Tag Archives: Larry Krystkowiak

Shaq retires … for now, and with him goes the good humor he brought to the humorless, post-Jordan days of the NBA

It’s really true, and as a part-time Celtics fan I can’t help but be disappointed.  Shaquille O’Neal, when healthy (which wasn’t often this season) made the Celtics better, more formidable in the paint.

The Celtics were surprised by Shaq’s Twitter announcement and maybe we should be, too.

More than anything, Shaq changed the C’s demeanor.  No more were they the team of Kendrick Perkins‘ scowl and Kevin Garnett‘s gesticulations.  They were big as a Diesel, no doubt about it, and the Diesel delivered on the court — leading the Celtics in defensive impact (a 2.84 ezPM score) while snatching 4.8 rebs per game and scoring 9.2 points per game in just 20 minutes.

And he may return once the league’s labor dispute is settled, when the race for the 2012 playoffs is on — when we most need an old star to tweak Lebron James’ all-business, all-defense, “all-me”-this-ain’t-funny-even-if-we-win, facade.  Shaq’s got some game in him left, and a little Brett Favre in him, too — evidenced by this Twitter announcement during the NBA Finals, moments that belong to Lebron and Dirk, and that’s not a criticism of Favre or Shaq.  Jordan or Bird or Magic might have done something similar.

Shaq’s NBA in the post-Jordan dark days was not as competitive as the current league, and the Lakers three-pete (2000-2002) was often controversial and marred by questionable refereeing — yet Shaq was the face that managed to win over new converts even as so many fouled on it all.

No, Shaq’s era was not filled with the league’s finer moments, and if there were fine moments, those belonged to Jordan or Hakeem or Duncan and Robinson, even Sam Cassell (with the Rockets, Bucks and T-Wolves).  Through it all, however, the largess of Shaq and his steadily improving post game remained the point of departure for many fans.  Like it, be awed by it, shrug it off as freak of nature performance that made NBA hardwoods less than level, even the casual NBA fan had to consider all that was Shaq as he joked his way through press conferences.

Shaq’s Lakers set the NBA mark for best record in the playoffs (15-1) but, due to one of the most crookedly refereed series’ in NBA history (Sixers-Bucks 2001), they never had to face in the Finals the team they couldn’t beat that season:  The Sam Cassell, Glen “Big Dog” Robinson, Ray Allen “Big Three” Bucks coached by George Karl.

The following season, the 2002 seven-game Western conference Final between the Lakers and the Sacramento Kings was nearly as crooked as the 2001 Bucks-Sixers series, only more of the public was watching.  The smugness of Kobe Bryant and Lakers coach Phil Jackson emerged as sorry emblems for a league that seemed to have lost its way under the influence of its Emperor Palpatine-like commissioner, David Stern.  They let the big fella down.  So the big fella walked away.

(Edit addition:  In his new book, Shaq Uncut: My Story, Shaq divulges some detail behind his longstanding fued with Kobe. Deadspin has some excerpts.)

Shaq’s rebellion won over many of us NBA fans in flyover midlands country, and as he turned his back on them, he nagged Kobe’s self-centered game, defying Jackson and Stern, foiling the L.A. dynasty.  The  championship he won in 2006 with Dwyane Wade and Alonzo Mourning stands as Shaq’s emphatic signature on a Hall of Fame career — four-time champion, MVP, good teammate, joker, prankster, plentiful tipper of bellhops, barmaids, waitresses and food delivery workers all over America

We the people liked him for it in the end, a difficult and unlikely achievement considering the general bad mood of the casual NBA fan.


For Bucks fans, Shaq and his Lakers will primarily be a “what if” — an opportunity and great NBA Finals series denied in 2001.  But there is another connection (which was the original intent of this post about a thousand words ago) that involves one of Shaq’s favorite teammates and longtime friend, Bucks coach Scott Skiles; and Skiles’ longtime friend, former Orlando Magic teammate and former Bucks head coach Larry Krystkowiak.

