I'm going to take a look at the different areas of the Bulls off-season. There wont be much "statistical evidence," or "well reasoned arguments," but hopefully we'll all learn something.
Today's subject: The Coach, Scott Skiles.
Skiles received a lot of criticism this past season. Some appropriate, some not so much. In many people eyes, the Bulls underachieved. After two straight play-off appearances, and the signing of Ben Wallace, expectations were very high. Conference games high. Finals appearance high.
We know they didn't get there, but what did they accomplish?
The head coach is responsible for a lot that is difficult to quantify. Let's look at a couple that I think we can.
Team regular season record, and play-off record.
Forty-nine wins in the regular season, good for third place in the division, (giving second place/second seed away on the final game) and fifth seed in the play-offs. A first round sweep of the Champs, and an inconsistent six game, second round, elimination.
That's an eight game improvement over last season, and a play-off series win that hadn't occurred since '98.
Losing the second seed against NJ was tough, and goes hard against Skiles. The Bulls play in the Detroit series was hot and cold to say the least. But you have to value the improvement.
Skiles has had the task of developing a very young team. I broke down their age earlier, but we all know, they young. Of their top eight players, six are in their fourth year or less in the league. Glancing at their stats, everyone, save Duhon, improved their numbers.
To go back to their play-off performance, they sweep the Heat. They showed the ability to exploit a teams weaknesses and bury them.
I gotta give this area to Skiles as well, each player has improved in the three years under him.
The knocks I heard about Skiles were twofold. First, he was to rigid. An example of this is the headband issue. Headbandgate was just silly, on both sides. But the team had a rule, and Skiles enforced it. A rules a rule. What would you rather have? A head coach with authority, or one who bends rules for a specific player? A player that has had problems showing up on time, and problems playing hard every game. If he's your coach, you must trust him. If you trust him, you want him in control. That's why you put him in charge. I side with Skiles here.
The second is in-game player management. A stubborn habit of sticking with veterans over rookies. Virtually every coach in the league is guilty of this. Until a G.M. forces them to play rookies through roster manipulation, they will always go with the guy, they know, will be in the right spot. They trust their knowledge of the game plan, and their ability to execute.
I have trouble holding this against Skiles because most of his players are young, even the vets. As the players age and develop, I think a player like Tyrus Thomas will separate himself from Nocioni. Thabo Sefelosha will overtake Duhon coming off the bench, and maybe even Gordon in the starting lineup. When the individuals reach their peak and achieve consistency we wont be hoping Thomas will play better, we, and Skiles, will know it.
If you fire him, who you gonna get?
Skiles has been compared to Doug Collins in Chicago. This is short-hand for, not being able to take a team to the next level. Collins took the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals, got fired and replaced by Phil Jackson, and the rest is history. But this doesn't happen to often.
If winning a championship is the goal, lets look at the last ten Finals winning coaches. It's a short list.
Phil Jackson has five wins.
Gregg Popovich has three wins, and likely another this year.
Pat Reilly has one, to add to his previous four.
Larry Brown has one.
So that's ten trophies going to four coaches, and only two of those ten going to a first time championship coach. When you talk about replacing a coach, you want to get someone who can win the big one. Unless you get one of those four, I'm going to say you are just moving pieces around.
I think you need to be patient with Skiles, as long as we continue to improve, he's a coach I'm happy to have.