Samuel Dalembert was supposed to be the big man the Milwaukee Bucks so desperately needed.
In an attempt to at least partially fill the huge void left by center Andrew Bogut, who was traded to Golden State last March, the Bucks acquired Dalembert during the offseason from the Houston Rockets.
The Bucks sent three players — Jon Brockman, Jon Leuer and Shaun Livingston — along with the 12th pick (Jeremy Lamb) in the 2012 NBA draft to the Rockets for Dalembert, the 14th pick (John Henson) in the 2012 draft and a future second-round pick.
The 31-year-old Dalembert opened the season as the starting center and was a solid contributor, scoring 14 points on two occasions and 15 points on another in the first eight games.
But Dalembert quickly and inexplicably fell into former Bucks coach Scott Skiles’ doghouse. Dalembert didn’t play from Dec. 12 until Wednesday night — a stretch of 13 games — when new Bucks coach Jim Boylan played him two minutes against the Bulls in Chicago.
After the game, a delighted Dalembert could be heard singing, “Who Let the Dogs Out”, an obvious reference to his situation.
In a one-on-one interview, Dalembert discussed at length his already long and trying season and how he fell from Skiles’ graces.
Have you already noticed a difference with the change in head coaches?
SD: Most of the time when there are changes, they are for the best or for the worst. So far, it seems to be a better solution. We won two games in a row (and three of four after Boylan took over). Everybody is enthusiastic there was a change. At this point, I think it’s working for the team.
It was pretty apparent you didn’t have a good relationship with Skiles. Did Skiles call you after he was relieved of his duties like he apparently did with everyone else on the team?
SD: I haven’t checked my answering machine yet, but whether I got it, yes or no, that’s his prerogative. To me, in life, business is business. We’re not in this business for friendship.
At the time you were traded to the Bucks last summer, you said you were ecstatic to be with the Bucks.
SD: I was. When I came into town, we (He and Skiles) went and had dinner and everything seemed really nice. Then, when the season started and throughout the season, with no warning or whatsoever, everything changed. When everything changed, I was just amazed. I was like, ‘Wow, OK, let’s see how long this is going to go.’ Obviously, it was going and going. Sometimes in life, you go through some tests. This was a test for me. Things happen for a reason.
Why do you think Skiles’ attitude toward you changed?
SD: We had a talk briefly at a shootaround; I forgot where it was. I think it was in Boston. After that talk, everything went downhill.
After the game in Chicago, you said Skiles had attacked your integrity in that talk. Can you elaborate?
SD: He told me some different things and I explained to him that I’m a happy person. And the reason I’m happy is I grateful for coming from where I came from, Haiti, and I’m grateful for every single day of my life. I’m grateful to wake up and see I’m able to have a home here, a home there and be able to help so many kids go to school back home (through his foundation) and help my family. For that, it’s a blessing. To me, being a happy person, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
Can you be more specific about what Skiles said that upset you?
SD: No, I really don’t want to go into detail. I don’t want to go into it because it really hurt me. I had to express myself. I had to let him know where I’m coming from, the root of who I am today, what is defining me. It’s my country defining me. Anybody who knows me, you can ask any of my teammates, I am the most enthusiastic, happy person coming in the morning. I’m the player where I am always very respectful. I don’t know what happened between us. I’m not going to say that conversation was 100 percent the reason for what happened (not him being demoted) but for some reason there was nothing said to me again and everything went downhill. 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.
Did you approach Skiles and ask why you weren’t playing?
SD: No. I never asked him. I mean if you brought me here and made all these changes I think it’s the least he could do to let me know the reason why.
Are you looking forward to playing with a new coach?
SD: The only things I can do right now is things I can control, which is get myself ready, do what is asked of me and still be a good teammate. The last thing I want to be is a negative player. I have seen players who turn to negativity and I have seen how they affected the team’s focus. I don’t want to be one of those players. We have a good group of guys. We hang out together on and off the court. We are able to communicate with each other and that’s what it’s about. We’ll see where it goes from here.
You may have heard the rumors that it was your fault and not Skiles’ fault for your demotion, that you were reporting late to games and practices, etc.
SD: Listen, I’m not the only one who’s ever been late for a game. At some point in an 82-game season, somebody is going to be late. I wasn’t the only one on the team. But that’s not the reason for all of this. That one (where he was allegedly late), there was a cutoff time and I was in the hallway on the phone. I had something important to talk about and then I came back (in the locker room). That’s not being late for the game. But that’s got nothing to do with this. If I was late for one game, it was because of miscommunication. Ever since that time, I’ve never been late.
There have also been whispers that Skiles reprimanded you because of some off-the-court incidents, that you were partying too much and not taking your job seriously.
SD: Wow. I was partying too much? Where at? I would like to know where I was partying too much. I know where I go to restaurants. But partying too much? What off-the-court issues do I have? At the end of the day, people can say whatever they want to say. They can use whatever excuses they want. That’s why I don’t go on the internet and read all that stuff. You got haters and lovers. You can’t convince people who already hate you.
I have been in the league long enough. I know what you can do and can’t do. I have been around players who do a lot of crazy stuff. At the end of the day, it’s easy to pick on someone. People can say anything they want to say but like I tell the young fellas: be professional. It comes down to one thing: can you get the job done when you have the opportunity to get the job done. To me I haven’t had the chance to get the job done here. But I’m not going to get mad as long as we keep winning. I’m not going to be upset. Larry (Sanders) has really been tremendous for us. At this point on, my main concern isn’t about Sam not playing. It’s about winning. That’s the most important thing.
In light of the problems you had playing for Skiles, how would you describe your feelings now about him?
SD: I never try to keep hate in my heart for anyone because it’s not healthy. To me, I wish him and his family well. I don’t wish bad for anyone.