Thursday, October 15, 2015

What If Herb Kohl Chose Skiles Instead Of Hammond?

There are a lot of moments in Bucks history that make me wistful.  I've followed the team for a long time and I've accepted a lot of ridicule for the team being a laughingstock for most of the last twenty-five years.

The fundamental disconnect is that the world around me often views the Bucks has a genetic loser, but I view the Bucks as a franchise that just can't catch a break.  Where they see a long Playoff series win during the Wimbledon colors (purple & green) era, I see a 2000 team that took the Pacers to the limit, a 2002 team that would've been scary in round one and a rash decision to trade Big Dog as the thread that unraveled what could have been a successful run.  It's similar for the mid-00's Bucks (for example, I loved the 2007 team even though almost nobody else thought they were good) and the Bogut/Jennings-era Bucks as well.

My friend Camelot tweeted something about the 2013 Bucks today, and it swept in a whole bunch of memories that followed that same theme: the public at large saw little promise in the Bucks, but I felt that they could have been great had they caught a lucky break or two.  I wrote about the 2013 Bucks two years ago, but here's a quick recap:

The 2013 Bucks existed in the short-lived Ellis-Jennings era.  Andrew Bogut was traded for Monta Ellis at the 2012 trade deadline and the Bucks began playing fabulous, attractive basketball towards the end of the 2012 season.  In the summer of 2012, the Bucks added Sam Dalembert via trade (giving up no rotation players) and drafted John Henson, thus filling their lone missing piece: tall, long-armed Big men.  Plus Larry Sanders was a year older, Tobias Harris was a year more mature (Tobias started the 2013 season opener) and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. had developed a bench chemistry with Ekpe Udoh (also acquired in the Bogut trade).  In short, things looked good.

When the early-season 2013 Bucks were on, few teams gave them trouble.  Even more talented teams like the Celtics (this was the last season of the Pierce-Garnett era) and Heat were not mismatches.  The Bucks struggled with the three teams that had tough, strong front lines (Grizzlies, Clippers and Thunder), but they poached wins from every East contender save the Knicks.

It became clear in December, 2012, however, that something wasn't right.  Players would talk about their squad being the most talented Bucks team since the Wimbledon colors era, but they kept losing games.  A 6-2 start became 7-7 by the time Pekovic & Love roughed them up in Minneapolis (maybe I should've added the T-Wolves to the tough, strong front lines that gave the Bucks trouble).  A 14-11 Bucks team returned home from a big win in Boston with five of their next six at the Bradley Center. Two weeks later, they were 16-15.  It was turning into a frustrating season.

Both Scott Skiles and GM John Hammond were in the last year of their contracts in 2013, and the situation came to a head after the Bucks took a drubbing at the hands of the Pacers to fall to 16-16.  The exact sequence of events has never been leaked to the public, but we know this much: John Hammond was given a contract extension and Scott Skiles tendered his resignation.

From the outside looking in, it looked like Skiles lost a power struggle.  And he probably did.  He probably told Hammond that he was losing the team because they know he could be released after the season, Hammond probably told Skiles that no extension was coming and Skiles probably went to Herb Kohl saying, "him or me".

We know the history after the choice was made to side with Hammond.  The team fell apart shortly after the 2013 trade deadline, almost the entire roster was turned over, the 2014 season featured more losses than any other in team history and Kohl ended up selling the franchise to Edens, Lasry & Dinan.

What I've always wondered is, "would the Bucks have been better off keeping Skiles?"  Skiles was known as a coach who runs hot (thus limiting his longevity) and he's been out of the League since being fired by the Bucks (though the Magic just hired him as Head Coach this summer), which would seem to indicate that the Bucks made the right choice.  On the other hand, there is absolutely no way on earth that a Skiles-coached team would punk out in the Playoffs the way the 2013 team did under Jim Boylan, or lose sixty-seven games in one season the way the 2014 team did under Larry Drew.

If Skiles were chosen over Hammond, we would probably still have Coach Kidd today.  Kidd's presence on the Bucks is due to his friendship with Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, and I doubt that Lasry would have had any second thoughts about dumping Skiles in the same way Larry Drew was dumped.

The Bucks would almost certainly not have Jabari Parker or the Greek Freak if Skiles had been chosen over Hammond.  Greek Freak was a Billy McKinney special (McKinney is the Bucks' scouting director, and he is a Hammond guy through and through) and the 2014 team would probably have been too good under Skiles to fall to a position where Jabari could be drafted.  (Though maybe the Bucks would've ended up picking Parker number one.  It is certainly possible that the Bucks would have finished with the ninth-worst record in the League and taken Cleveland's place in the 2014 Lottery.)

There are more what-ifs concerning the Skiles vs. Hammond question.  Would Jennings have been traded for Knight & Middleton?  (Probably not.  Supposedly Hammond's prior relationship with Joe Dumars played a role in that trade.)  Would Larry Sanders have been given an extension?  (Hell.  No.)  Would the JJ Redick bullet have been dodged?  (Tough call.)

It may seem like a pointless exercise to ponder questions about Hammond vs. Skiles, but if it's done for the right reasons then I think it's OK.  If the goal is to learn from history, then mulling hypotheticals can be worthwhile.  And in some ways, that's the greatest lesson to come from admitting that Skiles should have been chosen over Hammond.  Choosing Skiles would have meant choosing to trust a Coach with additional powers.  Whatever might have happened with Skiles owning that level of power, we know that a great part of the Bucks' resurgence has been the decision to bestow great power on Coach Kidd.  Having a great coach beats having a great GM, which is one of the many pearls of wisdom that always seemed to elude Herb Kohl.

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