Yes, this is the fight documentary, one of the better NBA practice brawl stories you’ll ever hear, involving two scrappy old-school player wanna-bes and their young superstar.  Yes, the best Shaq stories were told before Twitter and Youtube and Facebook …

The year: 1994

The stage: Magic practice floor on the road in Los Angeles.

Our narrator: Larry Krystkowiak, Magic reserve power forward.

The combatants: A young Shaquille O’Neal, Magic center; Krsytkowiak; Scott Skiles, Magic point guard.

The action: “Haymakers” thrown, Skiles “sorta” in a headlock, wrapped around Shaq, mayhem.

The instigator: Scott Skiles, of course.

The result: One of the wildest NBA practice fights on record, and mutual admiration society between Skiles and Shaq.  Continued friendship between Skiles and Krystkowiak. Shaq and Krystkowiak?  No hard feelings, respect. The Magic went on to win 50 games that season, Shaq’s second in the NBA.

Krystkowiak tells it far better than anybody. Here’s the LINK to Krystkowiak’s account, by ESPN writer Chris Sheridan.

Imagine Krystkowiak’s surprise when, in the 2007-08 season, Bucks power forward Charlie Villanueva backed down from a fight challenge — from Krystkowiak — during a Bucks practice.  The NBA had changed.  Yet it’s a better game today because players like Shaq and Skiles and Krystkowiak simply never bothered to.

Clippers tonight: Bogut vs. the Kamanizer

The Bucks are in Los Angeles tonight to play the tanking Clippers (25-43), the first of a three game road trip that will then take them to Sacramento and Denver, their final road game of the season against a Western Conference opponent. Those are the facts as I know them. Now it’s time for the fun. 

A Clippers game is one of those rare opportunities to explore NBA weirdness. You never know who’s on the Clippers roster, and just when you think you do, half the roster arrives at the gym in crutches to ask for a trade. I couldn’t tell you right now how they’re playing, who sits and who starts, whether MU gunner Steve Novak is still raining three’s on the opposition or whether or not the Bucks ought to be concerned about this game. I have a Chris Kaman photo. The rest is guesswork.

I heard somewhere that the Clippers fired coach Mike Dunleavy, Big Dog’s first coach with the Bucks. I’ve always liked Dunleavy, who, when he was an assistant for Del Harris, suited up and played when the roster got thin. And he had a sense of humor. He was GM and coach during those win-starved “development” years, and brought Alton Lister back in 1994 because he thought it would make the fans happy to see “The Big Project” again. He was right. Dunleavy in 1995 brought Terry Cummings back for a spin, too, and that was cool, despite the 57 losses.

I also heard somewhere that Marcus Camby is now a Trailblazer, and that Portland thinks maybe they can make a title run this year. Camby’s still a dedicated defender and rebounder but Camby is a guarantee that the Blazers will not win a title. Ask Patrick Ewing. The upshot is that there is somebody named Outlaw on the Clippers roster now, but I don’t think it’s Bo Outlaw from those post-Shaq Orlando Magic teams.  Former Buck Steve Blake may be a Clipper, too, but whether or not Jamal Magliore was part of the deal I can’t be sure.

Chris Kaman is still a Clipper and by now he should have some sort of nickname. He’s been there since 2003. He’s also a guy I’ve never liked as an NBA center. In fact, I refused to list him on the inaugural Bob Boozer Jinx center rankings on grounds that I could not make a “Top Ten NBA Centers” list with Kaman on it. He’s lumbering, he’s awkward, he’s ridiculous looking, he misses more bunnies than a big man has a right to. I hold him responsible for my man Sam “I Am” Cassell‘s failure to lead the Clippers past the Suns in the 2006 playoffs.

There were times during his career that Andrew Bogut on a bad day  reminded me a little of Kaman, but I didn’t blame Bogut. I blamed Chris Kaman.

