MILWAUKEE — The day after Avery Johnson was removed as the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, Scott Skiles was asked if the firing served as a reminder to him how quickly things can change as an NBA coach.
He didn’t need a reminder because he’s been through it before.
Skiles was fired in the middle of his third year in Phoenix and in the middle of his fifth year in Chicago, and now he’s out as Bucks coach 32 games into his fifth year with the team even though this was a mutual parting of the ways.
In certain relationships, there comes a point where change would benefit both parties, and this was quickly turning into one of those situations.
Coaches at any level of sports have an expiration date. In the NBA, expiration dates come fast for most. The Milwaukee Bucks and Skiles had reached theirs.
After four-plus years together – including a memorable playoff run that invigorated the city in 2009-10 – the defensive-minded head coach seemed less and less the right fit for a team powered by shoot-first guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
Entering this season with so many unanswered questions – Skiles and GM John Hammond are in the last year of their contracts, Jennings can be a restricted free agent in the offseason and Ellis can opt out of his deal — the Bucks have begun to answer a major one by acting now. An NBA.com report surfaced Monday stating that Skiles wasn’t planning on returning to Milwaukee next season, regardless of how this season – the last one on his current contract — played out. If true, there was no reason to delay the inevitable parting – especially with a roster that seems primed to make the playoffs.
When a college football coach takes a new job prior to his former team playing in a bowl game, he moves on immediately.
Though the 16-16 Bucks are far from the end of their season, the comparison has some value for an NBA coach and a group of players he was going to have trouble reaching with one foot out the door. Now Skiles, who is highly respected in some NBA circles, can pursue his next endeavor and Milwaukee can start to evaluate its future.
In interim head coach Jim Boylan the Bucks get a guy who has been through this all before, seemingly a perfect fit to serve as head coach until the team can find a full-time replacement in the offseason. A loyal confidant to Skiles, Boylan took over as interim coach one game after Skiles was fired in Chicago.
Not only does Boylan bring years of basketball coaching experience, he knows how to react when taking over a team during the middle of the season. The starting point guard on Marquette University’s 1977 national championship team, Boylan knows the city and its fans but, most important, knows this roster and probably is a little more willing to bend his style to its construction than Skiles might have been.
When the Skiles era is remembered in Milwaukee, the playoff run of 2009-10 has to top the list. Coming out of nowhere, the Bucks finished the season 26-11 from February on to win 46 games and make the playoffs despite losing star center Andrew Bogut for the season to an elbow injury.
It was arguably Skiles’ finest coaching job – getting the most out of guys like John Salmons and Kurt Thomas – and having two chances to take down the talented Hawks in the first round before dropping Games 6 and 7.
The city was alive with cries of “Fear the Deer,” and Skiles finished second in the NBA’s Coach of the Year voting.
It appeared as if the Bucks had found the coach to take them into the future, but success didn’t come again, and though he’s a good coach, Skiles’ hard-driving approach has its drawbacks. No coach is going to be liked by every player, but Skiles’ expiration date came at roughly the same time in every one of his stops.
Skiles does things his way, which is OK. He doesn’t care who plays and who sits, as long as the players on the floor give him the best chance at winning. There certainly are some people who don’t agree with that philosophy, and undoubtedly some players will respond to less frequent changes in their roles and playing time.
Good things happened with Skiles on the bench. The development of Brandon Jennings and the aforementioned playoff run are two examples. But as the Bucks missed the postseason the past two seasons and now have begun to slide again, his cloudy future couldn’t be ignored.
It was time for a change, and the Bucks wasted little time coming to that conclusion.