defensively and pitiful offensively.
Skiles’ plan should be to round this outfit into all that it could be offensively – a top five team that moves the ball and offers great spacing every night – and pairing that with a merely mediocre showing on defense could have Milwaukee in the second round of the playoffs.
The Bucks, even as presently constructed, have that ability within them. And they better because it’s going to be hard for Hammond to turn this roster around on the fly. The Bucks are capped-out for the next two years and likely beyond that due to Andrew Bogut’s impending contract extension.
Hammond has a few tradeable parts, but even as good an NBA mind as he boasts, he’s likely to have to make a talent downgrade in order to move certain assets. Charlie Villanueva can light it up with the best of them, but he’s among the worst defensive players in the league and won’t see the light of day with Skiles on board. CV’s rookie deal and scoring touch make him valuable to other teams, but expecting trading partners to take on a Dan Gadzuric (owed over $20 million between now and 2011) or even a Maurice Williams (owed over $35 million until 2013) in a package just to acquire Villanueva is a bit of a stretch.
That said, Skiles has previously worked wonders with a downgraded roster. The Bulls traded away their leading scorer in the summer following each of Skiles’ first two seasons in Chicago, and although it kills his ability to lead in the end, Skiles’ acumen at winning in spite of himself (benching talent in order to play more malleable though less productive players) is well known.
That last point needs to be hammered home: This is not a coach who will see a lavish retirement ceremony some 10 years down the line. Skiles will burn through Milwaukee in four or five years as he did in Phoenix and Chicago before eventually flaming out and moving on. It’s a trademark of certain coaches (Hubie Brown and Doug Collins come to mind) that never seems to go away even as age and a supposedly increased sense of tact takes hold.
It’s a pity, but even a graying leopard can’t change his spots. This doesn’t mean Skiles won’t be successful. He’ll be quite successful because formidable talent and a strong work ethic usually lead people to greatness. Skiles boasts both those qualities. Just beware of the flipside, and the inevitable fallout likely coming in 2012 or so.
Toward the end of his tenure in Chicago, Skiles was reduced to making up mitigating character traits about his players, so much so that his boss had to force him into public apologies. Even a good coach can only say “jump” so many times.