Kaman used to have the worst hair in the NBA (and that’s saying something) — but at least he had the guts to play with the game with a few strands of flyaway hair, and that was something to be said for Kaman. Now that he’s cut his hair, I can’t think of anything good to say about Chris Kaman.

Except that he’s averaging 18.8 ppg and 9.1 boards on a bad team, all the while refusing to jump. He’s as big as Bogut and a lot wider but Kaman and Bogut haven’t gone head-to-head since Feb. 11, 2008, in Milwaukee. That didn’t go well for the Bucks or AB. While Kaman only had 7 pts, he grabbed 15 boards and bodied Bogut into a 4-16 shooting night. Bogues was good on the glass with 12 but Al Thornton killed Yi and Charlie V for 25 pts. (Check that — no, it really does say that Bogut got 16 shots two years ago). 

It was the night Michael Redd decided he was going to finally make coach Larry Krystkowiak happy by sharing the ball, and he did, refusing to shoot in the first half. Redd racked up a career high 11 assists and Mo was all too happy to take the shots (he was 12-20 from the floor). The Bucks appeared to be outplaying them all night, but … somehow we managed to lose to a 16-32 Clippers team at the BC. It did make for a weird-looking boxscore … those were the days.

And Chris Kaman still had his hair.

The non-controvers-Yi of Yi’s rookie year

Yi with Commissioner David Stern on draft day.It all seemed so controversial last summer. Bucks management trapsing all over the world to track down their 1st round draft pick, Yi Jianlian, whose handlers would have prefered he play on the West Coast, or anywhere but here.

Yi was promised a starting position, ESPN reported. No he wasn’t Bucks GM Larry Harris lied – I mean replied. Bucks fans worried that the team had wasted the #6 pick on a guy that didn’t want to play.

The season started with Yi in the starting lineup, playing 30 minutes a game. Charlie Villanueva was relegated to reserve role and did a spectacularly bad job of it. By the end of December, Seattle’s Kevin Durant, the rookie of the year and #2 pick, was the only rookie scoring more than Yi, and only #3 pick, Atlanta center Al Horford, was rebounding more. Yi was leading them all with a .503 shooting percentage. Yi was named T-Mobile Rookie of the Month in the Eastern Conference for December, and had filled it up for 29 against Charlotte (a win) on the 22nd.

But there was a problem: The Bucks were 18-30 with Yi as a starter. On Feb. 9 — Game 49 — Larry Krystkowiak moved Yi to the bench and started Charlie V.

But there was a problem: The Bucks lost at an even faster rate, going 8-25 in games that Yi did not start or did not play (he missed half of them) the rest of the way. (Yi did start one more game in February, a loss).

This week, the NBA coaches left Yi off the 1st and 2nd team All-NBA rookie teams, though Yi did receive 13 votes in the process. (A first team selection gets 2 points; a second team selection gets one point). That means that nearly half of the 29 voting coaches (coaches can’t vote for their own players) thought Yi was good enough for second team, assuming no one voted Yi on the first team. That’s nearly not half bad.

Watching a 6’11” guy run the floor better than Tracy McGrady and shoot jumpers with Ray-Allen-perfect form wasn’t half bad either. Watching Yi get pushed around as he tried to box out for rebounds was not so good. Even worse was Yi flashing to open spots and being routinely ignored by Michael Redd and Mo Williams. There was a mean chill on this Bucks team; you had to be at the games to see it.

I was impressed with Yi — and I admit, I was hoping to be impressed. He wanted to run the floor. Yet no one on the Bucks was ready to run except Mo Williams. (Dez Mason was out the first few games I attended; Yi was out the last couple). On offense, the ball didn’t move — Redd held it, waited, palmed it, waited for everyone to stop, then drove into traffic. As a team, they couldn’t get uncontested shots. Mo could, easily enough, but only for himself. In a game against New Jersey, at halftime Yi and Bogut had six points combined.

