If there’s one thing that seems glaringly obvious to me after this season covering the Milwaukee Bucks, it’s that NBA players prefer to be treated like men.
They want to know what’s going on and why they aren’t playing if they aren’t playing. It’s a matter of trust and honesty. If they’re sitting on the bench, they expect their coach to let them know why they are there and what they can do to get off of it. Without those conversations and assurances, things can get testy.
There are a few ways things can play out without that communication. A player can blow up and demand a trade, publicly or privately. A player can pack it in a bit and let his condition deteriorate. Or a player can silently stew, going about his job as unhappily as possible until he’s removed from the situation.
We’ve been fortunate enough in Milwaukee to see all three in the past year or so.
First, we had Stephen Jackson. He and Scott Skiles started off on the right foot, but Jackson’s lack of productivity and some lateness apparently did not appeal to Skiles. He was quickly benched in Milwaukee last season and was very vocal about how poorly Skiles handled the situation in his eyes. Months later, he was traded after saying he knew his situation would be taken care of soon enough. Here’s Jackson to Gery Woelfel in early January of this year:
When I asked Jackson whether he had talked to Bucks coach Scott Skiles, with whom he had a tumultuous relationship, since being dealt, Jackson looked at me incredulously and said, “Are you serious? … Are you serious?”
He then paused, raised his voice and again said, “Are you serious? No, I haven’t talked to Scott Skiles. I wish him the best.”
Samuel Dalembert handled things a bit differently when he clashed with Skiles. He stuck around and continued to support his teammates, even though he found himself suddenly out of a rotation he figured he’d play a big role in:
There was no explanation. There was no conversation. Nothing was said to me. He didn’t say, ‘Hey, this is what I want you to focus on or anything like that.’
It wasn’t just me. Other guys were going through the same thing with him, guys who have been here way before me. So you can only imagine what they were going through. For me, it was new. I never got a chance to know him or what he didn’t like about me.
The latest ex-Skiles player to come out against his former coach to a degree was Beno Udrih. The recently traded Udrih spoke to reporters in Orlando the other day and lamented a lack of opportunity, regardless of how he was performing, in Milwaukee:
He clashed with former Bucks head coach Scott Skiles. He rarely played and the fit with the Bucks was forced to say the least.
At the root of all of these problems Skiles had with players was his communication style. Less blunt and direct than you’d think and more evading and cryptic.
Let’s be honest: Udrih was never going to get many minutes in Milwaukee, especially not after Monta Ellis arrived. But perhaps there was a way to cushion his lack of playing time better. Or maybe Milwaukee could have been more flexible about not playing Ellis over 35 minutes every night regardless of how many shots he missed. Udrih was often more productive,and while he may have been less capable of offensive explosion, he was also much less likely to implode.
Typically when one player, Jackson for instance, cries foul regarding a coach, it’s easy to brush aside his complaints as those of a player who won’t take responsibility. But when more and more players come out that a coach benches them and then doesn’t explain why, it reflects poorly on that coach.
Skiles may very well be a head coach in the NBA again, but for his own good, hopefully he’ll do his best to learn from any of his mistakes in Milwaukee and figure out a communication style that can better mesh with his very bright mind for the NBA game.