When John Hammond became the Milwaukee Bucks general manager just over five years ago, he emphasized how he liked to make decisions quickly and decisively.
He wasn’t kidding.
Just six days on the job, Hammond fired coach Larry Krystowiak. Four days later, he hired Scott Skiles as his new coach.
As it turned out, the Skiles’ hiring was a disaster. Skiles and his players were at odds almost from day one. It wasn’t surprising. Skiles also had player-relationship tiffs, and some management issues, in his previous heading coach gigs in Phoenix and Chicago.
Did Hammond — or Bucks owner Herb Kohl as some NBA insist — rush to judgment on hiring Skiles? Has Hammond — and/or Kohl — learned from the mistake?
Well, one might have that assumption considering it has been 21 days since the Bucks fired Jim Boylan, who replaced Skiles when he was let go Jan. 9. What’s more, Hammond and his staff have interviewed at least six candidates, the latest being Atlanta Hawks head coach Larry Drew.
So what gives?
Why has it taken so long for the Bucks to find their man?
If you believe some insightful NBA officials, it’s simply because the Bucks are playing the waiting game. They are biding their time until the Memphis Grizzlies’ season ends and they can talk to Grizzlies free-agent in-waiting coach Lionel Hollins.
Hollins, you may recall, had a cup of coffee in Milwaukee as one of Skiles’ assistant coaches before bolting to Memphis where, in the last three seasons as head coach, his teams have won 46, 41 and 56 games. Hollins led the Grizzlies into the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs — without a single superstar.
Under normal circumstances, the 59-year-old Hollins wouldn’t be going anywhere. But Memphis management bungled contract negotiations with Hollins earlier this season by failing to extend his contract. That understandably didn’t sit well with Hollins, who is now on the brink of hitting the jackpot.
Rest assured, several teams will make a run for Hollins’ services, including the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers, each of whom have better rosters than the Bucks.
But some NBA insiders claim Hollins is still very interested in the Bucks’ job. They note Hollins enjoyed his brief stint in Milwaukee, forged a good rapport with the Bucks’ management and is even intrigued by a few of the team’s players.
The defensive-minded Hollins realizes the Bucks have one of the best, young interior defenders in Larry Sanders, who received strong support for both Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player of the Year honors.
The Bucks also have an elite perimeter defender in Luc Mbah a Moute and a scrappy Ersan Ilyasova who, while not the prototypical power forward, isn’t bashful about crashing the boards.
Perhaps more importantly, Hollins knows Kohl has consistently opened up his checkbook to hire prized coaches. On three separate occasions, Kohl beat what appeared to be insurmountable odds to win a coaching sweepstakes, starting in 1992 when he shocked the basketball world by luring Mike Dunleavy from Tinseltown.
Dunleavy was regarded as a whiz kid coach after guiding the Los Angeles Lakers to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Dunleavy’s Magic Johnson-led team advanced to the 1991 Finals before losing to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
Then, in 1998, Kohl pulled off another coaching coup. He persuaded George Karl, who was then and still is one of the premier coaches in the game, to relocate from Seattle to Milwaukee. Kohl eventually paid Karl a reported $7 million a season, making him the highest-paid coach in any sport at the time.
And Kohl even paid mega-bucks to hire Skiles, who collected $5 million this season as one of the highest-paid coaches in the league.
While Kohl vastly overpaid Skiles, it was another example of how Kohl, if so inclined, will handsomely pay for top-tier coaching talent like Hollins.
Gery Woelfel is a sports reporter for The Journal Times. Gery can be reached by calling (262) 631-1713 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org