Tag Archives: Joe Wolf

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.

Skiles’ assistant hires point to Bucks rebuilding

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.

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  • 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.