After a few trips to the BC, it stopped mattering to me whether the Bucks should have drafted Jeff Green or one of the Florida players, Noah or Brewer, instead of Yi. After Greg Oden, Durant and Al Horford, it didn’t matter. The way the Bucks were playing, it didn’t matter. So the kid from China didn’t want to play in Milwaukee. Who in their right mind would want to suffer on the 2007-08 Bucks? Scola? No. Carl Landry, who grew up here and went to Vincent? Alright, Landry would probably love to play for the Bucks, no matter the circumstances.

I did come to the conclusion that Yi should have been coming off the bench. If the Bucks couldn’t do anything else well, at least Krystkowiak should have commited the team to rebounding. Charlie V last season was better help for Bogut under the boards, and should have been the starter at power forward. Both big forwards could have played 30 minutes, with Yi playing about ten minutes at small forward, posting up his defender.

But it didn’t matter. The Bucks lost more when Charlie was starting. Sometimes Charlie felt like rebounding, sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes he played as though all he cared about was proving that he could score just as much, if not more, than “Michael” and look better doing it. Call it the Mo Williams syndrome. By April, Yi, Mo and Charlie all seemed perfectly happy sitting in their tailor-made suits, riding out the bad vibes of the season on the end of the bench.

GM John Hammond has enthusiastically called Yi “a keeper” an “asset” and in a lengthy interview in the Racine Journal Times Sunday, said Bogut and Yi are: “two, very good young pieces … that you can build around. Bigs are so hard to find. The Boguts and the Yis … it would be awfully hard to move guys like that.”

Bogut said this about Yi in his most recent interview with Journal Sentinel:

“To have him at the 4 (power forward) and shoot the ball the way he does, that’s his main role, and I think he’s done a great job with it,” Bogut said. “I think he can spread the defense. But once he gets more aggressive, I think he needs to work on putting the ball on the floor and trying to get to the basket.

“He’s as athletic as anybody I’ve seen. Ballhandling will be a key factor for him, working in the off-season. If he gets that down, he’ll be a much more productive guy. Guys are scouting him and trying to make him put the ball on the floor.

“It’s kind of tough, adjusting to NBA guys who are much quicker than you’re used to. It’s just getting strong hands, and I think he’ll be fine. His work ethic is unbelievable, and he’ll be in the gym every day this summer.”

Sounds good to me. The NBA season is sometimes just a snapshot of basketball in time that doesn’t carry over into the playoffs or the next season. The All-Rookie team presents one of these snapshots for the league; it’s camera failed to capture the ups and downs of Yi’s first season, just as it failed to capture how well Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey played in Game 5 against Orlando last night (Stuckey missed the All-Rookie 1st team but made the 2nd).

There’s no real controvers-Yi to find here. And no reason to doubt the hope that Yi will be much-improved next season.

GM Hammond: Redd is not “untouchable” in trade talks

HammondAnd neither is anybody else, Bucks GM John Hammond told reporter Gery Woelfel in a feature interview that ran in the Racine Journal Times Sunday. 

Center Andrew Bogut and big forward Yi Jianlian, however, are “two, very good young pieces … that you can build around,” Hammond qualified. “Bigs are so hard to find. The Boguts and the Yis … it would be awfully hard to move guys like that.”

Bogut and the Bucks are expected to come to terms on a five-year extension this July that would keep the 23-year-old center in a Bucks uniform through his prime and the 2013-14 season. Including his option for next season, the dollar terms would likely be in the neighborhood of six years – $66-72 million. As for Yi, the Bucks have two exhibition games scheduled in China this September; it’s difficult to imagine the team showing up without Yi.

Hammond continued to address “the untouchables” issue without prompting from interviewer Woelfel.

“Does that mean Michael Redd can be moved? Or anybody else on this roster? No. But I don’t think it’s fair to use the term untouchables when you are a team that won 26 games this year.”

How’s that for dancing around the question? It’s time to stop the music. Consider Michael Redd officially on the trading block.

Journal Times: It was pretty apparent the Bucks had some significant chemistry issues this season. Is it necessary to weed out some of the malcontents on this team or can Skiles come in and alter the attitude?

