One of the many big criticisms of the Bucks has been that the organization couldn’t decide whether to rebuild or try to win now, so they tried to do both. The results were mediocre, leading to poor, finally colliding this season with terrible — and Michael Redd’s delusion that he is Kobe, Charlie Villanueva’s insistence that he is a star, and Mo Williams’ attitude that, because he can routinely get himself better shots than the two aforementioned dummies, he might as well shoot it. Fighting through all of this was the development of Andrew Bogut, Yi Jianlian and, once the season was over, Ramon Sessions.
Thankfully, those days appear to be over in Milwaukee. GM John Hammond has hired a coach, Scott Skiles, who proved he can win with young players in Chicago. Now the coach is hiring his staff. Thus far, it is a group wired to develop its own NBA stars, not coach somebody else’s.
Nothing’s official yet, but as of this week, Jim Boylan and Kelvin Sampson are on board as Skiles’ assistants. Skiles announced last week that Bill Peterson, Larry Krystkowiak’s player development coach who worked extensively with rookie Ramon Sessions, will stay on.
No word yet on Skiles other top choices for assistants, Memphis assistant Lionel Hollins and Kohler’s own Joe Wolf, NBA D-League coach and a Buck for a season in the 1990’s. Skiles said his staff would be the typical three assistants on the bench with a development coach behind them.
With Peterson in the development job, it could mean that either Wolf or Hollins is out of the picture, or both. In the last few days, the situation in Memphis changed and Hollins still has his job, now that head coach Marc Iavaroni has kept his. (Memphis had been in the Larry Brown sweepstakes, and when Brown went to the Charlotte Bobcats, the rebuilding Grizz settled on Iavaroni.)
Skiles also said that he expected to have his coaches hired by this week, so the new staff could be finalized any day now.
What do Skiles top choices say about the direction the team is heading? The bent is clearly toward development of younger players (Peterson, Sampson and Wolf) and extreme dedication to ball movement and smart guard play (Skiles, Hollins and Boylan played the point; ball movement was religion for Skiles’ Baby Bulls). It’s about time.
Jim Boylan, who took over from Skiles in Chicago this season and was let go two weeks ago, is simply the obvious choice to be Skiles’ lead assistant in Milwaukee. Boylan was Skiles’ lead in Chicago and on Skiles’ staff in Phoenix, and as a bonus for Marquette alums and 40-plus fans, Boylan was Al McGuire’s starting point guard on the 1977 NCAA championship team — and he’s still Al’s point guard, teaching players to “live in the moment.” The Zen approach should go over well with Yi, whose personal coach, Jarinn Akana, was not retained by Skiles.
Bill Peterson was the player development coach in Dallas (1998-2000), the early years of Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley and Steve Nash. That worked out well, to say the least. Last season, Peterson won rave reviews from Krystkowiak and was credited with the late season splash Ramon Sessions made at the point. Skiles’ decision to retain Peterson is great news for Sessions, whom the Bucks have some high hopes for (more on that in a separate post). Retaining Peterson should be taken as a sign that not only will Sessions will be a Buck next season, he is, right now, the starting point guard. Sorry Mo, you’ve lost the job.
With all that has been said and written about what happened at Kelvin Sampson’s previous job, Sampson has been one of the best coaches in the college game for more than a decade. In the 2008 NBA draft, Sampson’s shooting guard, Eric Gordon, is slated as a top 10 draft pick – on many boards the player the Bucks would take with the 7th pick if that holds; Sampson’s big forward DJ White, is projected going early in the second round. Both players jumped into the draft after Sampson lost his job, something of a players’ endorsement. There’s no question Sampson brings to the Bucks coaching skills geared toward young, developing players. And Sampson’s not the only college coach Skiles was interested in hiring – ESPN reported that Skiles was also looking at New Mexico assistant Craig Neal.
The book on Joe Wolf, head coach and GM of the NBA D-League Colorado 14ers the last two years, is that he is set to get a shot as an assistant in the NBA soon, whether in Milwaukee or elsewhere. Wolf’s been winning in the D-League, and his 14ers are led by one of the D-League’s best players, Elton Brown. But winning isn’t the only thing in the D-League, where the “D” in development is capitalized. By all accounts, Wolf’s doing a great job, and one former player, Nuggets guard Von Wafer, raves that Wolf saved his career. Wolf as a coach has been flying under George Karl’s wing, and would probably do well to get broader experience. Any way one looks at Wolf, his appearance as one of Skiles’ top candidates is a nod to player development.
Lionel Hollins is Mr. Grizzlie. He’s been coaching on the Memphis bench since the franchise began in Vancouver (with Bucks great Brian Winters as its first head coach), and twice held the head coaching reins for the Griz. Prior to the Grizzlies, Hollins was an assistant in Phoenix for seven years, including the Suns’ Kevin Johnson and Charles Barkley years. Hiring a coach with the experience of Hollins would have been a great coups for Skiles, but probably depended on whether or not Iavaroni and the Memphis staff would be retained.
With every player on the Bucks roster with the exception of Bogut and Yi on the trading block, the coaching selections do offer some insight into how the Bucks are likely looking at their team.
The Peterson hire means the world for Sessions; it’s also no good for Mo Williams or Michael Redd (who quit down the stretch). Because Peterson was only in his first year under Krystkowiak, he’s not wed to players like Mo, Simmons or Redd.
Sampson’s hiring is about as pro youth as Skiles could get. Sampson does have experience dealing with NBA stars, as a coach under George Karl in the 2002 World Championships, but it’s not his skill set. The Bucks have a good draft pick this year, along with a developing Yi (who could benefit from NCAA coaching-style), Sessions and Bogut. Expect the Bucks to get younger to take advantage of Sampson’s presence.
- No assistant choice of Skiles shouts – “This is good for Michael Redd; this coach will understand where Redd is coming from.” That coach is just not there, unless it can be found in Boylan’s ability to communicate with players as Skiles’ right hand man. The focus of the team is shifting overtly toward developing players, not catering to second/third tier “stars.” If a decent deal for Redd comes along this summer, especially if there are young players or draft picks involved, expect GM Hammond to jump at it.
- Expect the Bucks to get younger, rather than look for veteran help or stars in trades. Again, as a group, Skiles’ coaching choices are wired to develop their own stars rather than coach somebody else’s. Next year will likely be a year for development and improvement, not a year to push for the playoffs.
- This has become a long post; time to wrap it up.