Headed toward the playoffs for the first time in three years and only the second time in seven, the Milwaukee Bucks have won four in a row. That includes overtime thrillers vs. Toronto and Utah in the past two and, before that at Dallas and Houston, the franchise’s first multi-victory Texas trip since 1986.
Monta Ellis was named the East’s player of the week – he’s averaging 26.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 4.8 steals in the winning streak – and Brandon Jennings has put up 18.0 ppg and 9.5 apg over the past eight. At 30-28, the Bucks woke up as close to the No. 2 spot in their conference (Indiana, 38-22) as they were to the falling out of the bracket to No. 9 (Philadelphia, 23-35).
So naturally, it’s time to bandy about possible coaching hires.
Actually, no, it’s silly. Jim Boylan, taking over after Scott Skiles‘ abrupt exit in early January, has calmed down and pulled together Milwaukee’s locker room. He’s getting good production from his undersized, offensive-minded backcourt and better results from the likes of Samuel Dalembert and Ersan Ilyasova. But he has that “interim” tag in front of his title, so options remain open.
Standard fare for talk shows and Internet boards, the Bucks’ head coaching gig was a topic on the airwaves when longtime Milwaukee sportswriter Dave Begel tuned in the other day. That’s when the light bulb went on over Begel’s head:
One name I didn’t hear, and one that I think should move to the very head of the line is a man I talked with last week who said he’d jump at the chance to coach the Bucks.
I asked him flat out if he would be willing to be the head coach of the Bucks.
“Of course,” he replied.
Gotta like that phrase-ology. Asked if he’d be willing to coach the Bucks, Abdul-Jabbar said “Of course.”
Abdul-Jabbar, of course, is part of the franchise fabric in Milwaukee. He was their No. 1 draft pick in 1969 before their second season, a prize conveyed by a coin flip with Phoenix that delivered not only a young superstar from UCLA – “Lew Alcindor” back then – but an NBA championship two years later. Milwaukee made it to The Finals again, its last, three years later.
A year after that, in 1975, Abdul-Jabbar wanted out of town, pushing for a trade either to New York or Los Angeles. The deal with the Lakers replenished the Bucks’ talent base with quality, at least, but the 7-foot-2 center was the one who won five more rings and played 14 more seasons to become the league’s all-time leading scorer.
Few ever have questioned Abdul-Jabbar’s basketball pedigree, which Begel got him talking about in presenting his credentials to be an NBA head coach.
But besides his reputation, what else would he bring to the Bucks?
“I know how to prepare for a season as an individual and I know what that means in terms of team commitment,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I can get all the right people together that have some chemistry and care about each other and they love the game. That’s where teams are made or not made successful.
“That’s very hard for GM’s to figure out. They know talent when they see it. But that ability to connect with your teammates, that personal chemistry is a hard thing to see in people. I can help players learn how to develop that chemistry. We had Pete Newell out here (in Los Angeles) and he was a master at understanding the personal fire within each player. I’d be a coach who can provide respect and keep the guys on the same page for a whole season.”
Lindsey Hunter is working the Phoenix Suns’ sidelines with a lot thinner resume than Capt. Sky Hook. Lots of career pluggers – lifetime coaches – have gotten two or three shots simply by climbing a coaching ladder, then lingering near a microphone.
But Abdul-Jabbar will be bucking a couple of trends if he winds up getting serious consideration from Milwaukee GM John Hammond and owner Herb Kohl.
First, there’s an apparent bias against centers among NBA head coaches. Bill Cartwright got a shot for a spell and, though he always was listed as power forward, Houston’s Kevin McHale certainly ranks among the league’s great big men. But others such as Patrick Ewing and Bob McAdoo have been waiting for years. Something about their specialness as players – seeing the game from about seven feet up – seems to work against them.
Second, there’s an apparent bias in the NBA against prickly sons of guns. The fraternal order of coaches and the league overall tends to rewards the regular Joes, the fellows who mix and blend and get along. Abdul-Jabbar came across for years as aloof and distant – a late Milwaukee Journal sports columnist said, “I interviewed his back for six years” – and more recently has seemed like one of those who “learn to say hello when it’s time to say goodbye.” The PR value of bringing the big fella back to a city he once fled would be mixed, possibly negligible.
Third and most important – the job is filled. If the Bucks indeed make the playoffs, even if it means a first-round collision with Miami, Boylan should be at the top of management’s list to stay on. He will have earned an offseason of prep time and a real training camp, at least. Abdul-Jabbar has him by 38,387 career NBA points, but this should not be about that.