Hammond:  When you start talking about chemistry issues or evaluating what went wrong with this team … we’re going to evaluate the situation and, if we can do something to improve our team, we’re going to do that. Does that mean we’re going to make wholesale changes? No. We will not do that. That’s not our thinking going in. Chemistry issues, weeding people out, that kind of terminology … it’s going to come down to opportunities. We are going to explore the opportunities that are presented by other teams and go from there.”

Bob Boozer Jinx: With the exception of Bogut and Yi, everybody’s on the trading block, maybe even Ramon Sessions, one player who could make trades work for the Bucks. The Bobby Simmons, Mo Williams and Dan Gadzuric contracts are difficult to move, unless attached with affordable players like Desmond Mason, Charlie Bell, Charlie Villanueva and Sessions. “The way [Sessions] finished the season … as we continue to work the phones (in trade talks) I guarantee you his name will come up,” Hammond said later in the interview.

Journal Times: There’s a good chance Michael Redd will be playing for the United States Olympic Team this summer. Yet, there are some basketball observers who contend Redd isn’t a franchise player. What’s your take on him?

Hammond: “I think Michael Redd is a great player. When you start using terminology like franchise player … I think if we sat down and looked at the (NBA team) board together and said which team has a franchise player, we’d see there aren’t many of them in the league. Even if you said Michael Redd isn’t a franchise player, that’s not taking a shot at Michael Redd. Saying Michael Redd is a great NBA player is a great compliment to him.”

Bob Boozer Jinx: Most Bucks fans have become painfully aware over the last five years that Redd is not Kobe, Lebron, or a few All-Star teams of players, from McGrady to Stoudamire to D-Wade to Joe Johnson. Yet somebody forgot to tell Michael who still thinks he’s as good as his contract, which, to him, meant that last season he had the right to undermine the team on the court. Redd’s “franchise” contract is now a lodestone keeping the Bucks in the Central Division cellar.

JT: I think it’s fair to assume that this summer you’ll be making some trades. What areas would you like to shore up on this team?

Hammond: “If you look at our team, in your backcourt, it is Mo Williams and Michael Redd. Up front, we have Bogut and Yi. Desmond (Mason) is at the small forward position and that might be something you maybe address. You appreciate Desmond for the player he is and the man he is. And you got Bobby (Simmons), so it’s not like the cupboard is bare at that position. But if you say there’s maybe one spot that maybe could be addressed, that would be the small forward position.”

BBJ: The small forward position, a scoring slot for most of Bucks history, has been all but obliterated on the last few Bucks teams. Dez doesn’t shoot well enough to be the starter, Simmons’ career has floundered in Milwaukee and his rehab from ankle and foot surgery has been slow. Bobby’s overpaid, signed on for $20 million over the next two years. Hammond won’t get much back in a trade for Simmons alone, but Simmons and Charlie Bell and a draft pick? That could net a player. Hammond could trade Redd for a small forward (say, to Dallas for Josh Howard, BrewHoop’s favorite trade) which would leave no space on the bench for both Simmons and Mason. A third option is to trade Redd for guards/expiring contracts/future draft picks, and see what Bobby and Dez look like without Redd, but it doesn’t sound as though Hammond is leaning that way.

Hammond could be hinting at the draft, where 19-year-old Danilo Gallinari of Italy is projected to go as high as 6th. Donte Green out of Syracuse and Chase Budinger from Arizona are also ranked in the top 16 picks. There is no room for both Simmons and Dez in this scenario, either. And, as Brewhoop reminds us, there’s always Ersan, the Bucks 2005 2nd round pick, who played small forward for Barcelona this season.

Looking at the SF position is also the obvious answer for Hammond; it’s a throwaway that keeps other players’ names out of the trade market. If Hammond leaks names to be bandied about in trade talks, and the deals fall through, Coach Skiles could be stuck with a situation similar to the one he had last season in Chicago. Bulls GM John Paxson put half the team on the trading block in hopes of acquiring Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant (Kobe’s attempt to trade himself), and the resulting bad vibes didn’t go away. Simmons’ contract ranks as one of the worst in the NBA and every team in the league knows the Bucks would love to get rid of it.

