It happened in the middle of the night while most people were asleep, but it may as well have happened after the Milwaukee Bucks last home game of a disappointing, lockout shortened 2011-12 season.
In his final post game conference he handled questions the same way he always did. Until the last question. A reporter asked if he liked what he saw from his younger players in terms of their professionalism and attitudes.
Skiles stared straight ahead for several seconds before finally replying with a mumbled, “I don’t know.”
He was out of answers for last season. And really, I thought that was it. Skiles has never been a particularly emotive guy when interacting with the media, but something really came through in that exchange. He couldn’t even offer up the words to give the cliched response we’re all so accustomed to hearing in those situations. He looked so drained, so ready to move on.
How do you come back from that?
Well, you have a contract that you can’t get out of, I guess that’s how. Skiles had one year left on his deal and he and the Bucks couldn’t come to an agreement on his exit. Rumors flew about his desire to leave, but when he was back at the start of this season those rumors looked like nothing more than that.
Until Monday. Again, we heard that Skiles was ready to move on, prepared to finish this season and depart from a situation he apparently felt like he couldn’t do anything else with. But still, it sounded like he would finish out the season at least. The Bucks, as bad as they’ve been over their past four games, are probably a playoff team, even if they’re the eighth seed.
But if they’re a playoff team, they’ll have to be one under Jim Boylan. Word leaked in the middle of the night that a mutual agreement had been come to between Skiles and the organization that he would no longer coach the team. The suddenness of it all took most of us by surprise, but is this really that shocking?
Less than a month ago, I asked Skiles if he could do anything other than hope his best players would start making shots when they were having a bad game. He asked if I had any suggestions and then simply said no. Does that sound like a team you’d want to coach? Or a coach that seems like he’s going to be able to get something more out of his two best players?
To say the least, a duo of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis probably wasn’t what Skiles envisioned as the core of his team five years from when he took the job as Milwaukee’s coach in 2008. And I don’t say that specifically because of the style or size of the two guards, I say it because of the talent. Five years on the job and Skiles was still guiding a team without a star to follow.
That’s a harrowing task for any coach. It’s an especially harrowing task for one as competitive and intense as Scott Skiles. Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that a friend of Skiles in the coaching fraternity said he, “hated his team.”
When I think back to that distant stare at the end of last season, it isn’t too hard for me to believe that.
Honestly, Skiles is nobody’s fool. He knows what it takes to win in this league. He’s aware its run by stars. He knows a team needs more than one, at least two, but probbaly three. He’s spoke openly about that and the challenges that not having those pieces bring to a team. You have to be that much sharper every night, that much more ready to play. There’s very little room for error without stars, as the Bucks have seen in losses to so many lesser opponents this season.
But the Bucks are in a tough spot when it comes to stars. Maybe they could swing a move for a B-Lister like Rudy Gay, the way they did for Ellis last season. Maybe they could get lucky with a discounted malcontent like the Grizzlies did so long ago. They could keep fighting for a playoff position as the organization does its best to tinker with the roster, hoping to recreate that magic of 2009.
Or they could blow it all up and hope in a few years they’ll be flush with young talent and a superstar.
They’ve traveled both roads in the past and encountered enough failures to turn an optimistic child into the hopeless critic that writes this today. There is no easy answer, no sure thing for this franchise.
For Scott Skiles, it must have become too hard to have to be perfect every night. Skiles could do little but laugh after Milwaukee was pasted against the Houston Rockets last Friday. Maybe he was just out of answers again.
For good this time.