NEW YORKWhats the secret for these NBA interim coaches this season?
During his five-game stint as Lakers head coach, Bernie Bickerstaff lost a single game and generally had the high-profile team looking more cohesive than either his deposed predecessor, Mike Brown, or his successor, current coach Mike DAntoni.
Meanwhile, P.J. Carlesimo, installed as Brooklyns temporary coach after Avery Johnson was fired, has also dropped a lone contest, giving the Nets a 6-1 record during his short tenure.
Then, theres Milwaukees Jim Boylan, whose Bucks squad the Bulls fell victim to Wednesday night at the United Center, giving him a 2-0 mark as Scott Skiles in-season replacement for the second time. The former Marquette floor general was known in Chicago before the Bucks beat the Bulls on the latters home court for the second time this season, as he took over for Skiles on Christmas Eve of the 2007-08 campaign, leading the underachieving bunch to a 24-32 record for the remainder of the season.
Since then, the affable longtime NBA assistant seems to have grasped the nuances of the midseason takeover, as hes instilled confidence in players who perhaps lost some of it while toiling under Skiles, while prodding them to give maximum effort.
My approach is totally different than it was five years ago. Im more comfortable in this position. After reflecting on it for a while, I felt that I was too concerned, when I was coaching here in Chicago, with trying to hang on to the job, he explained Wednesday.
I was too focused in on the specific moment, as opposed to kind of seeing the big picture and trying to work with that. I told the guys the other day that I was just going to have fun, coach as well as I can coach and motivate these guys.
Boylan discussed empowering the likes of versatile stretch power forward Ersan Ilyasova, struggling this season after last years breakout campaign led to an offseason contract extension, and talented rookie big man John Henson with the playing time to at least attempt to reach their potential: Get Ersan some minutes out there so he can start feeling good about his game. Give John a chance to compete a little bit, experience the league.
Not that Skiles wasnt trying to develop the players on Milwaukees rosterregardless of anonymous sources claiming that the former NBA point guard hated his team, anybody familiar with Skiles competitive nature understands that he wants to winbut sometimes, a new, if familiar, voice is needed after a coach has been in place for a while, even on a team in position to make the playoffs and compete for the Central Division title at the present time.
I just think Scotts meant to be a coach and he loves it, and theres teams out there that can use a guy that can come in and give them some structure, and teamsjust like past teams that hes coached in Phoenix, here and then in Milwaukeeteams that have been struggling a little bit and need someone to come in, and really captain the ship, said Boylan, who was on Skiles staff since his former boss first shot to at being an NBA head coach, in Phoenix.
Thats what Scott does, so Im sure theres teams out there that will look at that situation and say, You know what? We need a guy like that to come in here and get us moving in the right direction. So, I believe hell be coaching again.
Either way, Boylan is now in a situation reminiscent of another division foe two years back, when ex-Pacers head coach Jim OBrien was fired during the season, assistant Frank Vogel took over and guided a talented, capable squad to the playoffs, where they gave the top-seeded Bulls a battle in the first round, changing the perception of the team, which is now viewed as just shy of true contending status.
Im excited to be back here in Chicago. Its funny because the first two games wins over the Suns and Bulls Im going to be coaching against two of the teams that Ive been with. Then, I thought about it for a while and I said, Ive been with a lot of teams, so it doesnt really mean all that much, Boylan quipped, before discussing any expectations surrounding the Bucks.
I try not to even think about that. We have a team that I believe in, were sitting around .500, were seventh in the East, I believe, so were just going to keep moving forward from there. Im not worried about where we were. I just want our team to play well. Its pretty simple, not very complicated and the guys understand that. I told them that this is their teamthis is their teamand they will determine how far we go. If they come to work every day, if they prepare physically and mentally, then theyll be the ones to decide whether we make the playoffs or what position were in at the end of the season.
Its been a little bit busy, but weve got a practice day Thursday, so Im going to use that to finish up some business with some guys individually, just kind of let everybody know what Im thinking. But its been good so far. Guys have been really open, receptive, he continued, noting that, like the last time Skiles parted ways with an employer, it happens pretty quick, not giving Boylan much advance notice.
The guys have been great. Everybodys responding and guys are going in with good attitudes, and coming out with good attitudes. Its tough sometimes, just sitting on the bench and Ive got other guys. Ive got Marquis Daniels and Drew Goodenthose guys havent even playedJoel Pryzbilla and veteran guys, who have treated this situation like real professionals. Thats a credit to them.
A two-game sample size might not be enough to gauge how the rest of Milwaukees season will go, but the easygoing interim coachs seemingly strong relationship with his players should make things more seamless, as his offseason work with young players like star point guard Brandon Jennings and emerging big man Larry Sanders should allow them to continue thriving.
One of the things with Larry was that he got himself in really good shape and I think that enabled him to get out on the floor for extended minutes and be able to play the game, and also, think the game. Sometimes when you get fatigued, you make mistakesyou make mental mistakes, you make physical mistakesso I think that conditioning enabled him to be productive and to be honest, Ive never seen a guy make the transformation that he made from where he was in the summertime, which is not that long ago, to where he is right now. Its great to see. Im really happy for Larry. Great guy and he plays with a lot of passion, and I always tell him, Make the passion work for you. Dont let it work against you, he explained about Sanders, the leagues leading shot-blocker this season.
I think its something that Ill have to stay on top of with him. Weve talked about it, the other coaches have talked to him about it and Larry understands, and Ive seen him out on the floor catch himself, which is the beginning of dealing with it.
Jennings, while he praised Skiles for permitting him to run the show for Milwaukee as a rookie, during which he had a 55-point game, talked about feeling more freedom after Wednesdays game. Of course, he did go for 35 points and engaged in a trash-talking tete a tete with Bulls backup point guard Nate Robinson, including staring down the Bulls bench after the majority of his five three-pointers, then mimicking Robinsons trademark airplane post-basket celebration.
I just felt like I can do what I want. Ive got my swagger now. I can clown around, dance, do what I want. I might even end up changing my hair back again, Jennings quipped.
But I think just overall, just the confidence the team has. Everybodys playing with confidence, guys are just playing free and were not really thinking. Were just hooping.
Boylan also displayed a sense of humor, telling reporters before the game that he wouldnt mention the Bucks 27-point November comeback win in Chicago.
I think its just one of those odd nights in the NBA. I dont think you want to ever bring up the fact that you were down 27 points midway through the third quarter, to your team, against the team youre about to go out and play against, he joked. I think well leave that one out here in the hallway.
But aside from being a positive influence, the coach also plans to impart valuable lessons that could benefit the Bucks, an odd collection of long, athletic big men that gets the bulk of its scoring from the undersized, explosive backcourt of Jennings and Monta Ellis.
I said to the guys after the game, We need to become a team and you do that through sacrifice. I dont play Luc Mbah a Moute for most of the second half, but yet, with a couple of minutes to go, I need a defensive guy out there, I put him out there, he gets the job done. Sam Dalembert hasnt played for weeks and weeks. Sam got in therenot that he really had a great gamebut he got out there, he was hustling, he was playing hard and thats what a team does. It was a good step forward for us, he said afterwards.
Its Chicago, its a division rival, a team thats up ahead of us, so its a huge game and it gives us a 2-1 series edge right now. its nice when you can play some of these Eastern Conference teams that you can feel like youre battling. We beat Boston, 3-1, in the series; were done for the season, so thats a nice win to have in your pocket, in case, towards the end of the season, a playoff situation arises, so those things are important.
Just as important as being prepared the second time around.