JT: Some Bucks fans believe you should blow up this team, while others believe it just needs to be tweaked. What’s your view on this matter?

Hammond: “Maybe something in between. Maybe more than a tweak, but you sure as heck wouldn’t want to blow up a team with some of the assets that are here.

BBJ: More “maybes.” Players are “assets” but are not “untouchable.” Wholesale changes won’t be made, but only two players are the type to build around. Hammond danced around a lot of questions. The bottom line is that the Bucks have been bogged down the last few seasons with the a group guards and small forwards (Redd, Mo, Charlie Bell, Simmons and Mason) that don’t win games and will cost $46 million next season, two-thirds of the luxury tax limit — not the salary cap, which the Bucks will exceed next season if Hammond does nothing, but the luxury tax (likely to be about $70M). The four bigs (Bogut, Yi, Charlie V and Gadzuric) are young with the exception of Gadz, and will be paid $20 million next season – the last year the group remains a bargain.

So what does Hammond do? Package Simmons and Bell in a trade and hope for the best? No. That’s just asking to lose again and give your new head coach a season of headaches dealing with third-tier “stars.”

I think the reality is that the evaluation of the team is just getting started. Hammond has been on the job a month; Skiles is in his 4th week and has already hired an impressive staff of assistant coaches. At last report the assistant contracts are still in the process of being signed and triplicated. The Bucks won’t know where they’re picking in the draft until the lottery May 20.

One of the holdovers from last season who kept his job was Jason Staudt, the video assistant. This is important. Staudt, one would hope, knows the equipment room and where all the tape from last year is, having invented a filing system so confusing that he cannot be replaced. My guess is that Staudt has been working harder than anyone the last few weeks, preparing an entire season’s worth of evaluation video. So far, there hasn’t been anyone to watch it except Skiles and Hammond. The definitive evaluations won’t get started until the assistant coaches arrive to help Skiles go through it all … and help him drink his beer.

Racine Journal TImes Hammond interview.

Skiles vs. Shaq vs. Krystkowiak

Note to Steve “the Homer” True or anyone getting ready to interview Scott Skiles (and fans who might have missed this when I posted it a week ago).

Before you ask Bucks Coach Scott Skiles again about the fight he had with Shaquille O’Neal when they were teammates on the Orlando Magic, come to the Bob Boozer Jinx first. Homer, who interviewed Skiles last week on his ESPN Radio show (if you missed it, we’ve got the podcast featured on the Sportsbubbler Bucks main page), put the question to Skiles like this:

“The Living Legend: The intensity of Scott Skiles. So intense he reportedly once confronted then-Orlando Magic teammate Shaquille O’Neal for loafing in practice. True or false?

“Uhh, true, but it was in self-defense.”

“You don’t have to elaborate if you don’t want to,” Homer said.

“No, it was self defense.”

No is right. (Which is why, Homer, check here before you interview Skiles again.) ESPN’s Chris Sheridan got to the bottom of it last year and wrote the definitive “Skiles vs. Shaq story.” Let’s review:

The year: 1994

The stage: Magic practice floor on the road in Los Angeles.

Our narrator: Larry Krystkowiak, Magic reserve power forward.

The combatants: A young Shaquille O’Neal, Magic center; Krsytkowiak; Scott Skiles, Magic point guard.

The action: “Haymakers” thrown, Skiles “sorta” in a headlock, wrapped around Shaq, mayhem.

The instigator: Scott Skiles, of course.

The result: Mutual admiration society between Skiles and Shaq. Continued friendship between Skiles and Krystkowiak. Shaq and Krystkowiak? No hard feelings, respect. Magic win 50 games that season, Shaq’s second in the NBA.

Krystkowiak tells it far better than I do. Here’s that link again.

