Balancing apprehension and hope after Bucks' staff shakeup

Mike Zarrilli

Cutting ties with head coach Scott Skiles wasn't a shocking move by the Bucks, but it did happen rather suddenly. Bucks fans are now left wondering if things could possibly change for the better in this "new" era.

My immediate thought upon hearing the none-too-surprising news that Scott Skiles had left his position as head coach was that the Bucks had resigned themselves to at least the possibility of a lost season, and were considering major changes to break from their prison of mediocrity. Firing the coach is generally an early indication that a struggling team is looking to move in a new direction, and mired in a four-game skid featuring some truly dreadful play, the Bucks are definitely struggling.

Such a knee-jerk reaction might have been fair, but it was hardly universal. Others contended Skiles' departure was a sign the Bucks were as dedicated as ever to their pursuit of even a fringe playoff bid, and that Skiles had in fact been an obstacle toward that end. And indeed, as more and more stories poured in (it's been a busy day for the Bucks), my reaction looked more and more unfounded. The appointment of Jim Boylan, who has served as an assistant under Scott Skiles in three different organizations, as interim head coach maintains a great deal of continuity. Bucks officials were adamant in press conferences that faith in this roster remained resolute, and reaching the playoffs was still the ultimate goal. And reports that GM John Hammond is in contract extension talks with Herb Kohl made it clear the current regime, the current way of doing things, is not too far from the vision of the Bucks' senatorial owner.

The significant subset of Milwaukee Bucks fandom who were unhappy with both Scott Skiles' coaching performance and the team's water-treading are surely experiencing mixed feelings. And the rest, residing on both sides of the divide, are likely equal parts confused, excited, and terrified, feelings they are thankfully well-accustomed to as Bucks fans.

There is a multitude of questions yet to be answered after the Bucks' midnight mayhem. Not just the pertinent ones about the roster on hand, but fundamental questions about why Scott Skiles and the Bucks couldn't cooperate toward, or even agree on, a singular pursuit.

All this being said, there's no overwhelming reason to believe the remainder of this season will play out like the summer after Fear the Deer. The organization has repeatedly voiced its satisfaction with the play of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, making it seem unlikely either will be replaced by a high-priced veteran with chemistry issues. And while many of Milwaukee's frontcourt players are limited, the sheer number of them precludes another addition. If the team is to be improved, it's likely to be on the wings, be it a backup shooting guard or starting small forward. Boylan did deliver us the exact starting lineup we asked for in tonight's game against the Phoenix Suns, suggesting he's not outright opposed to using Luc Mbah a Moute at the three more often. Bringing in another player for either role would likely mean thinning the forward/center ranks, something many have asked for anyway. Thankfully, players like Larry Sanders have made playing to win and developing talent easier tasks to reconcile.

Truthfully, the reports of a contract extension in the works for John Hammond should only remove one frightening element from the whole puzzle: if Hammond's future is once again tied to the future of the organization, not just the immediate present, there's much less incentive to mortgage tomorrow for a reckless pursuit today. Any one person's feelings on a Hammond extension will logically be swayed by his or her opinion of the job he's done, but at least there would be less of a conflict of interest in play were an agreement reached.

Unfortunately, while roster tinkering and coach swapping might be high-profile moves that draw headlines, they may serve to do little more than distract from the ever-present specter of the owner's all-in mandate. And have no doubt, ownership has a mandate in place, even if those in charge are reluctant to call it one. There were some who openly wondered whether Skiles was on board with the Bucks' perennial playoff push, since all it ever gave him was a roster lacking in not just star power, but in players interested in or capable of growing together into a cohesive, high-performing unit. What if Skiles was fed up with spinning tires and felt there was no changing the path of the team he was expected to lead? If he was willing to give up one of the precious few NBA head coaching positions as a result, then fans can hardly be blamed for fearing what might come next, because it might be exactly what they've lamented since Skiles' last successful season.

I maintain that letting go of Skiles clears the way for a more aggressive rebuild: it was never likely he would survive a teardown, and getting the fire-the-coach step out of the way sooner doesn't detract from its necessity. But after the twinge of intriguing thought that comes with the notion of a Bucks figurehead walking out the door, I can't pretend to be certain what will follow. All I can do, all any of us can do, is wait and hope.

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