Skiles’ Bucks staff set – Lionel Hollins a coaching coups

Lionel HollinsWith the good fortune he’s had in putting together an impressive staff of assistants, Scott Skiles may want to head to the casino. Better yet, Skiles should head for New Jersey May 20 to represent the Bucks in the NBA draft lottery.  

Not only did Skiles hire all four of his top choices in less than two weeks, he was lucky that two of them — Kelvin Sampson and Memphis assistant Lionel Hollins – were available at all. (Consider this one likely reason Skiles has moved so quickly to hire them.)

Tom Enlund yesterday confirmed that, no, Skiles’ assistant search hadn’t hit any snags, reporting at JSOnline that Jim Boylan, Sampson, Hollins and Joe Wolf are hired. The Bucks are waiting only for the signatures on the contracts. Add to those four Bill Peterson, guru to Ramon Sessions, retained from Larry Krystkowiak’s crew, and the Bucks have their new coaching staff.

Boylan was Skiles right hand man in Chicago and took over when Skiles was let go last December. Boylan was canned by the Bulls when the season ended (Bulls GM John Paxson wants a marquee coaching name); it was no surprise that he followed Skiles to Milwaukee.

Wolf has been earning attention as a winning coach in the NBA Development League with the Colorado 14ers (what’s a 14er?) and Skiles simply hired Wolf before someone else did. For what it’s worth, Wolf comes highly recommended by Denver’s George Karl.

Kelvin SampsonI wrote about last week on the BBJ. Were it not for Sampson’s heavily scrutinized … err, what should his time at Indiana be labelled? Situation, bad career move? — he wouldn’t be in the market for a job, much less a jump to the pros. Stroke of luck #1 for Skiles, who was quick to offer Sampson a job, which Sampson accepted before the end of Skiles’ first week. Sampson’s been one of the best coaches in the college ranks for about 15 years, and has experience with pro players coaching under George Karl in the 2002 World Championships. After he lost the Indiana job, Sampson joined George Popovich’s Spurs bench in San Antonio as a consultant, which sheds some light on how highly regarded Sampson is in coaching circles. A great hire by Skiles.

As lucky as Skiles was that Sampson was in the market, he was even luckier that Lionel Hollins, a 20-year NBA coaching veteran, was ready for a change. Through the 2007-08 season, Hollins had been a Grizzlies coach for every game of the franchise’s history, dating back to 1995 when the Grizz were in Vancouver and Bucks great Brian Winters was the team’s inaugural head coach. More than any other figure but the mascot, Hollins is Mr. Grizzlie, twice filling in as head coach as other coaches came and went, always retaining his job — I wonder why Marc Iavaroni and not Hollins is now the head coach in Memphis now?

Prior to going to work for Winters and the Grizz,  Hollins was an assistant in Phoenix for seven years (think KJ and Sir Charles), and coached at Arizona State, his alma mater, when his playing days ended in 1985. As a player, Hollins was the point guard on the Bill Walton 1977championship Trailblazers, before moving on to Dr. J’s Sixer teams, where he played shooting guard to Mo Cheeks’ point.

Into the recesses of time … Yes, Hollins was on those Philly teams that broke Bucks fans’ hearts in the 1981 and 1982 playoffs. Hollins and Winters guarded each other in those playoff matchups, which makes then-Grizzlie GM Stu Jackson and head coach Winters’ hiring of Hollins to help coach the expansion Grizzlies interesting, oddly appropriate, even poetic. Da#!! those guys were good, and they could shoot. Those were the last 60-win Bucks teams, but they couldn’t beat Philly in the playoffs …

Back to the present: In most any other offseason, like so many before, Hollins would not be looking to change jobs. Stroke of luck #2 for Skiles, who again acted quickly in offering Hollins a position. Perfect timing.

Why was this year different? For a good chunk of the Grizzlies season, Marc Iavaroni (another guy on those Sixers team the Bucks couldn’t beat in the early 1980’s), the coach/GM in Memphis was on the hot seat. First, Iavaroni stepped down from his GM duties, and rumors were flying that the team owner was dancing with Larry Brown, and that Brown was interested in becoming the new coach/GM. Look what’s happened in the last three weeks:

Week #1 – Larry Krystkowiak is fired in Milwaukee, Skiles is hired to replace him four days later, and is somehow aware that Hollins might be available. Skiles immediately offers Hollins a job.

Week #2 – Larry Brown is hired by Michael Jordan to coach the Charlotte Hornets, removing him from the Grizz’s picture (Memphis owner Michael Heisley denies Brown was ever in the picture, but I wouldn’t believe him). By week’s end, Iavaroni had kept his job as Grizzlies coach after a tense meeting with Heisley. With Skiles’ job offer to Hollins pending, there’s still no word on whether Hollins has accepted (Boylan and Sampson were already on board). 

Week #3 – Still no word on Hollins (or Wolf) until Enlund’s story yesterday, leading to speculation (on my part at least) that maybe Hollins had decided to stay in Memphis. Lucky for the Bucks, Skiles and Bucks fans, this was not the case. I’m speculating that if Skiles had wasted any time in offering Hollins a job, Hollins would still be an assistant in Memphis, working with Iavaroni to rebuild after the Pau Gasol trade. 


Beyond the overall experience that Hollins’ four decades in the NBA brings, the important thing about Hollins for the Bucks is the type of player he coached with the Grizzlies. Because the Grizz are a young franchise, much of Hollins work has been with lottery-drafted young players. The Grizzlies coaches have never had an established, veteran star, working instead to compete by developing and establishing their own: Sharif Abdur-Rahim, Gasol, Mike Miller, and now Rudy Gay. Hollins also helped develop Mike Bibby into a quality, playoffs point guard, before the Grizz shipped him to Sacremento for Jason Williams in 2001 (a point guard swap that never made any sense to me, and didn’t really improve either team all that much).

Here’s that Grizzlies basketball-reference.com link again. Memphis was a 50-win team not so long ago.

Considering where the Bucks find themselves — with a rookie point guard and young talent like Yi, Bogut and, yes, Charlie Villanueva too, and looking to commit the team focus toward developing these players — How is Lionel Hollins not the perfect assistant coach for the Bucks?  Of the five assistants, Hollins is Skiles’ coups de grace.

What I haven’t been able to figure out is what Skiles’ connection to Hollins is? They haven’t worked together before (Hollins preceded Skiles in Phoenix in the 1990’s). Does there have to be a connection? I would think so, considering that Hollins is leaving a franchise where he worked for 13 years.

Does anybody have the goods on Skiles-Hollins? The comment part of this blog does, in fact, work.

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