Scott Skiles: A troublemaker in the best possible way

I have to admit, my initial reaction to news that Scott Skiles was a leading candidate for the Bucks head coaching job was to wonder whether Skiles would be much of an improvement over Larry Krystkowiak.

I didn’t think so, mainly because there’s really no excuse for the Bulls lousy season, given that there was more talent in Chicago than anywhere in the Eastern Conference outside of Boston and Detroit. It wasn’t clear to me what went so wrong for a team that had won 49 games last season and swept Shaq out of the playoffs. It seemed like he quit on the team as much as they quit on him.

Besides, Skiles seemed like second or third choice for every team in the market for a new coach. The better coaches, Larry Brown and Jeff Van Gundy were not options for John Hammond, and it was going to be tough competing with Chicago for the number one choice for most, Rick Carlisle. As it turned out, Skiles was the number one choice all along, and Bucks fans should be glad Hammond moved quickly and snapped up the best NBA coach available — there weren’t many options out there.

True, Carlisle has won more, and managed to win 44 games in Indiana in 2004-05, the season of the Palace brawl (an incident that will stick with Carlisle everywhere he goes) but his success hasn’t been that much greater than Skiles’, whose Baby Bulls were fun to watch, even this season (not so much for Bulls fans). And the Detroit organization didn’t miss Carlisle much after Joe Dumars (and Hammond) fired him in 2003.

And then I did some research on Skiles and found this, one of the most hilarious stories about the NBA I’ve read in a long time. Would you believe Scott Skiles vs. Shaquille O’Neil during a 1994 Orlando Magic practice?  Even better, the fight story as told to ESPN writer Chris Sheridan, is narrated by Larry Krystkowiak, the guy who had the balls to go after Shaq in the first place.

Here’s Krystkowiak’s verdict:

“I always looked as those two as two boxers, one a super heavyweight, the other a featherweight, both just ultracompetitive. They were packaged in two different boxes, but each had a significant aspect on our team,” Krystkowiak said.

And that, Bucks fans, is everything we need to know about the sort of scrappy trouble Scott Skiles brings to the Milwaukee Bucks.

How Krystkowiak could keep his job

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.

“Right Now”: John Hammond on what John Hammond will do

When? “Right now.” As of this minute. Generally, it could mean “this morning” or “until after lunch.” More loosely, “right now” could mean today, this weekend or this week. Next month is pushing it, especially if, like me, you’re a long sufferinig Bucks fan.

New Bucks GM John Hammond said “right now” quite a lot last weekend in his first interviews in Milwaukee. As he begins to diagnose the causes of what appears to be one of the worst cases of bad chemistry in Milwaukee sports history, Hammond’s “right nows” could very well change day to day, hour to hour. 

Right now, as of this minute, he could very well be on the phone with Larry Brown, trying to find out what Bucks players Brown would still want around when, if hired to coach the Bucks, Brown’s inevitable wanderlust kicks in and he’s ready to move on. Or discussing with former Pistons and Pacers coach Rick Carlisle which Bucks he’d like on his side in a brawl with an arena full of beerthrowing fans. “I can make Yi Jianlian mean,” Carlisle promises, doing his best Clint Eastwood squint. (As it turned out, Hammond was on the phone with Scot Skiles).

What we do know is that “right now” John Hammond thinks it’s “unfair” to say whether or not our Bucks, the team that Slickless Larry built, could be a playoff team. This was asked by Doug Russell of Sports Radio 1250 WSSP, part of the podcast interview that you can hear for yourself on the sportsbubbler main page. The Bucks? Playoff potential?

“Well, I think right now, it would be unfair to say that, because then I think you’re taking probably unfair shots at the players and the coaches, and I wouldn’t do that,” Hammond said. “Maybe there are a number of circumstances. … There could be more than one. Injuries have occured within this team that are major factors for any team that plays within a tough, 82-game NBA schedule. I don’t know if you want to say [there is playoff potential], but I do think there are pieces here that you can put a playoff team on the floor.”

