No, I’m not a contrarian, I’m not. But even as basketball geniuses writing everywhere have begun chiseling epitaphs for Bucks Coach Larry Krystkowiak, there is one characteristic of the NBA today that works in Kristykowiak’s favor. In fact it’s this very same factor that helped Krystkowiak land in the Milwaukee head coach’s chair this season:
The list of great coaches available to take the Bucks job is short. The list of decent, if not good coaches, isn’t too long either. New Bucks GM John Hammond doesn’t have much to choose from, and neither do the Knicks, Bulls or Grizzlies.
Peter Vecsey pointed out yesterday in his New York Post column that the teams in the market for head coaches all have the same names on their short lists: Larry Brown, Scott Skiles, Rick Carlisle, Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Fratello. (Props to BrewHoop for posting the link).
The guy just about every team wants, including his old team, the Houston Rockets, is Jeff Van Gundy. He’s also the toughest to hire – he doesn’t like the travel and has a cush job with ESPN. If Hammond can get Van Gundy, he’s even better at this GM thing than people say he is.
Next up, Larry Brown. A Hall of Fame coach, one of the best there is. But Larry Brown just can’t seem to settle down. Brown’s six years with Iverson in Philly is the longest commitment he’s kept in his coaching career, going all the way back to his ABA days. Hammond’s been through the Brown routine already in Detroit.
Pistons GM Joe Dumars showed Larry the door when Brown began talking to Cleveland about GM moves DURING THE 2006 PLAYOFFS.!!! No way Hammond hires Brown, not if he’s serious about building the Bucks long term. Besides, Brown has expressed interest in the Bulls coaching job, and other recent speculation has him dabbling in Atlanta’s coaching/GM drama. Doesn’t Brown work for the Sixers?
Mike Fratello? Not the defensive-minded coach Hammond and the Bucks need, but an interesting idea. He coached the Grizzlies to the playoffs twice and was summarily canned by Jerry West the following season when, due to injuries, the team started slowly.
Fratello’s not on Hammond’s short list according to any report I’ve seen, but is a more experienced coach than the two who reportedly are on the list: Carlisle and Skiles.
Rick Carlisle is a demanding, by most accounts unpleasant coach who had a rough time in Indiana with a team that couldn’t control its nastiness, after being fired by Dumars and Hammond in Detroit. If a young coach in Indiana can communicate at all with a goon like Ron Artest and get him to help you win 71 games including playoffs (which Carlisle did in 2004), he’s better than a good coach. That’s the rub working against Hammond with Carlisle – he’s in demand. Chicago definitely wants him; Carlisle’s on New York’s short list too; a couple of other jobs could be Carlisle’s for the taking as the dregs of the NBA head into the offseason.
“Should Carlisle get hired by the Bulls that almost certainly would mean Skiles would wind up with Milwaukee,” writes Vecsey. That’s a strong statement. Somehow I don’t see Skiles moving up I-94 to coach in Milwaukee.
Why? Scott Skiles began this season with high expectations and a Chicago Bulls team loaded with talent. By early season he begged off the job because he didn’t feel that he was getting through to his players. Kirk Hinrich and Big Ben Wallace have never struck me as guys who are unresponsive to coaching, so one has to wonder what really happened in Chicago? Milwaukee players – four of them in particular – don’t respond to their coach either. Is Skiles really a better option than Krystkowiak? Probably not.
There is one other factor working in Krystkowiak’s favor: Larry Krystkowiak.
Hammond does not strike me as someone who makes a move without all of his ducks in a row. In this case, that means he’s not likely to fire Krystkowiak until he’s got an in-depth account of what happened in the Bucks locker room this season, which players balked at the team plan and why, and has a replacement lined up. If Hammond can’t work something out with Carlisle, and Krystkowiak makes a strong case to Hammond, the new GM might give him one more year and begin moving some players.
It could happen. I’m not saying it will happen, but, given Krystkowiak’s integrity and willingness to accept responsibility, to admit mistakes and perhaps learn from them, he’s a guy you want to keep around moreso than some of his players.
Don Nelson didn’t become a great coach overnight. He became great in Milwaukee because owner Jim Fitzgerald stuck with him despite a five-year drought between playoff series wins. Alright, alright, we had first round byes three of those years, but, still, we couldn’t get to the conference finals until 1983, Nellie’s sixth year.
Krystkowiak may yet grow to become the great coach Hammond and Bucks fans want. Stranger things have happened at Milwaukee Bucks Inc.
Take for example, Michael Redd’s contract, which this season pays Redd more than Lebron James.