Skiles reviews team’s new heights, aims to lead Bucks even higher
Coach says progression began with camp commitment
By Truman Reed
Skiles says "It's been a very good group to work with. There's plenty of time to think about next year, but I'm still disappointed we lost." Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images
For many of those who make their living working in the National Basketball Association, summer is a time for vacationing.
Based on what they and their teams accomplished during the 2009-10 season, few players or coaches deserve a more rewarding vacation than Scott Skiles.
In his second year as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, Skiles orchestrated a 12-win improvement over the previous season after raising the bar eight games the year before that, his first as the team's bench boss.
Skiles finished second to Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks in the 2009-10 NBA Coach of the Year voting, so his work in Milwaukee has caught the attention of league aficionados from coast to coast.
Knowing Skiles' work ethic and having heard his commentary a few days after the Bucks' first playoff stint since 2006 reached its conclusion, the educated guess is that any vacation on the Skiles calendar won't be an extended one, though.
Having led the Bucks on a 20-game upgrade over the span of just two seasons, Skiles isn't about to rest on any laurels. And he won't allow his players to do so, either.
He made all of this pretty clear when he met with his players and the media a few days after the Bucks dropped Game 7 of their opening-round playoff series in Atlanta and returned to Milwaukee to clean out their lockers.
"We had a good year and of course we want to follow it up with a better year," Skiles aid. "We have some avenues this summer to try to get better."
Before peering into the future, Skiles glanced back at his team's substantial achievements of the 2009-10 season. He was a bit somber because he realized that some of the players he had just met with moments earlier may not be Milwaukee Bucks when camp convenes in a few months.
He truly enjoyed working with the players who took the franchise to heights it hadn't seen since the Eastern Conference Finals trip of 2001.
"It's a sad day not only because you got beat, you lost and you're done, but because rarely does a team stay together," Skiles said. "There's always changes in the summer and oftentimes this is the last time a group is together.
"It's been a very good group to work with. There's plenty of time to think about next year, but I'm still disappointed we lost. I'm going to be haunted a little bit by the last two games - why we didn't play better than we did. We may not have won and I'm not saying we should have, but we certainly could've played better."
Some pundits ranked Milwaukee at the rock bottom of the NBA before the 2009-10 campaign began. Few observers - local or national - believed the Bucks had the makings of a playoff contender.
Skiles, though, had faith in his players, his staff and his organization.
"We knew early on that we were going to be better than people thought," Skiles said. "We weren't sure how much better. Just based on the work that the guys were doing near the end of last summer, and coming into camp and the attention to detail and the teamwork we could see developing, the guys were going to care about each other and be unselfish. That seemed pretty clear."
The promise Skiles witnessed in training camp extended throughout the season. Andrew Bogut ascended to new heights in his career. First-round draft pick Brandon Jennings emerged as one of the NBA's premier rookies. Jerry Stackhouse and John Salmons proved to be invaluable veteran acquisitions. When Bogut suffered a season-ending injury April 3, Kurt Thomas filled in valiantly at center, helping the team not only make the playoffs, but win three opening-round games.
"As the season went on, 'Bogues' improved," Skiles said, "and watching Brandon go through it for the first time ... the pickups of Jerry and John were, I don't even know what to say about them, they were huge - especially John. It all kind of fell into place.
"The main thing is we didn't have the typical NBA issues that crop up on teams - the agendas and things that go on a lot that are just human-nature types of things. It was a really, really good group to coach."
Skiles figures most would consider a 46-win team a good team, but not a great team. He looked at the Bucks and their 46 wins from a different perspective.
"If your criteria for a team is guys that play hard, try to guard, play unselfishly, don't have any agendas, try to bring it every day, pay attention and those types of things, then this was a great team," he said.
One of the traits the Bucks displayed that pleased Skiles the most was their consistency.
"Last year, we felt like in stretches we were becoming a pretty good defensive team, but then we would always go back," he said. "This year, we were pretty good throughout. We were definitely pleased with that.
"We were a good rebounding team throughout. We were able to be consistent -- even when 'Bogues' went down, we didn't just totally fall off defensively." Continuing that quest for consistency will no doubt be high on the Bucks' to-do list when they reconvene. Visit Bucks.com again soon to read Coach Skiles' perspectives on what the offseason and the 2010-11 campaign might hold for the Milwaukee Bucks.