Right now, Hammond sees a team with problems that he’s “not sure there is a simple answer to.”

Krystowiak’s future? ESPN had him fired a month ago when the senator dismissed Larry Harris. “Sources” said Kohl wanted a more experienced coach, after three young coaches in five years. How about Larry Brown? He’s one of the oldest coaches out there! And he wants a job – even went so far as to contact the Bulls (through a third party) about their vacancy after this season. JS columnist Michael Hunt is already wishing Krystkowiak well.

Many of us have read the Marc Stein story (ESPN again) in which “sources” expect Hammond to push for Rick Carlisle as his new coach, building on those other “sources” who said Kohl wants to shut down his young coaches program. Nevermind that in all likelihood Herb gave full basketball decision making authority to Hammond as he lured Hammond away from the Pistons. The owner may no longer be calling the shots. ESPN never was.

What does Hammond say about Krystowiak’s future? “Premature” to say. “Unfair to say, right now.” Too early to set a timetable for a definitive decision, even to say a month from right now.

That’s no ringing endorsement for Krystkowiak by any means but, right now, who’s to say? If Hammond can’t find the right coach (I’m not convinced Brown or Carlisle would be the right coach), or if Krystkowiak makes a strong case that other major moves are necessary, Krystkowiak could keep his job. Not likely, but not impossible. Right now, Hammond isn’t saying. (He was waiting until the season ended before handing Larry K the pink slip).

At Hammonds introduction to Milwaukee at a Saturday press conference a reporter asked if Hammond would consider Michael Redd a “cornerstone” of the franchise.

“I think you have to, right now.”

Right now.

The reporter follow up and ask about tomorrow, next week or next season.

Carlisle, Brown and the Central Division Coaching Cadre

Is it just me, or does hiring Joe Dumars’ right-hand-man in Detroit still seem a bit like hiring Darth Vader to manage your jedi knight program? It just feels a little off with whatever’s left of the Bucks force … but I’ll get over it.

John Hammond was Bucks GM for only about 5 minutes when a new rumor went into circulation — ESPN sources expect Hammond to pursue Rick Carlisle for the head coaching job. Carlisle, head coach of the Pistons during Hammonds’ first two years with Joe Dumars and is also considered a leading candidate to replace Jim Boylan as Chicago Bulls head coach, if Boylan is fired. Carlisle himself was fired from Detroit after some shaky coaching in the 2003 playoffs and was immediately replaced by … Larry Brown.

Still following this spinning wheel? It’ll come back around, just like Larry Brown, who, by the way is also reportedly interested in the Bulls job.

Carlisle moved on to coach Indiana, building an intense rivalry with Brown’s Pistons, and finishing with the league’s best record in the regular season. In the East finals, Carlisle and Pacers fell to Brown’s Pistons 4-games-to-2. The Pistons went on to win it all. The next season, the first Pacers-Pistons meeting erupted into the infamous brawl that spilled into the stands and knocked the Pacers organization into chaotic mediocrity. Carlisle was let go at the end of last year and is working for ESPN and running the coaches’ union.

If Carlisle is lured to the Bucks by Hammond or goes to work for the Bulls in Chicago, it would be his third Central Division team in less than ten years. Either Chicago or the Bucks would still be looking for a coach, which would make Larry Brown a natural candidate. Hire Brown and it would be his third Central Division team in less than 15 years. The Carlisle-Brown coaching web will have captured four of the five teams in the division, leaving only Lebron’s Cav’s unensnared.

Shouldn’t there be a rule against this sort of familiarity? Call it the “familiarity breeds contempt exception” within Division rivalries. Call it a coaching cartel – they’re out to corner the market on competition; it could be unhealthy for the basketball economy. Or incite another brawl.

Sure, the Bucks are working toward a day when the team actually finds itself in a rivalry, but is the team desperate enough to possibly fuel another Carlisle-Brown showdown? 

If the answer from the new Bucks GM is yes, that’s the good news fans have been waiting years to hear.